Do the neighbors talk about me?
Do they whisper quietly among themselves that I sometimes yell — screech even — in exhaustion and frustration?
Do they judge me for sometimes being short with my boys? My beautiful, wonderful boys that I love to the moon and back?
Do they witness me sitting on the back deck, basking in the silence for a few moments while my kids are occupying themselves inside? Do they think that I’m a terrible parent for not entertaining them 24/7? Do they mutter to each other about how they would never leave their children alone to drink a tea in solitude?
Do they think of me as a crummy mom? Do they see me as the hot mess? The one who doesn’t get how to do this parenting thing?
Do they judge me on my failings as harshly as I judge myself?
Do they see me in my quiet moments of reflection; the astonishment in my smile as I watch my boys do something on their own for the first time? Do they see how proud I am? How lucky I feel to have them in my life? Do they see the maternal gentleness in me when I comfort them after scrapping a knee or having their feelings hurt by a bully on the bus?
Do they ever walk by our house and hear music and laughter pouring out from the windows? Do they count how many times I say I love you in a day?
Do they know that sometimes, I can’t sleep at night because I’m worrying about whether or not my youngest son is being included by his classmates? He once told me that everyone at school said that he was a bad kid and wouldn’t play with him, and now I can’t stop worrying about him. He’s not a bad kid. He has a huge heart and he doesn’t know how to process his emotions sometimes, but he’s the first person to rush to your side when you’re hurting. He gives hugs and compliments and smiles with a genuine warmth that lights my soul up.
Do they know that the days I yell more turn into the nights I can’t close my eyes because I’m too busy regretting every moment I spent scolding them when I should have been enjoying them for the wonderful beings that they truly are? Do they know how terrified I am that I’ll mess this whole thing up, that I’ll ruin the little people who depend on me – the little people who are my entire world and more?
* * *
Parenting is hard. So many of us flounder from day to day, praying we’re doing the right thing by our kids. Some days are more emotionally draining than others, and I feel like the way parents treat other parents has changed significantly for the worst with the invention of the Internet. Gone are the compassionate looks of understanding; they’ve been replaced by the quick-share links to parenting articles that prove just how harmful everything you do is.
If you yell, you’ve broken your child.
If you never yell, you’re encouraging your child to be a self-entitled jerk.
If you feed your kids anything but healthy, organic foods; you’re just setting them up for a lifetime of obesity and diabetes.
If you only feed your kids healthy, organic foods; you’re a pretentious asshole whose children will rebel.
If you’re always entertaining them and always with them, you’re a helicopter parent who isn’t fostering independence in your child.
If you let your kids hang out “free range”, you’re neglectful.
None of us can win with mindsets like this. Forgiving ourselves for our tiny parenting mistakes becomes impossible with all these voices of negativity strumming about in our heads and floating out of our mouths.
I can’t help but think back to the days of pioneers; those kids were off working on the farms and helping their families from a young age. The older siblings kept an eye out on the younger ones while the parents focused on the farm.
I think parenting seems harder now, because parents have to literally do it all and they do it with judgement from strangers suffocating their every move. Now if you attempt to discipline your child, people will look at you as if you’re a monster and how can you not feel like one with all those offhand remarks about how you’re messing everything up?
Imagine if instead of judging the poor mom snapping at her whiny child in the supermarket, we approached her and told her it’s okay. Imagine if we put our hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes and told her to breathe for a minute, that she’s doing a good job even if it’s sometimes hard and even if she sometimes loses it and yells.
Imagine if we were uplifting with our comments instead of destructive. I truly believe we could change the entire tone of motherhood, of parenting.