Sitting in the McDonalds play area, I noticed it again. As I looked up from my phone, I saw the quick side-glance of a couple across the room, obviously offended by the fact that I am on my phone instead of paying 100% of my attention to my beautiful, perfect, angel babies. I gave them a smile and a nod, shouted a couple of encouraging words to my self-sufficient kids, and went back to my phone.
Here’s the thing, I get it. We live in a distracted society full of way too much media use and people everywhere are grappling with the choice of engaging with the people around them or engaging online. But what if, for just a second, we consider the possibility that the mom sitting across from you in the McDonald’s play place isn’t neglectful, irresponsible, or unloving. What if she has a good reason for being on her phone and you should stop judging her for it?
You don’t know the morning that mom has been through. Maybe she’s already changed 3 poopy diapers (one of which got all over her and her baby). She’s fed 3 hungry mouths who screamed because she wasn’t feeding them what they wanted. She got 1 kid off to school, ruffling through the massive pile of laundry to find his clothes, making his lunch, and then searching all over the house for those stupid library books he needs to return today. She got herself ready while also breaking up 2 fights, entertaining her whiny toddler, then changing that toddler again because the entertainment was water and the water went everywhere. That mom finally gets everyone’s shoes and coats on. They get out the door and go to the grocery store (aka the gates of hell) and finally, finally that mom is done with her errands for the day and everyone is still alive so she thinks, “We’re going to McDonald’s so my kids can play and be happy while I take a little break.”
How can we judge that mom? Why would we want to? She is tired and instead of completely losing any sanity she has left, she’s taking her kids to a fun place where they can run around and play while she sits and connects with other moms and friends online and uses her brain for a second.
This mom is juggling it all. She works but doesn’t have designated office hours because childcare is so expensive her babysitter would take home 3x’s more than she does at the end of the day. So she juggles. She does all of the mom stuff and when she can, she fits in the work. She fits it in for 5 minute while the kids are finally happily playing together. She takes a call during nap time hoping beyond hope that the baby will stay asleep and the toddler won’t need anything. Once the kids are in bed, she cleans up the house (if she’s lucky, she’ll have a supportive husband who divides these tasks with her), and then she tries with any mental energy she has left to get her work done in the 2 hours before going to bed. Then she wakes up and does it all again. Sometimes, that mom needs more time. She has a project or a deadline to meet and the only way to fit it in is for her kids to be engaged in something other than climbing on her. So she takes them to McDonald’s. She could just sit them down in front of the TV again, but this time she thinks “It’ll be good for them to run around and play.” So they go, and even though she’ll still get interrupted and she’ll still need to climb up the tiny play place to help her struggling toddler, she gets her work done. She pulls out her phone and sends those emails, finalizes that project, because her work is important to her and she’s not going to let herself down.
How can we judge that mom? How can we look at her and think, “You must not love your kids enough to be engaged with them?”
This mom isn’t great at making friends. Sure, she talks to other moms sometimes but because she’s an introvert the small talk is stressful and draining to her. Maybe she’s new to the area and hasn’t had time to establish those connections or maybe she texted all of the mom friends she knows and no one was available. But this mom needed a friend today. She sat at home, wishing that she could talk to another adult human for just a couple of minutes and feeling totally isolated by her ever-needy children. This mom needs a break, but knows that one isn’t coming for a while. She needs to go out with friends and talk about subjects that aren’t related to video games or animal sounds. She needs to be called by her first name for a second. But that’s not an option today, so instead of falling deeper into the the frustration and depression that can come from being in that place, she got out of the house. She took her kids to McDonald’s so they could play and because she doesn’t have people to talk to, she turns to social media to feel a part of something. She comments on her mom groups and people she’s never met reply with supportive, understanding messages. They tell her she’s a good mom and that she’s not failing. They tell her that the weird rash on her child’s arm is totally normal and their kid had it, too. This mom still wishes she had friends to talk to in person, but with the support of strangers across the internet, she feels a little less alone.
How can we judge that mom? How can we look at her, lonely and isolated, and think “I can’t believe you’re on you’re phone… people just never pay enough attention to their kids.”
Look, I get it. It’s hard when little Jimmy climbs up the slide and runs into your kid and then you look up to see that his mom was distracted by her phone. It’s hard in that moment to not think, “That mom is so irresponsible, I can’t believe she wasn’t even watching her child.” It’s hard not to try to find a way to think we’re better, because ultimately that’s what we’re doing. We’re judging because deep down, we all have felt exactly what these moms have felt and we don’t like those feelings so instead, we judge. That’s normal and understandable. But maybe next time you see a mom on her phone at the park, or McDonald’s, or Chick-Fil-A, just try to consider for a second that she may need that time and that break. Consider that she may be working or tired or lonely and that this 1.5 hours might be what makes the difference between her losing it at her kids later and her retaining her sanity. Consider that she’s trying her best and that she loves her kids, just like you.