Recently while traveling our family stopped at a mainstream chain restaurant; not fancy, but not fast food. As we set our kids up at the table (baby in a high chair and preschooler in a booster seat), we glanced over and saw the couple in the next booth over staring at us. They had that new-parent-deer-in-headlights look about them. The exhausted, exhilarated, stunned look that inevitably accompanied the newborn cradled in the husband’s arms. They asked us how old our baby was, clearly having no idea because they can’t imagine their tiny son a day older than what he was right then. They were looking at us like we had our shit together. Like somehow we knew secrets they didn’t.
Later on in the meal after attempts at a bottle, bouncing, and pacifier had been exhausted, their baby cried a signature newborn wail–the cry that you blink and realize your baby has outgrown and that sound has now been replaced with more vocal cries with actual tears. The new parents looked around, panicked for the reactions of others. I heard them apologize to the table beside them and as they turned to us with forgiving looks, before that Mama could say a word I said, “Don’t for a second apologize to us. He is a baby and you two are doing a wonderful job with him. You are not bothering us in the slightest.” My husband agreed and joked about how our children were only behaved because they were too tired to do anything else. The mother’s eyes softened and she said, “Thank you so much for saying that.”
I was eight months pregnant with my second baby and wrangling my 2-year-old in the grocery store in the dead of summer. I loaded my bags into the car and hoisted him out of the cart onto my hip. As I buckled him in a woman approached me and put her hand on my shoulder. I was quite startled and I remember thinking, “Please don’t try to sell me anything, lady. Can’t you see my hands are full?” I’m sure the look I gave her in that moment reflected my thoughts, but in a calm voice she said to me, “I was watching you with your son. I remember being where you are and how hard even a simple trip to the grocery store could be. You are a good Mama and you are doing a beautiful job with your boy. Congratulations on your pregnancy, I wish you the best.”
I was stunned. I actually wanted to cry and hug her but I barely muttered a thank you as I watched her walk away. It wasn’t a particularly hard day or trying moment but to have someone, a stranger, tell me I was a good Mama was everything I didn’t know I needed right then and there.
Why don’t we compliment each other more often? Why is it so awkward when someone does? Why is it so hard to accept positive feedback? In a time when “parenting” is a noun fueled by criticism and mommy wars, why can’t we take notice and lift each other up?
I see my friends being great mothers all the time. I’m honored to be friends with them because in my own times of weakness I can channel their words and strength. I have one particular friend whom I have never heard her raise her voice or lose her patience, not once. I admire her for this and yet, I’ve never told her.
Another one of my friends is raising a strong-willed tween daughter whose interests and aspirations could not be further from her own, yet she embraces it all with such grace and beauty. She is such a good Mama, I want to grow up and be like her one day.
I know that more than I want to be rich, or thin, or successful, or trendy, I want to be a good Mama. I want to do right by my kids from the way I pack their lunch to the way I answer their questions about God. I don’t want to be perfect; I want to be good enough. Every Mama I know, working, stay-at-home, work-from-home, one kid, four kids–we all seem to want the same thing.
So when I see a Mama loving her children through their tears, I always give a sympathetic ‘I’ve been there’ smile but now I’ve started saying out loud, “You are a good Mama.” She almost always looks at the ground and then smiles. When I see my friends post a picture of the birthday cake that they slaved over all night to present to their child I type in the comments, “You are a good Mama.”
It’s not about what we are doing: bottle feeding, breastfeeding, baking a cake, buying one from Costco–it’s that all of these things are done with love and intention. How we love and care for our children is a matter of individuality, but the whys are more similar than we think. If we as parents spent less time being critical and defensive and more time lifting each other up, the journey would be a little easier on all of us.
Yesterday, my 3-year-old was having a tantrum as we left a play area. I calmly said to him, “Let’s not get worked up, if we take a deep breath together I think it will be alright.” I was actively choosing to be calm and help him deal with his emotions; I could have easily yanked him out the door and told him to knock it off. On a different day, with less sleep and patience, I might have done just that. But he took a deep breath with me and we were both calm.
The lady holding the door for her three children also held the door for me and as she did she turned me and said, “Bravo, Mama. Well done.”
We all need cheerleaders sometimes. I challenge you to be one.
If you know someone who’s being the best mother she can be, tell her today with the hashtag #YouAreAGoodMama.