Dear older ladies who were sitting in the booth behind us,
You might recall the early fall evening the two of you went to dinner at a local chain restaurant that caters to families and people of all ages. Perhaps you two go for an early supper here often; I don’t know. But this one particular night, when I decided to take my children there, we were booth neighbors.
I was mindful and present with my children that evening. I will be the first to admit this is something I work on all the time. Life sometimes feels chaotic as a mother of two with tons on her plate, but on this outing, I was present. We had fun coloring the children’s menus. We played a game or two. And we ate our food after devouring the delicious bread buns. My kids, who are 7 and 4, were actually not causing any trouble. For most of the evening.
But all of a sudden, right when I decided to take my cell phone out of my purse to text my husband and see if he was headed home from work, things took a different turn.
My active 7-year-old son started playing with the seat cushion he was sitting on, hitting it with open hands and moving his body side to side. I was texting my husband, so I did not notice this typical age-appropriate behavior. But it bothered you. So one of you, who shared a backrest with my son, turned around and with your voice raised said “Stop!” to my son. He immediately stopped and looked like a deer in headlights. I immediately stopped and stared at you, then him, then you again. You said “Thank you” and turned around to return to your food.
But I kept watching. And I could see that both of you were talking about what had just happened. I could see one of you shaking your head and muttering. And I wished I could have gotten up right then and there and said something. But I didn’t. And here’s why.
Your judgment of my parenting does more damage than you think.
I could have gotten up and told you that you should not yell at my son. I also could have told you he had been “good” all night and asked why you lost your temper so easily at this one behavior that bothered you. Finally, I could have said that I only let things go for a few seconds because I was texting my husband, even though you might have thought I was an absent-minded parent. But that would feel like making excuses.
The fact of the matter is, all those reasons above are not why I am writing you this letter. What you and your friend did after yelling at my son has stuck with me to this day. And I do not know if writing this letter will make it go away.
See, things have changed a lot. Parents of young kids these days can be distracted — myself included. We have a lot going on, and technology and social media have created an additional burden on us despite all the ways they have made life easier. In part because of all the information we have available, we are constantly judging ourselves. Moms in particular struggle with comparing themselves and their parenting abilities to those of everyone they follow on Instagram or are friends with on Facebook.
And when we are judged by older women who probably think they were better mothers back in the day, we get angry. We get defensive. And we might know, intellectually, that we were not wrong or deserving of judgment. But we still think about your judgment. And we wonder if you were right. We judge ourselves and keep revisiting the incident to see if we could have done something different.
And THAT is what hurts most.
So I want to ask you, fellow family-friendly restaurant patrons, to please be a little more tolerant. Please keep in mind that we moms are already having a hard time believing in our parenting abilities 100% of the time. Please refrain from offering comments and making faces and muttering under your breath. Because we can see you, and it hurts.
A mom of two who is trying really hard to be the best she can be