If we ever meet at a playground, beware.
According to an article I read that identified nine types of moms who are “the worst you’ll meet at the playground,” I am the lowest of the low. In fact, during my eleven years as a mother I have behaved like every. single. mom on the author’s list.
When my baby girl straddled the seat of a harness swing at a park for the first time, my pushes contained all the strength of a weak whisper. She barely moved and the chains never escaped my grip. Also, I kissed her head. A lot. I couldn’t stop myself. I melted into her giggles and coos. My heart danced to the rhythm of her squirmy, happy legs. When she could walk, I held her hand as she climbed the stairs to the top of the slide. I coaxed her down because my encouragement–along with my promise of being right there–made her brave. She was new and she was mine and I was in love with her and scared of her all at once so I stayed close. I hovered.
I was clueless.
When my husband called and told me he lost his job, I lost track of my kids. I knew they were somewhere on the play scape, but I couldn’t tell you if they were climbing, sliding, swinging, or stealing a swig from another kid’s juice box. Tears blurred my vision and fear tripped my resolve. I sat on a bench focused on the person on the other end of the phone and trusted that another parent would rescue my child if needed because at that moment I couldn’t move. I was clueless.
I judged. I talked loudly.
It happened the same day I hovered. A sweet and seemingly frazzled mom brought her two kids to the playground. Her preschooler sat at the picnic table eating Cheetos and playing on his LeapFrog while her barefooted toddler climbed up the slide. I lifted my baby girl from the swing and asked her if she wanted a healthy snack. She gummed down a few cold peas and blueberries while I asked her if she wanted to slide. I’m not sure if the other mom picked up on my passive-aggressive-know-it-all demeanor, but she probably did. And I’m ashamed. I wish I could take back that moment. I wish I would had offered friendship instead of condemnation. I wish I hadn’t allowed my insecurities to overtake my mercy. The truth is I was so terrified that I was messing up the whole mommy schtick that I gave myself an imaginary gold star for every little thing I thought I got right that another mom may have missed. I judged. I talked loudly … and I’m so sorry I did those things.
I ignored the rules.
Once I sat on a bench breastfeeding my infant son while watching my three-year-old daughter monopolize the wheel of a wooden pirate ship. She demonstrated bad manners at the moment, but sleep deprivation and temper tantrums owned me. I knew the battles that faced me later and adding one more to my slate wasn’t going to happen. Spent. Defeated. Done. Those adjectives described me perfectly the day I let my toddler win. It wasn’t fair to the other kids who wanted a turn playing captain, but that boat afforded my weary spirit a much-needed respite. I ignored the rules.
I brought junk food.
We celebrated the last day of pre-K with a trip to Sonic and the playground. The hovering mama who fed her baby girl cold peas as a snack wasn’t around the day I brought milkshakes, burgers, french fries and brownies to the park. We gobbled up the grub and played hard. I didn’t realize that it was such a bad thing to do until I read the article about the worst moms. I brought junk food. Lots of it … and I’m not sorry.
I came empty handed.
More than once I committed the cardinal sin of motherhood: I accidentally left my diaper bag at home. And let me tell you something … coming to a playground without as much as a wet wipe is frightening … but scarier than telling a toddler that “oops, we can’t play now”? Nope. So while I tried to keep those trips short, they happened. And to all the moms out there who handed me an extra diaper, a handful of wipes, or a band-aide, thank you. I came empty handed … your grace kept me together.
I pretended to be the perfect Queen Bee.
When my kids were younger, we moved at least once every two years. Saying goodbye and starting over hurt every time. Making new friends quickly eased the agony. So oftentimes I’d hit a new playground with the intent of cultivating friendships. Wanting to make a good impression, I didn’t come empty-handed those days. I made sure I packed enough snacks and water bottles to share with five families. I also selected my outfit with great care … not too dressy … not too casual. I wasn’t trying to show off, I was lonely and just wanted someone to like me. So I pretended to be the perfect Queen Bee until I felt safe enough to be me.
I share these stories because although parenting styles and stages vary, most of us are just trying to be the best we can be for our children. Motherhood is messy and frenzied and littered with the beautiful unexpected.Our kids challenge us and change us and wear us out.
We clean dirty floors and soiled bottoms. We kiss bruises and bandage scrapes. We teach and we play and we love with every morsel of energy we can muster. We celebrate milestones with the enthusiasm of an Olympic champion and we grip grace and choke out soul cries when we make mistakes that hurt tender hearts.
No one should accept the myth of “worst type of mom,” because that type of thinking wounds the community of motherhood. Labels pit mom against mom and kid against kid. Comparison divides, conquers, and builds barricades that leave us all insecure and empty.
Instead of singling out the “worst moms,” let’s look for the best in each mom. Because it’s there and if you find it in someone else, chances are you’ll also give yourself the same grace.