On being a “bad mom”

When my first daughter was a year old, I opened a children’s consignment store. I had between 50 and 100 customers a day, mostly women, mostly moms, mostly with their kids in tow. I had a front row seat to approximately 25 interactions each day between mothers and children over age two.

25 interactions a day x 4 days a week x 52 weeks a year x 4 years = over 20,000 individual opportunities to watch parenting in action. Many customers were repeat customers, and I watched as toddlers grew into preschoolers who grew into school aged kids and school aged kids turn into tweens.

I learned a lot about parenting during those four years.

I saw moms ignore kids completely in favour of shopping or chatting with their friends, and those kids seemed more prone to break things, climb on shelving or terrorize other children. I saw which moms dragged their so very young kids to the bathroom to spank them and how those kids seemed more troubled the older they got. (I never managed to steel my heart to these incidents either, and I’d cry in my minivan on the way home).

I also saw which moms were respectful, calm, patient yet firm, and how those children seemed “easier.”

Nature, or nurture?

Maybe. But that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about how I learned that I was only seeing a snapshot, and how that’s led to be abolishing the idea of a bad mom.

In a few moments in a store, I couldn’t see a mother’s family history, what support network she had (if any), what resources she had access to. I couldn’t see children’s medical histories, behavioral or developmental challenges, etc.

I tried to never judge the mothers who shopped in my store, even when their individual action in the moment seemed “wrong.” I didn’t label mothers as bad mothers, despite being barraged by popular media teaching me that I should be participating in these mommy wars and judging other moms.

Today, I might often look like that bad mother. Because of my three bright, happy, loving little girls, one of them is a highly sensitive child. My life would certainly be easier if this child would respond to firm guidelines or was motivated by consequences and rewards like the other two are. If I could simply make her stop having a meltdown over a perceived slight or forgotten goodbye kiss from daddy because she wants to earn a reward or avoid a consequence, parenting her would be dreamy.

But that’s not her, and those things don’t motivate her. Any amount of wishing it did or trying to force it to work has not and does not work. She is ruled by a sensitive, emotional spirit and I refuse to try and break her spirit.

When she’s in the middle of an epic meltdown, and I know I can either step in to rectify the situation by giving her what she needs through comfort and cuddles instead of consequences and harshness, I look like I’m giving in to her, like I’m coddling her. I look like I’m setting myself up to be ruled by my child, like I’m indulging her “bad behaviour.”  In short, I look like a bad mom. I know this because I hear it – from well-meaning friends, from store clerks, from elderly relatives.

They don’t understand that they’re seeing a snapshot, and that one size fits all parenting simply isn’t realistic – or desirable.

A good friend had a daughter who was highly sensitive from birth. When her second was born, he wrote the book on easy babies. It used to drive my friend mental when people would tell her, “It’s because you’re more relaxed this time around.” They were essentially telling her that her daughter’s personality was her fault. And really, that her daughter’s personality was a problem. And this little girl? Charming, intelligent, kind and soulful. An absolute delight when you understand her as a whole, and not simply in terms of easygoing or difficult.

So I won’t judge other moms, whether they’re the mom across the street or a public figure. I won’t call the mother who spanked her child in my store a bad mom, and I won’t mock Kim Kardashian. And when I hear whispers or comments that boil down to others saying I’m “doing it wrong” aka I’m a bad mom, water off a duck’s back, baby.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t criticize them; they are just what we would be under similar circumstances.”

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