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How a Mom I Didn't Know Made Me Feel Less Alone

Photograph by Twenty20

Parenting can be one of the most isolating undertakings any person ever experiences.

It's funny how that works. By becoming a parent, you welcome an entirely new person to the planet. Yet with that addition of a new person, the rest of the world vanishes. At least, it can feel like that.

I imagine this has something to do with the intensity of raising young children. But I also suspect it has something to do with the intense judgment parents often encounter. No matter how we're raising our children, there's always someone out there—a family member, another parent on the playground, some Internet troll—who thinks we're doing it all wrong.

Sometimes those negative voices make us second guess ourselves into wondering if we are, in fact, doing it all wrong.

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A few years ago, back when my oldest children were 5 and 3, I had a day where everything was actually going wrong. I was seven months pregnant. My 3-year-old had just upended his cereal bowl, sending milky goo all over the kitchen table and floor. I'd had no time to clean up said goo, because my 5-year-old was running late for kindergarten. On the subsequent rushed walk to school, after the 5-year-old tried (unsuccessfully) to dart out into traffic, he decided to splay his body across the middle of the sidewalk and then scream his refusal to enter the building's doors. Of course, the 3-year-old was struggling to squirm out of my death grip on his arm as I tried, pregnant belly sagging below me, to wrangle his brother up off the sidewalk.

'Cherish every moment!' I said through a forced smile and gritted teeth each time another parent passed us by.

"Cherish every moment!" I said through a forced smile and gritted teeth each time another parent passed us by. It was my sad attempt at humor—one I was hoping would deflect the judgment of all those other parents who could see, without any question, that I was indeed doing it all wrong.

Then one mother stopped beside me. She had a baby strapped to her chest and her phone in her hand. I knew her only as an acquaintance. Her son was also in my child's kindergarten class. But it was enough of a pseudo-relationship for me to trust her kind smile.

I wasn't a terrible parent. The situation was terrible. And in that moment, I needed her kindness to make the situation a little less terrible.

"Here, can I help you?" she asked. "If it's OK with you, I can sit with your 3-year-old and let him play a game on my phone while you take your son into class. It looks like you might need both arms for the job."

All my forced humor faded away, fast. Tears sprang to my eyes as I gushed, "Thank you," and sprang my 3-year-old on this near-stranger.

Two minutes was all I needed to settle my older son in his classroom. Two minutes that could have taken 10 or 11 if I'd tried to do to the job all by myself.

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But more than saving me time, this other mother's kindness rescued me from all my worries over what others were thinking about me, about my parenting. I wasn't a terrible parent. The situation was terrible. And in that moment, I needed her kindness to make the situation a little less terrible.

Instead of making me feel isolated, she reinforced that we could all use a little help—and many fewer looks and judgment—to make our most challenging parenting experiences a lot more tolerable.

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