Mom Shame: noun The feeling that arises when a mom is in public with her children, and someone makes that mother feel inadequate, embarrassed, or judged.
Going in public as a mother, or parent in general, can be an anxiety-inducing experience. Outings with children are filled with so many opportunities for a mom to be judged, that sometimes we decide to stay home more often than we should, just to avoid potential conflict.
There’s the possibility that if you breastfeed your baby, you’ll have to explain to an ill-informed patron that, yes it is perfectly legal to breastfeed in public. No, a cover is not required, and no you are definitely NOT trying to steal anyone’s husband. Because let’s be honest, breastfeeding is definitely not the latest strategy for man-eating homewreckers.
If it’s not the breastfeeding, there’s always the diaper changing that could cause the ire of a passerby. Many restrooms are not equipped with diaper changing stations. I’m still perplexed by this, especially when it happens at family establishments. And without a diaper changing station, we have to find other places to change the diaper. Sometimes, we have to use a bench or booth. The number of people offended by this is insane. Diapers have to be changed. It’s worth a few glares or snide remarks to avoid a diaper rash.
This past weekend, something happened that shocked and mortified me. We were visiting my sister and took the kids on an outing to the mall. The alluring fall scents coming out of a shop* sucked us into the shop, where I had no choice but to spend too much money on a candle that smelled of childhood, gadgets to make my car smell like what I’d imagine Elsa’s castle would smell like, and shea socks. But that wasn’t what mortified me, though $24.50 for a candle that smelled like a Kansas pumpkin patch should have. No, the problem was at check out.
The store was loud since they had construction in process, and my husband and I had been trading off pushing our teething and cranky 18-month-old son around the shop to keep him happy. During the transaction, I could hear my son’s cries and the woman checking me out, let’s call her Karen, said something along the lines of, “Would somebody just tell that kid to shut up.” I was stunned. I knew it was my son. But I didn’t know what to say, and that’s why I love my sister who said, “That’s her son.”
Karen looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry. If I had known, I wouldn’t have said anything.” All I could say was, “You shouldn’t have said it at all.” I got through my transaction as quickly as I could. My eyes started to sting with the tears welling up, and I just had to get away as quickly as I could before I cried. As I made my way to the front of the shop, I started to cry. I hate crying, even though I seem to do it a lot now I especially hate to cry in public. Sure, Karen was sorry, and I do forgive her. I can’t imagine what it would be like to work in a construction zone all day and have to hear my son’s shrieks. I’m his mother, and I hate them. But in that moment, she forgot that my son was also experiencing the horrible sounds of the construction, she didn’t know he’s teething, and she didn’t realize the only way he can communicate his discomfort is to scream (of course, I think screaming is also just his favorite thing to do on certain days).
From my experiences, I feel like we as a society have cast aside understanding and empathy, not only to parents of young kids but to everyone in general. In the moment with Karen, I felt like a horrible mother. My son was screaming, I wasn’t doing anything to make him stop since he was with his dad, and by proxy, I was bothering everyone.
Since then, I’ve had another experience with another Karen that’s made me feel like I should never leave my home ever again. This time, it was my little throwing his pacifier on the ground while he was in his stroller. I didn’t see it happen since I was turned and talking to the girls. An older woman walked up to me, handed me his paci, with a glare. I told her thank you, and all she could say was, “It was on the ground.” And scoffed, glared, and walked off. I just stood stunned, once again. I’m sorry…?
At this point, I feel like I should wear a shirt that says:
I am a mother of three young children.
I am sorry if they cry, drop things,
or do something else to offend.
Please remember that we are also human.
Please be kind, because I am one tantrum or rude
stranger away from losing my mind.
I just ask of you, the next time you’re in public and you hear a child losing their mind, or see a mother struggling, please remember: We are all human. We are doing our best. We are probably one more shriek away from a mental breakdown. And we hate the screams as much as you.
*After publishing I was contacted by the company, and I didn’t feel it would be fair to keep them on blast after that phone call. They were kind and made things right. They did not request for me to remove the name, I did that of my own accord.