Her Bad Mother

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Mom in the Mirror

She couldn't have been more than nineteen, maybe twenty, years old. She could have been much younger. She wore jeans and running shoes and a light winter jacket and no makeup. There were half-moon circles under her eyes, deep and dark, and she clutched a Mcdonalds take-out bag in one hand.

The other hand rested lightly on a small fold-out umbrella stroller. I would have known that she was a mother from the circles under her eyes, but it was the stroller made me smile at her when I sat down next to her on the subway. It was facing away from me, and covered in blankets, such that I couldn't see the very small child within it, but still. A child. I have one, too. I was going to smile at the child, ask its age, make conversation. I'm a mother too!" I would say. Mine's at home, a toddler. There were, no doubt, many years between we two mothers, she and I, but still. Mothers. We're of a kind, we are. There is always something to say to another mother.

And then, as she pulled the stroller back slightly to adjust the crush of blankets, I noticed: the child was a baby, a very small baby, newborn. Cradled awkwardly, so awkwardly, in the steadfastly upright seat of the umbrella stroller. The young mother adjusted the blankets, cooing softly; the infant slept, slumped, its heavy, fragile head bent over tiny shoulders, twisting tiny neck.

If the smile froze on my face, she didn't see it, so intent she was on adjusting her baby, whose tiny, delicate shape was not made for the unforgiving upright seat of her vehicle. But it did, my smile, tired metaphors be damned, it froze on my face and the cheerful words of commiseration died on my lips as new, shriller ones burbled up in their place.

I didn't speak these words, of course. 'Oh, but you mustn't put newborns in umbrella strollers! Do you know that? They mustn't be kept upright for too long, they mustn't be pushed along bumpy streets with their backs unsupported, their tiny backs, their fragile spines, their delicate, delicate necks...' I didn't want to speak them, and I didn't. I couldn't. I couldn't, because she would look at me - older, smarter, richer, maybe, presuming to know better - and say, or think, bitch. She would ask me, with or without words, who I was to judge her.

And I wouldn't have an answer.

I sat there, beside her, for what seemed a very long time, sick with uncertainty. Surely I must say something. What if she doesn't know? She must know. She must know. She does know. She knows but she can't afford a proper stroller. I resolved to offer her a stroller - I would offer her our second stroller, the lightweight stroller that we use for buses and subways, one that reclines. I would say that we no longer need it, that we're looking to get rid of it. I would give her my phone number. I would turn to her and I would say... what? 'Hello, I notice that you've put your newborn in an umbrella stroller and wanted to tell you that that is very, very bad for their necks and spines but I'm sure that you know that, you must know that, and so it must be the case that you simply could not afford a proper stroller, poor thing, (cluck cluck), and so I would be happy to offer you one, because I have two.'

Because I have two, one for the snow and the parks and one for the shops and the subway, both of them fine strollers, both of them costing far more than anyone would expect to pay for bits of fabric wrapped around a small fibreglass chassis but costing far, far less than what I would pay to ensure my child's well-being, than what I would pay to keep us happy and comfortable. What I can pay. What I can pay, and she, perhaps (and only perhaps, for who am I to judge?), cannot.

I never did speak to that young woman; I still feel guilty about this. I couldn't, at the time, because the right words wouldn't come; I would have said the wrong thing, I know, I think, I would have given the wrong look; I would have been one of those women. Pinched, critical, judgmental. And I would have had no words to explain to her that I meant well, that I wanted to help, that I understood.

She mightn't have believed me, anyway. Rightly, too. Because I don't understand. I can't, not entirely. I can only imagine that I can.

I need to remember that.

What would you have done?


The above isn't my meta-post. It was going to be. I've been struggling to figure out where judgment, or ideas about judgment, figure into our happy blogospheric/momospheric community. To what extent might our like-mindedness blind us to certain issues/ideas/perspectives? And does that matter? Can we really be radical - can this whole writing-through-our-lives thing be meaningful beyond our own little personal emancipations - if that 'we' is a collectivity that is defined by privilege? I think that the answer is yes - not least because the experience of motherhood/parenthood is, to some degree equalizing in that it gives all of us something of the taste of disempowerment, and the more that we speak about that the more that we can dispel myths and misunderstandings about our relative experiences as women, as people. But I still haven't worked out my thoughts on that.

