Now that I’m a mom, I’m slightly more attuned to the moms around me than I was before. Moms with younger kids make me excited for another baby; moms with kids around the same age as my own give a sense of community; moms with older kids show me what's ahead. I usually err on the side of minding my own business when the mom seems to be handling things, but now that I understand the challenges, I recognize there’s more than a few things to say to a struggling mom to brighten her day.
Of course, I don’t always interject because, well, I know first hand that even people with the best of intentions can end up making a potentially frustrating situation, worse. Sometimes the only thing you really can do is nod in solidarity and move along. However, there have been times I’ve appreciated words from well-meaning strangers, and there are also things I know I’d like to hear. (I mean, assuming I can hear someone speaking at a regular volume if I’m struggling with my toddler in public. The chances of this are actually pretty slim.)
Still, I think it all comes down to support. I once had an awesome interaction with another mom in a restaurant bathroom, and pretty much all she said to me was, “I have five boys.” I was wrestling with my own son on the changing table, and she clearly understood my struggle. With just a few words she managed to convey a sense of understanding and encouragement. So, while not everyone has that exact same anecdote to offer, there’s plenty of other ways to show it:
"You're Doing Fine"
If she’s managed to avoid tears and swearing (actually, even if she hasn’t) and has kept her kid safe, I think we can agree this at least constitutes as “fine.”
If she’s able to still use her patient mom voice? She deserves a medal.
"Can I Hold Your Baby/Coffee/Coat/Anything At All?"
I’m not suggesting you be creepy about it, but if you know the mom or sense that she trusts you, she may appreciate the gesture. Especially if she’s digging for her wallet or her keys, which are always impossible to find when a kiddo is being extra needy. I know from experience.
"I've Been There"
I consider a simple sentence of solidarity to be another way to channel the mysterious woman-with-five-boys who offered me a lifeline. I especially like this option because “being there” implies that what the other mom’s experiencing is totally normal, and likely not her fault.
"What A Lucky Kid To Have Such A Caring Mom"
Confession: I’ve heard stories about strangers saying things like this third-hand, so perhaps it’s one of those mystical old wives’ tales that never actually happened. Still, can you imagine hearing this in the grocery line, when you’re seconds away from losing it over the packs of gum that your kiddo keeps reaching for? All the tears.
*Something Positive About Her Kid*
Perhaps because my mom still occasionally references kind things strangers said to her about my brother and I, and perhaps because I’ve gotten a handful of these compliments too (looking at you, sweet elderly woman in the seafood restaurant lobby).
Either way, these things can stay with you and help keep things in perspective. You're not "failing," even when you think you are. You're not "screwing up" your kid, even if they fell from some semi-tall structure while on your watch. Your kid is doing great because, well, people are noticing.
"At Least This Moment Isn’t Going Viral"
Well, one can hope. We can’t always say for sure, but it’s another way to recognize that it could always be worse.
"I Know A Great Babysitter"
Cue the rim shot. Hopefully this makes her at least crack a smile, but if not, she may actually come away with a babysitter reference (and maybe that’s even more helpful)?
"Do You Want Any Help?"
Let's not forget the obvious here. She may even have help around the corner, or on the way, or waiting in the car, but it's nice to check, right?
"I Think That’s Idris Elba/Ryan Gosling/Tom Hiddleston Over There!"
Shoot, the person in question doesn’t even have to be a struggling mom. Any living, breathing human being would probably dig seeing any of these fine gentlemen in person.
"OMG, I Think He’s Waving You Over!"
OK, OK, sorry about that. I’ll show myself out. But still, we can’t deny that this would surely brighten anyone’s day.