Before I had my own kids, I was typical in my observation of parents with their children who behaved poorly.
In fact, I would avoid spending time with friends who had more unruly kids and would say to myself constantly, “my kids will never behave like that!”
And just like that the Judgmental Mom in me emerged even before my offspring came along.
After I got married and was expecting my first child, I was the perfect pregnant mom-to-be.
With the exception of 12 weeks of morning sickness, I ate well, never any caffeine, no alcohol, followed all of the doctor’s orders…the whole nine yards.
But after my first was born, I was terrified I was making mistakes. Trying to juggle taking care of a baby and keeping myself together was scary because I didn’t want to be like the moms I had judged before.
We got into a groove, but I remember when my husband and I took the baby out to eat on a date night, she had a complete meltdown in the highchair and we had to ask the waiter to pack our dinners to go. How embarrassing!
People were looking at us with this small baby with her loud pipes! Neither of us ever expected our perfect baby to do such a thing in public.
We handled it the way most parents do, get the kid out of there as fast as possible and I got my first lesson on what it felt like to be on the other side of “perfect.”
After years of working with at-risk teens I became a Judgmental Mom once again.
We fostered six teenage boys who were wrecking-ball messed up. I would hear these kids’ stories and think, “what kind of idiot parents are these people?”
Then came my own set of twins, a marriage on the fritz, divorce, and all of the sudden I’m a single mom raising three kids alone.
With no father nearby and sometimes only one income when child support wasn’t rolling in, my Judgmental Mom bus again made a hard stop.
I tried my best to be the perfect mom, not wanting my own children to become the statistical at-risk teens like the ones we had fostered.
I did a lot of good things with my kids as I had learned how to teach and manage behaviors.
The thing is though, nobody tells you how emotional parenting is.
I read so many parenting books. I did the work in therapy with kids and was always transparent about my shortcomings.
But it can be so lonely and frustrating and at the top of the overwhelming emotions is all the guilt. I feared I was doing it wrong or that my mistakes would have long-term, devastating effects.
I was being a Judgmental Mom to myself even though I applied everything I learned to statistically improve the odds in my children’s favor.
When it comes right down to it, regardless of how great of parents are you, kids, especially teenagers, use their own free will and make choices every day.
Parents have very little control of their kids’ choices and, in retrospect, it’s far better to have kids do dumb things so they can get caught, corrected and learn from them while living in the security of mom’s house before they become adults, and have far greater real-life consequences for their decisions.
Now that I’m more than two decades from that new mom, I observe that my kids have actually turned out pretty nice and I’m watching from the sidelines as they navigate life.
They are good students and community leaders.
They are kind and make good decisions and they are really happy people to be around.
I’m very proud of how well they have developed into happy, healthy people.
And to be honest, I give them most of the credit for who they are.
I also have to remind myself that I had so many opportunities to learn how to do all the parenting stuff. It wasn’t easy but neither was running a foster home with six kids who weren’t even mine. In some ways it was easier, some ways more difficult and each stage of development with each individual child comes with new challenges.
When I find myself getting a Judgmental Mom itch, I have to remind myself that others don’t have the same experience as I do, or kids, or circumstance, or support system.
I feel so fortunate that things went so well and I’ve had a great support system.
The truth is that beneath the surface of any badly behaved kid scenario, is a mom that is trying the best she can to be the best mom to her kids.
We all have that in common.
So when I feel that pang of Judgmental Mom creep in, I’ve learned to move closer, to support moms during times of struggle, and find ways to offer kind solutions and helpful words of encouragement to the mom tribe around me.