In the meantime, as I said last day, I'd (we'd) love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and I'd also love for you to visit the Basement, and my reviews page. Because you don't have enough to do already.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how I would have handled that situation. I know the same reservations would have been in my head. Maybe I would have struck up a conversation, felt her out to see if I thought she might be open to advice. Then again maybe I would have said nothing. I've been thinking a lot about the vast difference between the classes myself lately, where I fit in and what my responsibility is to make things more equitable and I always end up with more questions than answers.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

Ahhhh, this is hard: self-recrimination and guilt mingled with fear and judgment and empathy. My own impulse is to scoop up all the babies of the world and ... make them middle-class like me? Doesn't the mother deserve a fairy godmother, too?

Here's something. I remember riding the subway with my very young nephew, born to my very young sister. He was born a little early, and we took him everywhere, because he slept so much, and when we took him everywhere he slept more. I think now he likely missed some meals because of it. Because of me. Young and not knowing, but actually pretty fierce about doing best by this baby.

It all can be done cheaply: it's not so much about the money. Is it about class? About a superior level of knowing? Like when Bub and Pie felt uncomfortable telling her class of moms-to-be that CIO is sometimes ok? Because they might not judge properly the line between sleep training and neglect? That woulda been me, too. Uncomfortable. Not trusting.

I always come back to: make things more equitable for the new generation, so they learn, so they grow, so they have opportunities. Because I can't get past the class and power and age and money issues that mean I'm at once too entitled and too ashamed to intervene. Hm.

This post made me well up: that's the hormones at work. I want to mother all the babies of the world. Protect their wee delicate spines. Oh god.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Karianna said...

Ugh. I hate confrontation, so I would have bit my tongue. I hate it when people give me advice, and so I offer others the same courtesy.

But when there is something so obviously wrong, it kills me. I have never forgotten the image of an emaciated, wrinkled pregnant woman smoking outside the hospital as I went in for my own prenatal visit.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Hooo hoooo. Go read my post today, HBM. I was the mother being judged based on my class this past weekend.

And still, I would likely have felt the same as you did here. I would like to think I would have offered her a stroller. Or the money for one. Or taken her to Wal-Mart and bought one for her.

After the withering experience I had in an airport lounge, I will certainly think differently about these situations from now on.

This hit me where it hurts.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I don't think I would have said anything. I wouldn't have wanted this mother to have felt judged by me. Haven't we all felt judged when someone, albeit kindly, gave us unsolicited advice?

Scary, though, with the baby in an umbrella stroller...

2:34 PM  
Blogger Motherhood Uncensored said...

That's a tough one. I think judgments are hard. I've noticed myself feeling that way every now and then -- how could they do that?

But then I wonder, how many people are saying that about me?

I would have offered a helping hand -- at least, I think that's the best way to go -- baby in umbrella stroller, friend with really bad mom jeans (heh) -- cover them with love -- so that they know you don't do it out of judgment but because you care.

Plus, when it comes to the jeans --no one wants to be laughed at.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Baby in the City said...

This post strikes a cord for me HBM. You know I think being polite is overrated. Here is why.

What if she did know better but could not afford better, maybe she longed for the opportunity to take better physical care of her child and she lays awake at night hoping for good fortune like a stranger on the TTC to offer her a better stroller, for free, for nothing, simply because people can look out for each other.
And if she had, instead, just told you "to mind your own f**kin' business, that you, what, think you are so much better than her? A better mother because you have more money?" Well, I think you could've taken that in stride, knowing that it was perhaps coming your way.
Would those words hurt you worse that that stroller is potentially hurting that baby? I would say it is worth the risk.
It hurts my heart that, in general, people fear embarassment or a little hostility or God forbid, being wrong, so much so that they won't intervene in what they believe to be someones best interest.

2:41 PM  
Blogger owlhaven said...

Oh, that's tough....I might have struck up a conversation and told her how I had a terrible time getting my first one to sit securely (I had an umbrella stroller too), and showed her how to roll of a receiving blanket to cradle the baby better....but it is hard to know how much advice to give....
Mary, mom to many

2:48 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I honestly don't know what I would have done in that situation.

I'd like to think I would have struck up a conversation with her, feeling her out to see if offering some advice would be taken kindly or harshly, and then possibly offering to help her. But at the same time, I know how I clam up in public, so I might not have said anything.

Maybe moms do need to get over the fear of judging and being judged and take the bold and gutsy step of offering advice, especially if that advice is connected with an offer of help. Anyone can give their opinion and advice, but offering to help resolve a situation is far more useful. It's possible that young mom needed someone to come to her rescue.

