I watched “Mad Men.” Even the famously disappointing ending. (Even if he was supposed to be the Coke commercial guy, it was still a let down.) The writers hammer a few things home on that show: everyone drank, everyone smoked, everyone swept their problems under the rug, and the women were really judgy. I’m not sure if it is true, and my own mom passed away years ago so I can’t ask her, but Betty Draper and her friends were as judgy as the women in a Victorian royal family, a Jane Austen novel or an Oscar Wilde play. They took long drags on their cigarettes and narrowed their eyes at each other’s clothes and character, hairstyles, houses, and husbands.
Today it is a hate crime to judge anyone, especially a mom; we’ve evolved so much--or like to think we have--that observing someone else’s choices and forming a negative opinion about them--any of them--is a cardinal sin. (Except for murder, pedophilia, and hurting animals in any way. I’m pretty sure these are still considered horrible. For now.) As for the little stuff, the day-to-day parenting stuff, we all make observations about other moms, but you’d best keep them to yourself. Which is fine. Nobody wants to be judged. I try not to do it; I’ve been the judged one. I've been the one with the beat up car and the house in the not-as-nice neighborhood; the one who wore the wrong thing to the party, didn’t show up to every baseball game, and couldn’t afford the seven hundred dollar band trip. I’ve been the one whose husband looked tired and grumpy at the dance recital, the one who refused a vaccination or two for her child, and the one who accidentally ticked off someone in her book group by being insensitive when she meant to be funny. I’ve done all those things, so I try not to judge. There’s a back story to everything, and everyone makes mistakes; we just need to be charitable.
But there’s one thing--this one teeny tiny thing I take issue with--and I judge. My eyes widen in incredulity, then they narrow in frustration, then they go flat with thinly veiled irritation that I sort of want you to see, and this thing is becoming more and more common. I’m judging those moms in the church/restaurant/theater with the screaming child. The ones who stay there, making God-knows-what efforts to quiet their child (from shhh-shhh-shhh to use your inside voice and you can have a cookie to let’s try reading this book together quietly), but they stay. There are exits everywhere and they are clearly marked, but these moms stay, because somewhere on their motherhood journey they decided this just has to be endured, or it takes a village, or I don’t know what, but they stay. Ruining it for everyone else. And I’m judging them so hard.
I’ve been the one with the crying infant in church. It can’t be helped, so you slip out the back until the baby is calm. Yes, even in cold weather. I’ve been the one who misjudged how long a preschooler could sit still in a restaurant; I threw down cash and left, untouched food on the table. I’ve been the one--just once--with a toddler having a fit at the puppet show because she wanted the candy now; I left, all the disappointed siblings in tow, and after a brief stint outside where she was made to understand there would be no candy at all and no puppet show for anyone if she didn’t shape up, we returned to the back. It never even occurred to me to stay in these situations, making others suffer along with me, because there is really nothing more annoying than a fussing child, so when it is your child, you find your manners and don’t ruin it for others. You leave. Maybe for a moment, maybe for the entire service/meal/performance, but you leave. Ideally, you punish your child, if they are old enough, in whatever strong, consistent, effective manner you and your spouse have decided on. (I think that a single spank, not in the heat of the moment but later, giving the child some time to dread it and be sorry, works wonders and prevents almost all future misbehavior. Sue me.) Maybe you come back and maybe you don’t, but you’ve made the world a better place because you have taught your future adults that it is not all about them; that there is a thing called manners, and being courteous to others is the main one. You’ve taught them that you do not ruin things for other people, and you do not put your own convenience before that of other people, no matter how hard it is. You have also shown them that you are not a doormat: when you say stop or not now or not here, you mean it. But mom's don't do this now. They stay. Why do they stay? I don't get it.
Of course I can already hear the But What If’s. (And for most of them, the answer is: you leave. What if it is cold outside and there is nowhere to go? You leave. What if you paid a lot for the tickets? You leave. What if you are trying to “redirect” the behavior and you are confident that if your toddler could just stay a few more minutes, the screaming would stop? No. You leave.) The caveat is, of course, children with disabilities: the child with Down’s Syndrome who is talking very loudly, the mentally disabled child who is making loud noises, etc. That is a different circumstance, because those children are different from other children and should not be made to stay home at all times just because they may be loud in public. We all need to dig deep and find compassion for the mothers of those children, and learn something about patience. About tolerating something for the sake of someone else’s enjoyment.
But for the rest of us, with able-bodied kids who are just “strong-willed” or “highly active” or “going through the terrible twos” or whatever we want to call it, I’m begging you: leave. For a few minutes, or for whatever it takes. Even church; especially church. All you young moms who are sitting in the pew with the screaming child because, hey, we’re all in this together? We’re not. Please leave for a little while, and come back later if you can. Because the child who learns that he or she can have public tantrums with no real consequence, that she can ruin a meal or a show or a worship service because she’s angry/grumpy/tired/hungry/bored, becomes the grown-up who cuts people off in traffic, takes up two parking spaces on purpose, and treats people who are of no use to them with disdain. It’s a form of bullying, really, and it begins somewhere. At the risk of sounding like an old granny, I’m going to assert here that American culture seems, now, to be all about “me,” and what makes me feel good, or feel like I am a good person. Our gods are our selves, and our religion is our careers, our bodies, and pleasure itself, even at others’ expense. It may seem like a stretch, but putting others before yourself out of courtesy begins when child is about two, and they first learn that inconveniencing others--making noise in a quiet place, crying and yelling and essentially shouting Me! Me! Me! to everyone around you--is never okay. No matter how much you want the candy.
Of course Betty Draper was a terrible mom, most of the time. She was distant and snappish, resentful and preoccupied, and she paid more attention to what the neighbors thought than what her own kids needed. I’m not saying we should return to a time when judging other moms was a normal pastime. But we live in a culture of “me first,” and it starts in childhood. So let’s stop judging clothes and hair and houses and husbands, jobs and incomes and corn-syrup levels in our friend’s kids’ food, and let’s teach our children to respect other people. By leaving, if that’s what it takes.