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