We've all become so cautious about judging others because we, or others we know, have been the subject of harsh judgement. Should we get over our own emotional scars and risk coming off as judgemental in the name of assistance? Maybe. I really don't know for sure.

2:53 PM  
Blogger m said...

That's tough. On one hand it's good that you didn't say anything because of all the reasons you had mentioned. There have been times when older (grandmothery) ladies have made comments to me about carrying A in a sling, or not putting mittens on him in the winter and I always just wanted to tell them to eff off and mind their own business. Of course I never did, and they were approaching me out of a place of concern, but the last thing I needed was their judgement, and it always came off as judgement.

That woman had an umbrella stroller probably because that's all she could afford, or because she had been given it. Or perhaps she was on her way to buy a better, more appropriate stroller, or perhaps she was just visiting the city and at home she had a better stroller? It's hard to guess. Hard to know.

Although I would probably be placed in the class of privilege because of my education and where we live, our family doesn't have much money (we're both artists, and yes, I acknowledge that by just being one is a privilege). Probably 95% of what we have for our son (clothes, carriers, strollers, toys) have been hand-me-downs or gifts. If we had to have bought everything for A, I'm not sure how we would have done it. He may have been in a sling for 5 months (like he was anyway) but then may have been in a umbrella stroller at 6 months. I know it's not the same situation, but it's not that far off.

I have HUGE class issues, probably stemming from my small town working class background and it's something I've been having to deal with a lot lately, especially living in this city. I know it's all about perception and just as I don't want to be judged for not having much money, I shouldn't judge those that do. But I know if I had be told by someone who I judged as much wealthier than I that I perhaps I didn't know the best for my child (or wasn't doing the best I could mothering because of the equipment I used), my first kick-in-the-gut impulse wouldn't be to listen and consider her points thoughtfully, but to shut down and feel shame.

That said (and holy crap that was a lot said), you asked what I would have done, and I think I would have just asked how old her baby was, engage her and connect with her on the simple level of us both being mamas. And maybe, just maybe, if the conversation had steered that way, I would offer the stroller I was just storing and no longer needing and hey maybe she could use it, it would be such a help to me to have her take it off my hands? But only if it felt appropriate and the conversation was heading in that direction.

Okay. I'll shut up now. Very thought provoking post.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Sandra said...

This one stirs up a lot of things for me. My parents were very poor and made choices that I wouldn't make for my own son. I could picture my mother using an umbrella stroller with a newborn.

My husband had a child with his first wife as young as this mother you describe and they had little money, many challenges and an lots of judgement.

My first reaction is to feel defensive on behalf of this mother. To feel protective of her. Maybe her mistake was an innocent one. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe she fled an abusive partner just hours before and was on her way to get a proper stroller. But my instinct is to beg that she not be judged.

I think I had this strong reaction because you were so honest with your thought process. You sincerely wanted to help and not to judge. You were being a kind woman and a mom that cared about that little baby. You were just saying what most of your commenters agree with. And thoughts that I would likely have processed too.

I have had a somewhat similar situation happen to me. I saw a mom with a baby that didn't have a coat in the winter. I befriended her and made some silly small talk and cracked a joke and then told a story to demonstrate I could empathize. About how once I locked my baby's coat in the car. Then I said, hey, I was about to sell a whole bunch of my son's clothes in a yard sale because I didn't have any friend's with younger children ... but if she wanted them they'd be super cute on her son. I told her that many of them were hand-me-downs and she'd be doing me a huge favour to take them. I didn't want her to feel like I was judging her or that it was charity or that I was better in anyway. She took them. And it was postitive for both of us.

I know I am not a young mom without resources, but with the work I do and with the family I have, I sometimes, mistakenly identify with people who are in a different situation than I am. Which is wrong because I do have priveledge and I should admit that makes things easier for me.

But we are all mothers. We are all human. I know affluent, educated mothers who make some pretty questionable choices. I also know some financially struggling, young mothers who make some really excellent ones.

I am totally monopolizing your comments section and I don't know why I can't be just succint or focused.

I am glad you wrote this. I think your honesty really should stir up something in all of us that we all fight not to judge and struggle to find the words to help best.

2:56 PM  
Blogger OhTheJoys said...

I don't have the answers, but your writing today has made me swoon for you.

3:00 PM  
Blogger crazymumma said...

