A couple weeks ago I had to run into Dollarama to buy some special dishes for a yummy breakfast I was planning to soon make myself. I was walking quickly through the aisles to get what I needed and I could hear a mom hollering at her kids from somewhere out of sight. I felt a little uncomfortable and I admit, I felt a little judgy (step 3) but I thought whatever, I’ve felt the same way, or acted the same way in my home… what’s the difference? Who knows what this mom has had to deal with? (step 5) I grabbed what I needed and found my place in line behind the mom and two other ladies. The mom was paying for some candy that her daughter had taken a bite out of… something she wasn’t planning on paying for but now had to.
The lady in line behind the mom decided that now was the time to let the mom know what a terrible job she was doing at motherhood, putting the mom down and shaming her for her children’s behaviour in the store. The lady behind that lady soon joined in and they even went so far as to point at the mom’s oldest daughter and comment on how she was old enough to be behaving more properly.
Naturally, the mom was completely defensive and talking back to the lady and I found myself in such an awkward position. Do I look around normally, as if nothing is happening? Do I speak up and say something to the ladies in front of me and take a stand with this mom? I am a people-pleaser and I hate confrontation, so I really didn’t want to get involved and potentially have these ladies turn on me too. My knees felt weak as the mom and the lady kept arguing back and forth. Ultimately, I said nothing and the mom gathered her things and her children and left the store. The ladies in front of me continued to discuss the situation with the cashier, who appeared to be the manager (who handled it fairly professional, I might add, in case any Dollarama execs are reading my blog). Meanwhile, I just stood there praying that I would get a chance to talk to the mom in the parking lot after I finally made my transaction.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, this mom was just two parking spaces away from me. I was scared and honestly, I didn’t want to, but I came around to the side of the car where the mom was buckling her daughter in and I quietly said, “Excuse me… I was in the store just now… and I just wanted to let you know that I know that you are just doing the best job you can at being a mama, and –” I couldn’t even get the rest of the words out and this poor mom was flat-out ugly crying in front of me in the parking lot. My heart just broke even more. I didn’t know what to say or do and before I knew it, there I was hugging this stranger and saying “Being a mom is so hard, it’s so hard, we’re all just doing the best we can.” I left her there with her daughters and told her that I hoped she knew that not everyone in that store thought she was doing a bad job and I hope that she had a better day from there on out.
It’s been more than two weeks and I still can’t really shake this experience — and I bet the mom can’t either. I feel so badly for the ladies in the store as well, as I can’t help but feel they must have some real pain and insecurity in their own lives to publicly shame someone as they did that day, but in the end, my heart is naturally way softer for the yelling mom.
The thing is, we just don’t know what people are dealing with in their lives. It’s so easy to point fingers and to judge. I know what it’s like to have kids who throw unexpected, unpredictable and uncontrollable fits, even in public. I know what it’s like to have kids who throw such fits despite any and every kind of discipline and gentle talking or not gentle talking you could ever do. Our kids’ behavior can sometimes just be beyond our control, part of who they are, and is not always a reflection of who we are as parents. And maybe that mom hasn’t had the best upbringing, or she has no support, or she’s just dealing with some really tough stuff, or maybe she has an awesome life but guess what, today is just a bad day.
Sometimes I feel so alone as a young mom. A people-pleaser like me just really wants to do things right and make everyone happy. I look for the rules, for what I should do. It’s such a cliche but there really is no manual for motherhood. Our kids don’t come with an instruction booklet. I didn’t live with my own mother for most of my childhood and I don’t have a mentor or a role model to come alongside me and show me how to do this whole motherhood thing. And when I’m at my wits end, when I’m having a bad day, when my rope is frayed… it never does me any good to have someone telling me what a terrible job I’m doing. The only thing that does is make me feel like giving up completely.
From my experience, when I’m reacting in a negative way to my kids, I already know in my head that I’m not doing my best in this moment. I already regret the things I’m saying or my actions. But I’m in such a desperate, raw, pull-my-hair-out moment that I don’t know what else to do… or I do know, but I just can’t. If I knew and was able, I’d be doing it! I don’t need someone to agree with my inner-voice that I’m a terrible mom. When you feel like that, don’t you just wish someone would come alongside you and tell you how to do it, or do it for you, or simply just help you do it? To crouch down with your kids and gently and lovingly remind them of proper behaviour? To grab your groceries for you and help you carry them out to the car because one of your kids is running one way and the other one bit into some food you hadn’t paid for and you’re already late and you feel like you suck as a mother and just want to give up — but you can’t. Because you are mom and you just have to keep going, no matter how messy the whole thing looks.
We need to build each other up and cheer one another on. We need to give each other hope that we can make it. I don’t know what was going on in that store before I walked in and maybe this mom was absolutely crazy and her kids were bonkers too and maybe they were totally ripping the store to shreds. Maybe. But even so, I have to believe that even in our most absolutely crazy moments, we really just need someone to tell us “You can do this. It’s hard, I know, but you can do this.”
(Title credit goes to my friend Joanna who, after I texted her the entire story, responded with “Dolladrama!”)