Confession time. Back in my pre-baby years, I was known to cringe and walk the other way when I heard a fussy baby in the grocery store. Why would anyone try to shop with a screaming child in tow? I silently questioned.
Three years later, I knew the answer. I was now the parent who was anxiously rushing up and down the grocery aisles with my loudly protesting infant because we truly could not go another day without toilet paper. Or toothpaste. Or coffee.
Here’s another confession: I once scolded the “big kids” on the playscape when they were being WAY too loud and WAY too rough around my 18-month-old toddler. “Would you lower your screams to a dull roar, and chill out a little, please?” I protectively demanded, and then turned to glare at their parents who were consumed in cheerful chatter.
Five years later, I was the mom who turned my “big boys” loose on the playscape, trusting that they would make “good” choices while I enjoyed a little quality time with my latté and iPhone.
When it comes to parenting, judgment can be a knee-jerk reaction. It’s easy to say, my pregnancy or delivery would never go that way. I would never parent like that. My child would never act that way. And when things go awry (which they tend to always do) it is easy to redirect that shame and judgment toward ourselves. I am the only parent who is struggling with this. My child is behaving worse than everyone else’s. All of the other parents have their act together.
Here’s what I now believe: The majority of us parents are doing our absolute best. And in spite of these stellar efforts, we all screw up regularly and struggle with very similar challenges. As parents, we have more in common than not.
Some of the most loving, reassuring words a friend can say in response to my parenting woes are, “Oh, girlfriend, I have struggled with that same situation! And let me tell you, it sucked.”
Relief and gratitude wash over me when I feel that, instead of judgment, I am receiving understanding and empathy.
So, here is your pep talk in the locker room of parenthood: You are not alone on this journey. I've been there, I've done that and I have the stretch marks and worry lines to show for it. Regardless of your experiences with fertility, pregnancy or parenting, we are all on the same team. In fact, we’re stronger together than we are apart. When it comes to the act of child rearing, there is no shame in trying your best, floundering and regularly reaching out for help and reassurance.
Now, when I encounter a screaming baby in the cereal aisle, or see kids playing a little too exuberantly on the playground, I don’t immediately walk the other way with a look of dismay on my face. Instead, I smile knowingly, and go back to parenting my own kids in my whole-hearted, yet frequently imperfect, way.
A version of this post was originally published on Kirsten's blog, Baby Proofed Parents, which, by the way, happens be designated a No-Judgment zone.