I had just dropped off my four-year-old at Pre-K, and since my baby pulled what felt like an all-nighter and my two-year-old couldn't keep down his breakfast, I decided to grab coffee for me and some crackers for him on the way home. I didn't care that I was wearing my sleep-sweats under my drop-off coat, I needed some fortification before I went back home to deal with the dishes and mess I left before we dashed off, late, to school.
So I parked and loaded them both into the stroller, rolling them and my bleary-eyed self into the coffee shop. Standing in line at the counter, I listened to the mom in front of me tell her friend that she had decided not to put her five-year-old into kindergarten until next year, so she would be a more fluent reader when she started. I stood there and reveled in the pleasure of knowing that my oldest was already a fluent reader, with one more year to go. That's what reading together every day does, I thought.
I ordered, paid, and then settled into a corner table to wait. That's when I saw her come in with her four perfect children—lined up like ducklings, cute and charming in every way. So was she—skinny, pretty, darling outfit, to-die-for shoes and bag. And it was so. early. in. the. morning.
And then I felt it.
In the pit of my stomach, the dormant little beast rose its spiky little head and started poking me in all my tender spots, so that all I could do to quell it was start that running loop…she probably spends too much time on how she looks, she ignores her kids so she can shop online, she probably looks so perfect to cover up something, she probably works out constantly, I would never ever wear those pumps to run errands, I wouldn't let my kids eat that...you name it, anything, just so I could feel better about myself.
I couldn't take it anymore and turned my gaze back to my table just in time to see my two-year-old almost up-end the stroller while trying to climb in. I grabbed him a little too quickly and plopped him into the seat next to me, saying to him a little too loudly, "I don't want to see you do that again!"
While tears welled up in his eyes and mine, the lead blanket of fatigue weighed a little heavier on me, and I knew I had handled that poorly. We were both startled by my reaction. Now, on top of feeling exhausted and inadequate, I felt mean. So when I glanced up and caught the mom at the table next to me make eye contact and toss me a pinched look, all I could do was look away from her and hold back my tears.
I was tired.
I was tired of comparing myself to other moms.
I was tired of being compared by other moms.
But most of all, I was tired of how I was feeling about myself.
So I packed up and left. No amount of coffee or distraction was going to be enough to make how I was feeling go away. Dragging everyone and everything back to the car, I felt defeated.
Driving home, it occurred to me that I had no one to blame but myself for how I was feeling. Judging what I thought looked like perfection didn't buoy me after all—I just felt worse about myself.
I thought, only I know what I am like all day—not like the tiny snippet on public display during a moment of weakness... And feeling judged by another mom made me think, she has no idea what the last twelve hours have been like for us.
I wondered, why am I doing this to myself—and others?
Then I realized that I have total control over which lens I choose to look through. And I alone have the power to change how I think about others and myself.
There is so much more good that can come out of a kind and knowing smile, a friendly wave, or a gentle, Can I help you?
Just because we are different or parent differently doesn't mean one of us is better or wrong. In the end, we all want what's best for our families, so why not help each other?
I decided then to be the change—to let go of judgment, to give and get support.
It feels so much better.