I remember my parents speaking in code if they didn’t want me to understand what they were saying. My older family members spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want our little ears picking up on what they were putting down. My husband and I have learned how to refrain from discussing certain topics, like what we find annoying about each other, in front of our kids, too, We think it would be confusing for our children to witness certain conversations. Likewise, I try not to say certain things about other moms in front of my kids. Just because I think it, doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to share within earshot of my children.
While many parents find it beneficial for their kids to witness certain adult interactions, I don’t think mine are old enough to contextualize all that stuff. When my kids hear me speak ill of another adult — especially if that adult is a parent of one of their friends — they may copy and regurgitate that opinion just because I said so. And I’m not always correct, or accurate. In other words, if I’m ticked off at somebody, it’s really none of my kids’ business.
I don’t need to pretend it’s all sunshine and lollipops in the adult world, but until my children are mature enough to process the intricacies of relationships outside those they have with their friends or family, I’m going to refrain from saying these things about other moms in front of my kid:
“She’s Not Watching Her Kid”
Maybe I watch a The Americans a little too eagerly, but I think I’m pretty good at observing others without drawing attention to myself. I am always noticing other parents in public spaces, and how attentive they are to their kids. However, I engage in that kind of voyeurism because, as my kids are getting older, I feel I should be a bit less involved in their playtime. They need to socialize with their peers at the playground. Playing with mom made total sense when they were toddlers, but at 9 and 6, they are allowed to run around the playground, reporting back to me when they want to move to different area. They are sometimes out of my sight for a few moments, and I am uneasy about this new stage in their development. How much should I be training my eyes on them? Am I preventing trust being built between us? I look around at other parents and gauge their levels of oversight.
But how can I judge anyone’s parenting style? I don’t know their circumstances. So even when I might notice a parent of a very small child looking away from their kid, as he teeters precariously at the top of the slide, it serves no one, especially my own child, to call that out. At best, I should just go over to the kid myself to help him if he slips. But I am in no position to tell another mother how to handle her child. I’m definitely not an expert.
“Her Child Is A Brat”
You would think that, since I’m a mom, I would be sympathetic to other parents when their kids are acting out. Nope. I think it’s because, when I witness a kid having a meltdown or talking back to her parents in public, I immediately put myself in the parent’s shoes. I’m frustrated, angry, and sad because I know when my own kids acts like that, I feel like I’ve lost control of the situation. So I’m not exactly annoyed at other parents when I see they’re having a hard time with their kids, I’m just annoyed for them. And because it’s just as likely that my kid will be the one trying to punch me when it’s time to leave the playground, I refrain from commenting on the behavior of another kid. My children are not better than anyone else’s children during those trying, transitional moments.
“She’s Wearing Her Baby Wrong”
It really does bug me when I see people wearing their baby carriers too low. It just looks painful. However, my kids don’t need to hear me criticize other parents. It’s not helpful. If I was really concerned about their lower back pain, I’d ask if they needed help adjusting their carrier. Just lobbing criticism around doesn’t make anyone’s life better. I want my kids to know that.
“I Wish I Was As Together As She Is”
As my children have grown, I have been able to put my finger on what scares them the most: my lack of confidence. More than dark rooms or bees, my tangible insecurity incites fear in my kids. It’s unsettling for them to have their parents appear unsure, and unsatisfactory with their lives. So mentioning that I am envious of somebody else might make my kids nervous. I may think it, but I try not to say it in front of them.
Until recently, I’ve always compared myself to others and it’s been a huge time-suck. I vowed my kids wouldn’t waste a second seeing how they measure up to others, especially when it comes to their looks. My kids get enough gross signals about beauty standards from commercials and unrealistic depictions of average humans on screen in movies. So I make sure that when I share my admiration for someone, they know it’s about some other quality than their appearance. It’s important for my son to hear me show respect for someone’s intelligence, kindness, or sense of humor. I want him to respect the women in his life for the attributes that are inherent to their personalities, and not their bodies.
“She Drives Like A Maniac”
My Queens neighborhood is very residential, but there have been a lot of accidents involving pedestrians because it’s a busy area, and because a lot of drivers don’t think all the traffic rules apply to them. Last summer, when my daughter was soon to turn 9, we started teaching her to cross the street by herself. Slowly, we’ve been building on that independence, putting greater distances between us and he when she’s been walking around the neighborhood. This means I have been hyper alert about cars. I am extremely focused on how everyone’s driving when my kids are venturing solo across streets. As much as I want to comment on people when I see they zip through red lights, I have to be careful I don’t perpetuate the stigma of female drivers. There are terrible drivers of all kinds.
I don’t hold back my commentary on bad drivers because I want my kids to look out for them. But I don’t call anyone names. Instead, I work hard to stick to phrases like: “They are not driving safely. So always look around you on the sidewalk and street.”
“Giving Her Kids Junk Food Is Actually Mean”
Judge much? Actually, yes. I’m much less judgmental now and after nine years in the parenting game, but when I was a newer mom I would get so incredulous that other parents weren’t following the same rules I was, in terms of curating a natural, organic, super healthy lifestyle for my little ones. These days, I totally get it. We feed our kids packaged foods. They get hours of screen time on weekend mornings. I pretend I don’t notice when they occasionally don’t brush their teeth. Sometimes, these shortcuts are the difference between fighting all the time with the kids, or just at those crucial moments when it is really worth going to battle (for example: cleaning up all the Legos to avoid permanent foot injuries).
If my kid remarks that another mom is feeding her kid crap when we’re at the park, it’s because my kid wants me to follow suit. My go-to response is, “Everyone does what’s best for their own families. That is their choice.” My kids get annoyed by this, but at least they’re not learning to be catty by hearing me say anything judgmental about that other mom’s snack choice.
“Would You Rather She Was Your Mother?”
This would be taking passive-aggressive tactics to the next level. So many times my kids have called out how much better other people have it: this friend went to the movies over the weekend, another friend has 500 Pokémon cards, yet another friend gets Nutella in her lunchbox. They don’t know how fortunate they are because, hey, they are 9 and 6 and only see the things they do not have. In the moments when they whine with entitlement, I want to force a cruel reality down their throats to wake them up to the fact that their middle class American lives are pretty fantastic. I want to say, “Fine. Go live at their house.” I want to challenge their complaints with an actionable item: to be raised by a different mother.
This is what I think, but never say. Anger stirs up the thought, but I know offering my kids the choice to leave their parents is never something I could take back. I could only imagine what my kids would think, hearing their own mother suggest that she doesn’t have to be their mom anymore, simply because she didn’t take them to the movies.
One of the hardest things to do as a parent has been to control my anger, and not speak harsh words that I’ll regret later. I am far from perfect, as I still yell and my daughter definitely learned my signature eye roll. But I’ll never suggest to my children that, even in our most tense moments, I would consider giving them up. They will always feel wanted. (And deprived of Nutella.)