Before I had kids, I didn’t think much about moms as a category. If you’d have asked me what I thought of moms in general, I’d probably have looked at you as if you were a space alien. I judged moms before I became a mom, and looking back, I realize how wrong that was. I thought that being a parent was like babysitting, except without a break, which seemed like a nightmarish thing to do to yourself. Not that I really minded babysitting, so long as the kids were good. But I had to play with them all the time, and that meant endless rounds of board games or whatever the kids were into that day. Then, when it was bedtime, they never wanted to go to sleep, and once they finally got into bed, I had to sit on the couch watching PG channels because every other channel was blocked to protect the kids. And honestly? The idea of condemning myself to this for life seemed horrific.
But if you asked me what I thought about children… I had a lot of thoughts about children. My husband and I mostly encountered kids in restaurants and to be fair, we didn’t notice them unless they committed the cardinal sin of making noise, or worse, crying. “Oh my gosh, no one wants to hear your kid,” I’d say to my husband. “They need to shut that kid up or take them out, because I made the choice not to procreate, and I shouldn’t have to suffer for theirs.” I didn’t understand that toddlers make noise, and sometimes, babies cry. It’s part and parcel of babydom. Before I had kids I didn't get that babies shouldn’t be barred from any public place. I didn't understand the need for a little grace for said babies' parents, who hear the crying louder than anyone else.
But now? Oh, now I get it.
I didn’t just hate crying babies. I judged moms, usually without thinking. I hated children with dirty faces. How hard was it, I wondered, to swipe a paper towel over a kid’s mouth, so they weren’t all covered with cookie crumbs and chocolate smears?
I also encountered babies in church. Ironically, for a Catholic, pro-life parish, my husband and I weren’t exactly tolerant of crying babies during Mass. “Get that kid out of here,” my mom would snap, on hearing the rising wail from a pew somewhere behind us. “There’s a crying room for a reason,” I’d add sycophantically. And when my husband and I attended Mass at a different church, our prerogative was much the same. “Get that kid out,” I’d mutter. And when I complained about crying babies, my friends seemed perplexed. They liked having babies in church. It meant the church was growing.
And if we had to deal with a little bit of wailing to help that happen, well, we were Catholic. When my own babies would wail later — or scream “No Mass! No Mass!” like my 2 year old did — I was extended the same grace from them that they extended to those long-ago mothers. They even offered to take them outside for me so I could worship in peace.
I didn’t just hate crying babies. I judged moms, usually without thinking. I hated children with dirty faces. How hard was it, I wondered, to swipe a paper towel over a kid’s mouth, so they weren’t all covered with cookie crumbs and chocolate smears? Apparently too difficult for some mothers, I assumed. I also judged moms whose kids had dirty clothes. I knew kids got dirty. That was part of being a kid. But I smugly thought moms should bring extra clothes for that, or make an effort to clean their clothes off. Holes and scuffs were unacceptable. Thinking back, this cracks me up, especially since my oldest always has gunk on his face and wore a pair of torn shorts twice before we managed to trash them.
I didn't get the demands of motherhood and parenthood. I didn't understand that it's a thankless, relentless, unbelievably difficult job. I didn't get how hard it was, how impossible it feels, how often isolating it can be to raise another human.
I also believed, before I had children, that kids' clothes should match. Barring the adorable child donning the superhero or princess costume in the grocery store, children should wear clothes that match each other. In my mind, there should be no clashing polka-dot/plaid combinations, and absolutely no shorts with dress shoes. And especially no pajamas in public, which made me assume that parents who took their kids out like this just didn't care about their children. Now, I know kids wear what they want, and that means their clothes clash sometimes. But even beyond that, I know understand that the fight for matching tops or even to get them to take their beloved pajama top off is not worth it. Recently, my oldest son wore his PJs all day before we made him change. And my middle son insists on wearing his dress shoes with all outfits, formal and informal.
My judgment didn't stop with their clothes, however. Before I had kids I was a crusader against all things commercialized. I judged those "poor mothers" who allowed their daughters to wear princess dresses. I looked at most princesses as basically victims of domestic violence, cooped up in homes and towers all because a man had forbidden them from leaving. If I ever had kids, I vowed, they would never watch shows like this. They would also never watch mainstream TV, which I suspected of releasing subliminal messages onto growing minds. Fast-forward several years later, and my three sons have seen all the hot movies, have even watched the new Star Wars, and yep, we've bought the toys that go along with them. Sometimes you just have to roll with the tide.
When I see women without children, for whatever reason that may be, I hope that they find it in their hearts to give me and my sons the grace that I once could not. I hope they understand how hard it is; how we're just doing our best.
I didn’t really think about moms very much before I had kids. But I sure as hell judged them and their parenting choices. I didn't get the demands of motherhood and parenthood. I didn't understand that it's a thankless, relentless, unbelievably difficult job. I didn't get how hard it was, how impossible it feels, how often isolating it can be to raise another human. My sons have done everything that I judged other mothers for before I had children. They cried in church, made a mess at restaurants, caused a scene at the dinner table, refused to change before leaving the house, and worn weeks-old pajamas happily. They've done all that, and then some. And I've realized that I'm just along for the ride. Now when I see another mother with a child, I know her story. I know it because I'm living it. And when I see women without children, for whatever reason that may be, I hope that they find it in their hearts to give me and my sons the grace that I once could not. I hope they understand how hard it is; how we're just doing our best.
Looking back, I am so lucky that people have constantly extended grace to me when it comes to my delightful, wonderful, mess-making sons. I hope they see my crying babies, dirty-faced kids, mismatched kids, and boys obsessed with commercialized TV as par for the course. Society has been kind to me as a mother, when I was not kind to it. If I could go back and redo it, I'd be kinder, gentler, less judgmental. I'd give them a look that says: It's OK.