Several weeks ago, I published an article about a woman who criticized my parenting at a Starbucks. To jog your memory, she stared at me with a petrified look of helpless horror normally reserved for kidnapping victims or people being eaten by fire ants. She might also have been the Starbucks Ambassador for Keeping Children off of Stools. (Stools, as you know, are a top cause of childhood mortality and maiming.)
Here is the exchange again:
“Excuse me, are you with him?” Her panic-stricken eyes indicated she was referring to my 5-year-old son, R, who was still being remarkably quiet compared to his usual Target behavior.
“Yes,” I said.
“What he’s doing is dangerous. You need to make him stop.” She squeezed her lips together into one, thin line.
I glanced over my shoulder at R again. Had he gotten a hold of a knife or a blow torch since the last time I peeked? It didn’t appear so. He was climbing up and down from a stool over and over again. Climbing up and down. From a stool. A clean, 3-foot-high stool, just inches away from his mother.
I crinkled my eyebrows and looked at her like, Are you serious? But she just opened her eyes wider and squeezed her lips tighter.
So I said, “He’s fine.”
Fire ant Lady: I am very uncomfortable with my children seeing this! He’s setting an example for others! This is a public place!
Me: Well, you’re free to take your children somewhere else.
Her: You’re allowing him to climb on a surface that people eat on!
Me: He’s climbing on a stool. People don’t eat off of stools.
Her: I’m sure the staff wouldn’t be happy about this. You’re putting them in danger. I could call someone over!
(Psht. Good luck with that, lady. They love me here.)
Me: You know what? You can raise your children, and I’ll raise mine.
Then she loudly proclaimed to her children that what R was doing was WRONG and DANGEROUS and they were not to follow his example. After that she stomped off in a huff and actually DID complain about me to a woman who works at the Starbucks counter! The employee told me about it, laughing, and said she wanted to hide in the back till that lady left the store.
As I wrote in my first article, I was pretty offended by this woman’s judging. I mean, who the hell was she to tell me how to raise my kid? For crying out loud, he was only climbing on a stool! (And if you’re honestly afraid of 3 foot tall heights, I won’t tell you about the enormous trees and playground structures he’s reached the top of.)
I received a lot of comments on this post from parents who have been similarly judged by people who think they know everything, and the rest of us are lazy, stupid, uninformed, or just plain doing it wrong. I had a pissed off Mom Posse behind me, armed with our pitchforks and sarcasm. We were going to tell these judgmental pricks off as a team!
But the more I think about it, the more sorry I feel for fire ant lady and others like her. I mean, it must be hard being so perfect. Imagine being better than everybody else, knowing what everyone is doing wrong. And then when you try to tell them how incompetent they are, they won’t listen to you. They roll their eyes and write about your prickishness on the internet, or condescendingly suggest that you might have been kidnapped by fire ants. That can’t feel good. Poor little arrogant creatures.
So, in the spirit of charity, I’ve decided to help them. Perhaps, if they just improve their techniques a bit, us moms will finally submit to them, and admit that we are complete morons when it comes to our own children. We desperately need the advice of strangers who have had less than 5 minutes of experience with our offspring, as this is the gold standard for parenting experts. So to you, fire ant lady, and all the other condescending pricks out there, I present this Advice Guide for Experts on Other People’s Kids.
Here are 4 stories from moms who had run-ins this particular type of parenting expert, followed by my advice for the arrogant know-it-all who nobody would listen to. If you, too, are better than the rest of us incompetent moms, please read on. I hope this advice helps you.
I was on a train with my daughter who was just under a year old. I had been attending a meeting in London and my sister-in-law, who lived there, had been looking after her. It was a good meeting and my daughter had enjoyed spending time with her auntie. So I was on a bit of a high. Look at me, super-mum juggling life so well…
On the journey back, we were crammed into the only carriage with room for a push-chair, along with another mummy & child. A woman struck up a conversation with me which was genial up to the point that she discovered that I had been *gasp* WORKING that day. She then went on to tell me that really it’s better for the children if their mummy stays at home with them.
I can still feel the cocktail of confusion, anger & disbelief that another mother would actually think that in any universe, this was an appropriate thing to say to ANYONE. Disgustingly, I found myself offering excuses (I still cringe at this!). She then proceeded to get off the train at her uber-posh suburban stop. Clearly it’s okay to judge other parents who don’t have a partner who ‘Works in The City dear’.
What I *wish* I had said was this, ‘Well, ever since my husband went to prison, I had to go back to work full time in order to house and feed this little one. You know how it is…’.
On the surface, this one looks easy. You see, part of the problem was that Alisa was unaware when she first met this person that said person was a judgmental cow. And how could she have known? I’m assuming that the mother on the train looked every bit like a normal human being. So, Mom on the Train could have simply worn a t-shirt, or perhaps a sign around her neck, that read “Judgmental Cow,” or something of that nature. That would’ve avoided the interaction all together, as Alisa would probably not have engaged with her in the first place.
