A few years ago, I joined a Facebook group of parents who were pledging to not yell — or yell less — at their kids. The goal was a year without yelling. Around month three, I was failing miserably when someone posted about a mom she saw at daycare pickup who yelled every. single. day. She and several posters sharpened their virtual pitchforks. They offered suggestions ranging from yelling at the mom (yeah, you read that right), to getting her kicked out of the daycare, or even calling child protective services.
I recognized myself in the yelling mom. Pickup is the worst time of day. I’m almost always late. I’m always in a full-body sweat, no matter what time of year it is. I think it’s clear what my patience level is at that point. The kids can sense this. They power through their own exhaustion to let loose a string of grievances as soon as they see me. If anyone were to judge my parenting by those few minutes, they’d surely think I was a monster. I’ve felt the sting of judgement and shame, which adds to the volume of guilt most parents already feel.
The times I have been caught this way, any small gesture of understanding or compassion went a long way. So I waded into the comments despite my better judgement. “What about asking her for a coffee? Sounds like she could use a friend. Who knows what her life is like the other 23 hours of the day?”
It didn’t go well. The woman who had posted had no interest in being friends. Which is too bad. I still think that mom needed a coffee buddy, and I hope she found one.
I left the group soon after that. Not yelling at your kids is an amazing goal (albeit one I haven’t achieved — maybe I’m just too loud), but it isn’t the one for me. Some of my best mom friends have been made in moments of unexpected compassionate response. The times when one of them recognized my struggle, or I theirs, and told me I was still doing a good job (even if I definitely wasn’t, they were kind enough to assume at some point I would again).
I struggled a lot with my oldest, who was a very high-needs baby and toddler. Through this experience, I quickly learned that most judgements I’d made of other parents — and their children — were wrong. Sometimes I actually feel like both my children are sentient amalgams of every judgement I’ve ever cast in my life because the universe is funny this way. Parenting gave me an accelerated course in compassion.
Kindness goes a long way in parenting, and not just when directed at your children. One of the things I like best about parenting is how different the new friends are that I’ve made when forced outside my judgement zone. They’re basically like the Spice Girls, mainly in that when we assemble as a group there’s no way we should all be friends unless some super producer contractually obligated us to do so.
By virtue of growing, expelling, and nurturing small humans, we suddenly had a thing in common. And what brought us together was one of us doing a kind thing, even if another was not being her best self. Which, frankly, saves a lot of time in that getting-to-know-you period if you’ve just seen your new BFF swear under her breath at her kid in the museum parking lot.
Being kind to other parents is vital. I’d go so far as to say it saves lives. At least it did mine! So whatever you’re wearing or doing, fine. Who cares?
Just be the nicest mom in the room.