It happens more than I care to admit.
It happens at a rate that makes me incredibly sad and genuinely disappointed in the women who share an experience as unique and universal as motherhood.
It happens when I'm at the grocery store and my son won't stop crying because I had to forsake his naptime in the name of groceries. The mother with the four, perfectly behaved children looks at me like I'm a five year old with a doll; playing house and completely ill-equipped to handle parenthood in a respectable and, well, silent manner.
It happened when I breastfed my infant son in public, refusing to sit on a toilet so he could enjoy his meal sans uncomfortable stares. A new-mother, feeding her child via socially acceptable bottle, looks me up and down as disgust paints her equally-exhausted face. I can hear her whisper to her partner, thankful that she was able to keep some sense of decency, despite having become a parent.
It happened when I stopped breastfeeding my son, tears streaming down my face as I coped with the realization that my body was no longer producing what he needed. Mothers passive-aggressively shared posts about the importance of breastmilk and the pitfalls of formula and the amount of time a child should be breastfed if it is to positively impact their health.
And while it is hurtful and isolating and insensitive, when a fellow mother shames me for my personal parenting choices, it is nothing compared to what happens when I take the time to really look at her.
When I look at the judgmental mom, I see doubt.
I know that, like me, she isn't completely and unconditionally sure of her choices. She believes what she is doing is right and is passionate in her convictions but, like me, there are moments of doubt and fearful apprehension that shake even the most centered of her core values.
I know she seeks validation for her choices, even if it means whittling down the complexities of parenthood into "right" and "wrong".
When I look at the judgmental mom, I see fear.
I know that, like me, she abhors the thought of anything even remotely detrimental happening to her child. She aches to protect her son or daughter, steadfast in her vigilance to the point of exhaustion. A world she once viewed as vast and exciting and beautiful, is now nothing but a dark harbinger of potential pain that could harm her child, or worse.
I know she will forsake all others in the name of her child's health and happiness, even if it means renouncing those closest to her.
When I look at the judgmental mom, I see love.
I know that, like me, her life changed the moment she held her child in her arms. I know that she has experienced a rush of overwhelming emotion that is as inspirational as it is staggering. I know that she has questioned all that things that make her unapologetically her, as a result of that love. She is weighed down by the responsibility that love provides, inevitably shaped by every decision she makes.
I know that kind of love will leave her feeling like it is her against a questioning and unreasonable world, even if she has people forever in her corner.
When I look at the judgmental mom, I see myself.
Because the truth is, I have judged moms for their choices as well. Whether it be silently or in the comfort of my home or through shared looks with my partner, I have thought another mom's decision was wrong or unreasonable or unhealthy.
We all have.
And we have done so, not because we want to feel superior or knowledgable or better equipped for the trail and tribulations only parenthood can provide, but because we're scared and in love and in constant self-doubt.
So, next time you're in the grocery store or breastfeeding publicly or doing whatever it is that has left another mother judging you:
Look at her.
You might just see yourself and, when you do, you'll realize that her judgement has nothing to do with you.