But that solution fails to get to the core of the Judgmental Cow’s problem, which is this: She knows that mothers shouldn’t work. She is Europe’s top expert on this subject, apparently. And what she needs is for moms like Alisa to quit their selfish ways, stop supporting their families, stay in their pre-paid homes all day, and feed their children with other people’s money. It would also be nice if Alisa would forget all of her silly interests outside of mothering. She should be completely fulfilled by her children, and only her children. Otherwise, that lovely daughter who had so much fun with her auntie that day will surely grow up to be a serial axe murderer. (Though she might get a good memoir out of the deal, so that’s a plus.)
Therefore, my advice to Mom on the Train is this: Carry bucket loads of cash on you at all times. At least a year’s salary worth. Anytime you see one of those self-indulgent “working” moms on a train, at a dry cleaners, or sitting in traffic at 6:00 AM, hand her the money. Let her know that you wish for her to use it as her “pay” for caring for her child since she insists on earning a paycheck. And don’t forget to wear your Parenting Expert badge so she knows you’re not just some lunatic billionaire trying to lure her into a human trafficking scheme.
Finally, make a recording of your voice that you can download to her phone for her. A mantra she can repeat over and over again whenever she feels like she might need adult interaction or intellectual stimulation outside of what motherhood provides: “You are only a mother. You need nothing else. You are only a mother. You need nothing else.” Or whatever words you choose. You’re the expert, after all. And that’s that! Problem solved, right? You’re welcome!
So it was that fateful time of year when Birthdays and Christmas meant that family get togethers galore were on the horizon. I mean don’t get me wrong I love a good family get together, but when it is an elderly couple (aka Nana & Granda) organising them they are usually NOT toddler friendly! So My Grandfather’s 80th Birthday meant that we were all booked into a lovely little hotel restaurant in our local village. There is an adjoining pub where we were told to wait for our table to be ready. Fine. I love a pint and it was a more relaxed atmosphere… or was it?
Little man decided that he DID NOT want to just sit still on the comfy leather sofa next to our table, he wanted to have an explore. SO my now husband joined him for a walk around while me and my family chatted. What do I hear though but the mutterings of two women on the next table discussing how it was “Absolutely disgraceful” that I had let my child run around, or was even in that establishment at all with a child!
To be honest they were so so lucky that my family were there otherwise I would have gone crazy at them and told them that he wasn’t harming anyone. He was having fun exploring and the alternative is holding down a screaming child while we wait for our table and his highchair to be ready!
They actually moved tables to the other side of the pub in the end!
I was so angry! How dare they make mothers feel embarrassed, like they shouldn’t attend family events or dare to be seen in public with a small child!
Great story, Rebecca! Thanks! Now, show of hands: How many of you feel a little sick at the thought of two grown women muttering to each other about you and your child, particularly when they know you can probably hear them?
I actually had a similar experience once. I took my kids to get ice cream at a place called Babcock Ice Cream on campus at the University of Wisconsin. We were visiting my in-laws, and they said this was the best ice cream around, so naturally we had to get some. We hadn’t even gotten all the way into the line yet, when some 19-year-old girl waiting ahead of us gasped and whisper-shouted to her boyfriend, “Oh my God! I hate children!” Poor girl, having to share public spaces with other human beings. It must be rough.
But back to Rebecca’s story. I think the main problem here is one of two things. Either the snooty women in the pub (and my traumatized college coed) are all under the mistaken impression that they are surrounded by sound proof bubbles that only allow their voices to carry to the ONE person whom they intend to hear it. Or they have experienced a traumatic brain injury that prevents them from stating their complaints straight to a person’s face. Surely, they couldn’t just simply be horrible gossips who have no empathy for the people around them. We’ve already stipulated that people who criticize mothers in public are misunderstood parenting experts, right?
So, my advice to them is this: Take a quick look around you. Are there human beings present? If the answer is yes, please double check to see if they are using sign language, comatose, underwater, or wearing noise-cancelling headphones. If the answer to all of those questions is “no,” then I’m sorry to say that they can hear you. (Sorry for them! Not you!) Also, be careful around those deaf people. Most of them can read lips!
Now, if you are in the presence of sentient and hearing human beings and you find yourself developing an uncontrollable urge to blurt out whatever ignorant and intrusive thoughts you have about their presence, quickly clamp your hand over your mouth, run outside, and then let it out.
Alternatively, if you are in the traumatic brain injury camp that I described earlier, my advice to you is brain surgery. Preferably a lobotomy. I promise, you will never experience this problem again!
For over a decade we were “private school people” in our small Mississippi town. See, I had incorrectly correlated private to mean better, you know because that’s what my college preparatory school program was and also because I had to tell myself something after writing the tuition check every month.
Sure, throughout the decade there were hints…teachers that weren’t certified…instructors who mispronounced words…Yes, over a ten-year time span there were a couple of real head-scratchers. So I poked my nosey certified self around, (I am both Certified Crazy and certified to teach high school English thankyouverymuch) and I subbed at both the private and (GASP) public schools. What I witnessed was an incredible difference.
