A few years ago I wrote an amazing essay about how moms compete with each other. We falsely view our children as extensions of ourselves and tend to put way too much stock in how their behavior reflects on us. I fight this tendency constantly, trying very hard not to make parenting decisions based on how others might be judging me. But sometimes I do it anyway.
Mondays we do a lot of laundry and we clean . . . or at least clean up. So on Monday, I had a lot to do and I had it all planned out. Halfway through my day I realized that the headache I had might be related to the smell of fuel oil that had been permeating the house all morning. Hmmm . . .
Unfortunately, Todd was very busy at work that day and couldn’t be reached. I wasn’t sure what to do about a potential problem with the furnace, so I gathered up the kids and some gear and headed out of the potentially hazardous fumes. It was a cool, rainy day, so there was no going to the park. After we filled our bellies with pizza and unsuccessfully shopped for sandals, we landed at the library.My kids love the children’s section. It’s a special treat for Camilla. Adrian doesn’t associate the library with books. For him, it’s the choo choo trains that lure him. So, while they were both occupied, I whipped out my laptop and started Googling “My house smells like fuel oil.”
Image Credit: By nathan williams from London, UK (Cinema Book Shop) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Adrian was playing at the train table with a few other boys. Their caretakers were much more involved than I was.
I kept hearing one mom say, “That’s okay. He’s littler than you. He can have that train.”
She was talking to her son about Adrian. So I checked to make sure he wasn’t stealing engines from the other kids and went back to my laptop. But I felt guilty.
As I was sitting there, I imagined the judgment of the other parents. I kept getting up and checking on my kids because I knew the other moms probably thought that’s what I ought to do. I had an inner dialogue with myself that went something like this:
“You know you shouldn’t let what they think dictate what you do!”
“They don’t even know you, Alison! You spend lots of quality time with your children.”
“You’re stressed out. You just finagled the kids through a restaurant lunch and shopping. They’re finally content so it’s okay for you to take this time for yourself.”
“You don’t have to prove anything to these moms.”
And I kept hearing that mom interacting with her son.
“She’s such a good mom,” I thought. “She’s paying attention to her son and making him listen to her. She’s probably thinking I’m horrible.”
Image Credit: By Matthew Bowden www.digitallyrefreshing.com derivative work: Harumphy (Woman-typing-on-laptop.jpg) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
In the next instant, her sweet little boy said to another child, “I’m going to cut your face off!”
To her credit, the mom immediately took her son and left the library. His playtime was over. But I couldn’t help feeling just a little bit better because they didn’t look quite so perfect anymore.
Isn’t that silly? And petty? I’m not writing about this to say my kids are better. God knows my child could easily think of saying something along those lines (and one of them probably will shortly after I post this). But somewhere in the midst of this, as I wrestled with myself, grace made an appearance. I internalized grace for myself, realizing that there was no sin in surfing the net while my children played, and I found myself giving grace to those around me, too.
To the mom who had to take her son home because of his violent outburst: “Wow, she handled that well. And she stayed calm, too.”
To the child who started screaming and running around: “Aw, he must be having a tough day. I hope his mom isn’t too stressed out over his behavior because it doesn’t bother me.”
My day suddenly got a lot better. It was almost as though the sun had come out, even though it was still raining outside.