This isn’t a story most people can relate to, but I also know every parent will understand why I felt the way I did. Sniff.
About nine months ago I was judged for my parenting by a stranger. Big deal, you might say, people everywhere have their opinions and while we can’t change the way they think or act, we are in control of how we choose to feel about it. I get that. And I try to remember it, except that when I tell you the background to this story you’ll understand why it stung.
Just a typical day
It was a seemingly ordinary outing. My toddler and I were going to the supermarket to buy some essentials we’d run out of. I had a little list in my back pocket and a plan of attack – I’d park in the parents with prams spot close to the shops, in order to keep my toddler safe from cars, and then I’d plonk him in a shopping trolley and grab all the things on my list. Easy.
Of course, all the parents with prams parking spots were taken that day. Again, no big deal I hear you say. Just carry him or use the stroller. That would have been fine except my tot decided he hated the stroller that day. So I chose not to do buckle battle with him and instead walk him from the car to the shops.
I couldn’t carry him
The reason I chose to clutch his chubby little hand in mine, instead of hoiking him up on my hip is because I couldn’t carry him then. I’d had brain surgery five months before and my balance was still a little iffy. This is the part I know most people can’t relate to.
I’d come a long way
‘A little iffy’ for me, just means I’m not feeling 100 percent confident with my balance. It doesn’t mean I need a walking stick or a frame, or even a disabled parking spot as I CAN walk fine, but it does mean I don’t carry my son, just in case.
I have two boys and they’ve seen me through a lot, including learning how to walk again with physical therapy, various frames, a walking stick and eventually to where I was that day. Recovered, getting back to normal life and just feeling so, so grateful for it.
Normal life is something we all take for granted, until we genuinely fear, or experience, it being taken from us. Then, if we are lucky enough to have it given back to us, as I was, it has never looked so sparkly!
That day I felt like a mum again
It had been a long time since I’d felt like ‘just a mum’. I’d had two brain tumours (and you can read the background to that story here) which up until the surgery had been making me feel very off.
My walking and speech were going and I constantly felt nauseous (yep, like early pregnancy). As such, I couldn’t care for my two sons, then aged one and three at the time on my own while my hubby was at work. So we moved our little family in with my parents and for a long time, I watched as their day to day caring was done by these angels.
I took a backseat and as much as I appreciated all the help and love, I felt redundant as their mum.
I watched my boys run and cry to their grandpa to be picked up when they hurt themselves, my mum change nappies, get them ready for kindy and do the drop off and my husband bath them and tend to them at night when they woke. They still curled up to me for snuggles, but I no longer took care of their day to day needs.
Then I came back!
It took me months of rehab to get back to playing mum. While I never stopped being their mum, it took a little while to build up my physical capabilities, but also my confidence in caring for them. Little by little I stepped back into that role. And that day I had fully again. That day, I drove my son to the shops on my own – a mum on a mission to buy some groceries for her family. I was back!
Then you marched over to me
When I first saw you approaching, I smiled. I assumed you were going to say something sweet to my little boy as you had that, ‘I have something to say to you’ look in your eyes. But you didn’t.
Instead you told me off for not picking up my son in the car park. For forcing him to “run alongside you at such a pace, I thought his legs were going to fall off!” Then you scolded, “You really are being irresponsible not picking him up, you know. He could get hit by a car!”
I know you were only looking out for my boy, but you didn’t go about it kindly. And so I wasn’t sure how to reply to you. My story is too long for an explanation and you weren’t my priority that day. It was getting my littlie out of harm’s way and into the safe shops. So that’s what I continued doing as I walked away from you with my toddler happily trotting beside me.
Yes, I was probably making him walk a little too fast, but I felt I needed to. I was feeling anxious about getting us inside. I didn’t have anyone else stepping in to play ‘mum’ that day. It was on me. And I desperately wanted it to be. I had come so far. I wanted to go the supermarket with my boy and feel like a normal mum again.
Questions first, please
When I think back to that day, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. My tot was used to not being carried by me. He knew the drill. That mummy can’t pick him up and so he has to walk or ride in the stroller.
When I told my friend about what had happened, she said, “People should ask more questions – instead of TELLING mums what to do!”
And she’s right. My story is unique but my experience of being judged by a stranger for my parenting isn’t.
Here’s the thing. While we usually can brush off a passing comment about feeding our baby from a jar, or put a nasty look when our kid throws a public tantrum in the ‘I don’t really care what you think’ box, judgement that stings only happens when we are feeling vulnerable. I was oversensitive that day because it mattered to me so much to feel like I was being a good mum, on my own.
Perhaps if the car park lady had asked me why I wasn’t carrying my son, or even offered to grab a trolley for me, or hold his other hand so I felt more relaxed, things would have been different.