While most of the high school program at the private academy consisted of throwing paper airplanes and spoiled children talking down to administration, the public school had it going on. All of their instructors were certified in the subject areas they were teaching, so you didn’t have a, say, lady with a masters in mathematics teaching French. Their ACT prep courses were second to none! I saw an opportunity for my children. I saw a better education. And isn’t that what school is about? The right education? Academics? College Prep?
Well, I guess if it was we wouldn’t have a private school in our town. When we made the switch, it was BIG NEWS. One of my daughter’s friends asked her if she knew that she was going to be attending school with black people now.
Oh yes, there’s that too.
Look, I don’t care that my children sit next to black children every day at school. Actually, I would prefer that they do. Race is not an issue for me, but apparently, it is for some in my town.
They believe that by sending my kids to the public school, I am putting them in danger. I am risking bad behavior due to witnessing bad behavior.
I’m a bad mom because I don’t pay $500 a month anymore for segregation and little education.
OK, I see the problem here. The parents who complained about Heather’s educational choices for her kids are racist! And when you’re a racist and you see a white parent allowing her child to consort with black children, it’s clearly your responsibility to do something about it.
I think the problem is that the racists in Heathers town didn’t try hard enough. Shame on them! Here you have a white family in a perilous situation. The mother has obviously lost her mind. (She’s already admitted that she’s Certified Crazy!) And you are going to just let her waltz her white butt over to a public school where just anybody can get in? Where’s your sense of community? It is your job to band together and save this family from themselves!
First, you must do this as a team. Gather all of the other racist parents at your school together, and start with a planning meeting. Don’t forget your white hoods! You might also want to make yourselves badges. They could read, “Ask me how to raise little tyrants!” Or whatever. It’s up to you. The point is, be proud of your accomplishments so that the rest of us can understand why you know so much better than we do.
Get a white marker board and start listing all of your points. You need to be prepared! You might even want to invite a black family over so that you can observe what makes them so terrible. (They’ll agree to do it! Trust me! Black people have always supported segregation. Didn’t you read Brown v Board of Ed?)
Next, I want you to make a BIG banner. Put all of your photos on it, then headline it: “We Are the Faces of Racism in Our Town.” Be sure to include all of your addresses so that people know where to go for all of the best, white parenting advice. In fact, forget the banner. You might as well do a billboard.
OK, now it’s time for the intervention. Get the deluded white mom to come to your place. Don’t tell her why! Just offer her some tea and cake and pretend to be her friend. Then you hit her with your expertise. If there are enough of you saying the same thing, she’ll come around eventually. Don’t let her leave until she does. And don’t focus just on the racial issues. Those are important, but don’t forget, that school is public. Public schools are nothing but death traps for decency. No good kids ever come out of public school. I mean, look at me. I went to public school, and now I write sarcastic advice to racists that might actually get them beat up or ostracized if they follow it. Shame on me.
For me I have an on going judgment as a Mum. It never seems to end and the judgement comes from many other mums. My crime, you see, is that I’m a Mum with a full time job! I know shocking and appalling, right?
You know how it goes. You’re chatting with people and you mention you have a 3 year old – Oh so do you just work part-time now? No I do full-time.
Then come the barrage of questions: Why can’t you work part time? Why can’t you give up work? Don’t you want to be with your child all day? What will you do when they start school?
It then always ends with ‘I could never leave MY child with a stranger all day’.
Thanks for making me feel like the world’s worst Mum for trying to provide for my child.
Here we go! Criticizing moms for their choices to either “work” or “not work” ought to be an Olympic event. There are so many people who are so damn good at it. Unfortunately, if I were awarding medals, I don’t think Julie’s critics would even earn the bronze. Sorry, ladies. I mean, you’re experts on what everyone else should be doing with their families, obviously. But you’re going about it all the wrong way.
Let me try to help. You could try what I advised to Alisa’s “Mom on the Train” parenting expert and carry around enormous amounts of cash everywhere you go. Simply offer to pay each working mom’s salary for a year if she would only do the right thing and stay home with her children. But that’s going to start getting expensive fast. There are so many mothers out there, selfishly working all day and leaving their children with STRANGERS. How could you possibly afford to pay them all?
So here’s another idea: Politics! Lobby your government to make working outside the home illegal for mothers until their children reach 19 years of age. (Yes, they are technically adults by 18, but throw in the extra year, just to be safe.) Of course, the mothers will need some form of income. (Those greedy women! Insisting on being able to pay for food, clothing, and shelter! They should’ve either married a man who made more money, or chosen to live on the streets.)
But since they are not nearly as altruistic as you clearly are, you’ll have to find a way to support these soon-to-be-former-working-moms and their leech children. Well, here again, the government is the answer. Change the law so that maternity pay is required for 19 years post delivery. This should be easy seeing as how tax payers would love to cover that bill.
And as always, keep being the know-it-all expert on everyone else’s lives! Thank you for making the rest of us see how inadequate we truly are!
And finally, I’d like to end with a piece of advice for my fire ant lady from Starbucks. If you truly are the Starbucks Ambassador for Keeping Children off of Stools, wouldn’t it make your life so much easier if they put up a sign? I can see it now.
See what I did there? Now everyone will know what to do when they see your panic-stricken face. You’re welcome!
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