It was one of those moments that makes every parent’s heart stop. It made MY heart stop, and it wasn’t even my kid! You turned around, and saw a stranger leading your child by the hand. Leading him away from the street – the very busy main road to which he’d been headed.
You ran forward, scooped him up as the stranger explained that the boy had run off. Your hands trembled as you hugged that little boy close to your chest. I could just about see your heart racing, threatening to leap out of its bony cage.
The boy squirmed, wanting to go play. At two years old, he had no idea of the heart attack he’d just given his mother. With a sigh, you put him down and watched as he ran off, back to join his brothers in the splash pad frenzy.
Heart still pounding, you watched him disappear in the bodies and the spray. Then you looked up – and she was watching you. A woman standing off to the side, who’d seen the whole thing. Your whole demeanor changed, becoming tense and defensive in response to the woman’s judging.
It was apparent that you knew each other, were probably there together, as the two of you argued – briefly, but the encounter left you tense for quite some time after. Your tense eyes were trained on that little boy, who’d just discovered that it was a game to keep Mommy on her toes as he repeatedly ran out toward the road.
I said something small that day, something about how it happens to the best of us, that kids are quick and it’s hard to see everything. But what I really wanted to say is – don’t let someone else’s judgment make you a bad mother.
Oh, you’re not a bad mother. I could tell just by the way you acted with your children that day – all five of them. Keeping an eye on my one little girl is enough, but five?? No wonder that boy was able to slip out from under your watchful gaze, especially in that crowded splash pad.
But each time after that first round, you were tense, watchful – less because of the danger he was in (he wasn’t in any, really), and more because of one woman’s judgment. That little boy would dart out, heading toward the street, and each time you would run over, herding him back in the proper direction, giving a quick swat as incentive. And in between those times, you stood on the sidelines, watching him like a hawk, not daring to turn away for one second, lest you face a second round of scorn.
I wanted to tell you that you are a good mother. That you were doing your best to keep an eye on all your children, keep them safe from harm. And that two-year-old – anyone knows that kids are quick at that age. You blink, and they’re gone before you know it. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother, it means you’re not omnipotent or omniscient. You can’t be everywhere at once, seeing everything at once.
Motherhood is about love and protecting your children from harm, but it also comes with a whole heaping spoonful of grace. Grace is what gets a mother through the ups and downs; sometimes, it’s what gets her through the day.
For whatever reason, motherhood also involves those who think that they know better, who believe that they could have done a better job or made better choices. You know the ones – the one tsking in the grocery store, the one shooting you a look across the playground, or even that one acquaintance giving advice and “just trying to help.” Then there’s the ones who get upset if you do things just a little bit differently, if you don’t do them the way they would have done them. Parenting is one of those journeys that everyone has an opinion on, and there opinion is always the best one.
All of this judgment and criticism can make you feel like a bad mother. And it’s hard to feel like a good one when a stranger catches what you know you should have caught on your own – something that, had they not caught it, could have ended up very differently, with you running to the hospital instead of letting the kids have fun at the park. But being a good mother isn’t about being perfect, never missing something, never making a mistake. It’s in loving your kids the best way you know how, however imperfectly that may be.
In the end, you are what’s best for them. And that doesn’t mean you’ll always be perfect, or that there will never be accidents, but it does mean that you are a good mother for them. Don’t let the judgments of others make you a bad mother.