At 8 months pregnant, waddling through the supermarket in one of my unflattering but of oh-so-comfy maternity maxis, I saw a couple heading in my direction, with what must have been a 1yo girl in the pram in front of them. She was squirming and protesting and shouting with all her strength, drawing attention from other shoppers. The parents were flushed, frantic, casting furtive looks around whilst dashing towards the exit.
The first thought I had was ‘That’ll be me at some point soon’ and I gave them my best ‘it happens to everyone, you’re doing great’ sympathy smile. But the father hurriedly responded ‘she’s not usually like this, she’s usually so good’, a hint of justification and defence in his voice. As they passed me, the mother turned back to say ‘she’s just really tired, she’s fine really’, and they disappeared round the corner.
It taught me a valuable lesson about parenting in public. One I’m so relieved I learned before Baby Bu was born. People are not judging you the way you think they are. People are generally on your side. Those parents saw me looking at them, and rather than seeing my smile and reading my sympathy, they read judgement, of their daughter’s behaviour and therefore of them.
People are not judging you the way you think they are. People are generally on your side.
The stress of feeling judged by others can have a real impact on how you parent in public. On more than one occasion I’ve made the mistake of asking Baby Bu to share a toy she’s playing with, because the other mother was watching the struggle between her tot and mine. I know that at her age, sharing is a concept beyond her grasp, and will be for quite some time yet. I wasn’t parenting when I asked her to share. I was putting on a show, for the other parent’s benefit.
But when I think back to the times a child has tried to take a toy from Baby Bu, I realise that at no point was I judging the other parent for letting their child try to take the toy. Babies will be babies. Toddlers will be toddlers. They WILL have meltdowns, they WILL grab toys from one another.
They’re learning. And so are we.
Now when Baby Bu has a meltdown in public, I don’t for one second think about what others think about the situation. I focus on my interaction with her, even if that means getting down on my knees in a supermarket, to give her a cuddle and reassurance while she calms down. The chances are that those watching are remembering similar situations they’ve experienced, thinking about future situations as their baby becomes a toddler, or wondering what to make for dinner. Not thinking about what a terror you’re raising, or what an awful parent you are.
And if they are judging your child or your parenting skills, so what? There’s a good chance you’ll never see these people again. If you do, they can form new impressions on their next encounter with you. Your child’s tantrum will escalate and then dissipate whether you’re being judged or not, but it has a better chance of dissipating quickly if you’re calm and focused on them, not on passers by.
Being a parent is one very long journey and if we remember that every other parent is on the same journey, learning on the job alongside us, we can stop worrying so much about putting on a show, and focus on parenting our little ones the way they need us to. With focus, calmness, clarity and love.