For much of the day, I am solely responsible for my children’s livelihood, safety, and well-being. As a caregiver to three young children mine suddenly take on a particularly vulnerable feel. We all know the scenarios of varying likelihood—robbers, kidnappers, terrorists, clowns. I am a very vulnerable target with my car seats and non-mobile, slow-moving children who, now outnumbering me, are prone, as all children are, to getting distracted, being loud, and ignoring instruction. Of course the scenarios can be far more realistic. Allow me to demonstrate.
I’m at the grocery store with three young children. I’ll assume all goes well in the store, “well” being defined differently by various people who witness my existence. I get outside with a cart full of groceries, baby fussy and ready to nap and two preschoolers frustrated that the other keeps touching his side of the cart. It is 95 degrees outside. If I put kids in the car first with no car on, what am I doing? Trying to overheat them to death? Of course if I leave them in the cart or standing by the car, oh the horrific possibilities of cars hitting them or the cart rolling away on the never-even pavement. If I put them in and start the car, what about that one news clip I saw about people jumping into a stranger’s car to steal it—with my children in tow!? Oh the danger! But it’s hot.
I decide my course of action. I strap them all in as my frozen goods melt, because strapping in three children takes time. I’m not complaining, as I did choose to have these exquisite children all in a row, but who really wants melted ice cream even if they chose the lifestyle that leads to it? I start the car and stay vigilant as I quickly load the groceries. Then I must decide—leave the cart like a jerk in the parking lot or take it three cars up to the cart area. There is literally no way for me to complete that scenario where someone could not point out how I potentially endangered my children.
My scenario is relatively minor but that’s how it adds up for many of us. Mommy shaming seems like a phrase of the moment but I assure you it is a daily potential experience for many of us. I’m tired of hearing about mommy shaming (and blaming). I want to talk about something more important: the supportive village.
I don’t need to defend why I exist or why my children exist or that we deserve to exist. I don’t need to hire a sitter or leave them at home with someone else for your (or my) convenience. I’m not saying let’s allow our children to run amuck (though the argument can go so far as to say we all deserve a little grace and we all sometimes run amuck); nor am I saying you need to bend over backward for me. I’m saying I have kids and we are all invested in their outcome. Every time we go out in public, they learn to become more civilized, though at times the side glances or under-the-breath comments from adults are less than civil.
Instead of blaming me for all the ways I potentially put my children at small risk just in order to make it through the day—to put groceries in the car, grab a quick shower, let them learn to climb the monkey bars alone—help me. At the very least just let me be. Better yet, be the village. Instead of pointing out the ways my child could be stolen, create an environment where we instead blame the person who is…you know…stealing the babies. I’d even go so far to say care for the criminal too—I doubt he or she had a village. Mothers and caregivers get blamed and shamed rather than welcomed into the fold. Protect us and look out for us, the vulnerable. Offer to take my cart those 30 steps. Drive more cautiously in the parking lot. Stop looking at the things I do that seem potentially concerning in a minuscule way and look out for the things that are actually concerning.
I know, I know. I’m asking you to take on some responsibility for my choices of having children. That’s true. We all take turns being the vulnerable—we were all once kids, we all have times when we’re sick, particularly overburdened, or for whatever reason emotionally, mentally, or physically distracted in our lives. We become more vulnerable as we age, too. We all benefit from a village, so please care about it, whether or not you have children. Look out for others rather than point them out. Fellow moms I’m talking to you (and I’m reminding myself). We sometimes opt for mommy wars rather than help, maybe because we are so thinly stretched and know too well how vulnerable we are. It’s easier to keep vulnerability at a distance. We need to take the step, even in our exhaustion, to build the village too.
More is at stake than a smooth shopping trip. It’s our investment in one another, our relationship with each other that keeps us connected as individuals and groups at large. We’re living in an individual wants-before-greater good world. I am in a season of vulnerability. Look out for me, will you?
Lynette is a mom of three children from 6 months to age four. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.