Standing on line at Ulta during my lunch break, I noticed a very pregnant mom with three young kids in front of me. Her sons–appearing to be 3 and 4- were quietly playing with a toy they had brought from home and her daughter, maybe 1, was strapped into a stroller. The line was pretty long for a random Monday and I was growing impatient between needing to get back to the office for a meeting and a growling stomach. When the next cashier opened up, the mom turned to the kids, “It’s our turn, boys, let’s go.”
Unsurprisingly, they continued to play.
Her voice changed–a little lower, a bit stronger through somewhat clenched teeth. “One …” and before she could get to “two” both boys were standing next to the stroller, ready to move.
“Wow!” I said to her with an awed grin. “Bravo, Mama! You didn’t even get to three! I can only wish for that with my kids!”
We shared a laugh as she moved to the register. “Thanks!”
I’m sure I’ll never see this mom again, but I couldn’t help but admire how well her kids listened to her—at least, in that moment. Shopping with kids is never easy and here she was, doing it with three and one on the way.
I had total mom envy, but of the best kind: admiration.
It got me thinking. From the onset of motherhood, we hear about the things we moms are doing “wrong.” From how we give birth, to how we feed/diaper/clothe our babies, to when we go back to work (or if we do)—you name it, we’re doing it “wrong” in someone’s eyes. Just read the comments section of any parenting blog for a glimpse into the raw, unfiltered ugliness of the mommy wars. The internet allows us to hash out our arguments with extra viciousness.
So, in our digital age, how refreshing would it be if there was an app or a space where we could dish about all the things we moms are doing right? But for all the mommy shaming we see online and offline, I’d love to see a place where moms can post anonymously when they’ve seen another rockstar mom in action (kind of like an “I Saw You” or “Missed Connection” ad), but also a place where moms can share their personal stories of being complimented by strangers–rather than being bashed by them.
Those compliments and nods of encouragement can keep us going even the worst of days, and really help a stressed-out mother get through the day-to-day monotony of parenting. To be able to read anonymous posts by other moms about how their spirits were lifted by another mom, a well of compliments, would be a nice deviation from all the negativity we see directed at mothers for their every decision.
The truth is, kind words really do stick. I still remember being in Target about three years ago with my daughter–then 3–when she decided to pitch an epic fit in the middle of the store simply because I wouldn’t let her take home the giant stuffed puppy she saw in the Valentine’s Day section that she “had” to have. It was an all-out toddler tantrum, complete with feet stamping, scrunched-up red face, tears, and the start of what would turn into screeches. To avoid an impending disaster, I left my basket in the aisle and grabbed her into my arms. “We’re leaving,” I said.
“You’re the meanest mommy EVER! You’re not my friend anymore!” she screeched as only a toddler can.
I was hurt and embarrassed, but I put her down and looked her squarely in the eye. “Maya, that’s OK if you’re mad at me, but we’re not getting the puppy. And I’m not your friend; I’m your mommy.”
An older woman walking by must have heard the whole thing, because she tapped on my arm. “Good job, Mom. We love them to pieces, but we’re not their friend,” she said with a wink and a gentle squeeze.
I will never forget how validated I felt in that moment. I was still only three years into this parenting gig and often questioned my own decisions and reactions. That day, her words mattered.
Likewise, there have been countless similar moments over the past six years of parenting–when people have complimented us on our kids’ behaviors in restaurants, or how well they travel, or how they interact so nicely with one another. Of course, we know they were only bearing witness to a brief snapshot in time–as I was in Ulta that day. Still, the kindness a stranger bestowed upon me by offering a little praise in that moment genuinely made my day. That woman could have just walked by, but instead, she chose to engage. I’ll probably never see her again, but I’d love her to know she left an impression.
Because words matter so much–and because my vision for an app doesn’t exist just yet this Mother’s Day, I challenge all of us moms to pour a glass of wine (or whatever beverage you prefer) and complete the following exercise. First, jot down the kind words you recall that others have shared with you about your kids or your parenting over the years. Then, rack your brain for the moments you’ve been awed by another mom or parent, be they friend or stranger. Share these with your partner, your family, and your friends. Do you feel better already?!
And then, to pay it forward, be on the lookout for rockstar moms in action, and give them a compliment right then and there. You just never know when you’ll make someone’s day, or even save them from a moment of despair.