I would have done......about what you did.

shit. poor kids. and by that I mean the baby.

And the Mother.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have said nothing. As you have done.

It is not my place to tell her how to mother. She didn't ask. I won't offer.

It is just not my place.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Lara said...

i hate that feeling - when you want so badly to relate, but you know you really can't, so you're left feeling helpless and more than a little guilty. you want to help, but you're not sure how to help without hurting. so painful, to see someone and be unable to do something to assist. i see it in fellow cutters, others dealing with depression. who am i to judge them? but how do i reassure them that i'm not judging, just hurting for them and wanting to do something? i haven't figured it out yet.

different, of course, from your situation, but i do understand the basic sentiment.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what I would have done. But I understand exactly why you did what you did.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing... very thought-provoking.

When my daughter was still a baby (sigh), and I was a younger, single-mom w/o a lot of cash, I felt like those things and my inadequecies as a parent were glaringly obvious to everyone, especially older, more affluent mothers. Several times I felt like other moms were shoving that in my face and I almost always felt judged.

There could have been many reasons why she didn't have a proper stroller - I think I would have probably done the same thing. Sandra's comment/response was great too. Or, if you felt really moved, you could donate a stroller to a local group that helps young mothers or such. You may not help that one mom and baby, but another pair would certainly be grateful.

4:07 PM  
Blogger S said...

This issue has weighed on me ever since I was a teenager in an elevator with my mother, and we saw the nanny of a boy in our apartment building hit him. Yes, hit him. And my mother felt that there was no way that his mother would not want to know that her nanny had abused her charge. So she called the boy's mother, and guess what? The boy's mother was very angry, not, apparently, at her nanny, but at my mother, for the violation of her privacy.

So maybe we can widen the discussion a little: is this just an issue of class? Or is it an issue of privacy and judgment, irrespective of class?

Here's what I want to ask you, HBM: what would you have done if it was clearly a woman your age and of your approximate socioeconomic status, but yet the newborn was still in an umbrella stroller?

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i probably would've talked to her about her baby.and probably would've asked her if she needed help to purchase a better stroller.i've never been one to get pissed off at people making comments to me about my babies.because you see i'm their mum and i know what i'm doing.so i don't much care and everybody has an opinion.so you know don't beat yourself up about not speaking up,most of us wouldn't have either.LAVENDULA

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I surely would have judged, I'm not proud to say that's one of my initial reactions to things, but then I would have reconsidered (because I am a mother and this is hard), because when it comes to all things child, I try and ask myself what did our great-grandmothers do? The ones without the Graco car seats? Surely a newborn has been through a bumpy ride or two through the ages. I would have tried to tell myself that every mother has the right to make her own way, and that the newborn would be big enough to handle that umbrella stroller in a few short months. I might have been tempted to speak up but I don't think I would have.

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, because I talk to everyone, I know I would have caught her eye and asked how old the baby was, boy or girl, what is his name? And then I might have said something about how hard it is to take babies on the subway because there's just no room for a bigger stroller, right? And then something like "when my boys were babies, their necks were always flopping over like that (not true, but still). Have you tried rolling up a receiving blanket and propping his head with it?" And then she might have glared at me or whatever, but at least I would have said it and hopefully put the idea in her head.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Emily Clasper said...

Hard to say for sure, but I think I would have told her how beautiful her baby was, asked how old, and I would have said something about how she must be so proud. It's so hard getting advice and criticism all of the time, and I'm sure that she's overloaded with that. What she might just need is some kindness and confidence. My comments might not have gotten the baby out of the umbrella stroller, but hey, neither would saying nothing.

4:50 PM  
Blogger Elise said...

First time I have ever commented here, but this post really struck me as well.

My first inclination is to feel mad at you and sorry for the poor girl. She is sitting there, by your admission, 19 or 20 years old at best (do you remember what you were like at that age? how you felt?) and she is CONSTANTLY being judged by everyone.

"She's SO young"
"Is she married?"
"Did he leave her?"
"Is her significant other an abuser?"
"She's probably abused"
"She must be poor, look at her stroller"
"I wonder if she's on welfare"

On, and on, and on.

That is so horrible for her, really. Can you even imagine how you would feel, if every time you went ANYWHERE people looked at you and thought the worst? Felt pity for you? Maybe she was on her way to her mother's house, because her mother had her good stroller. Maybe her husband forgot to remove the good stroller from the back of their SUV and she is annoyed at him for making her taking out the crappy one.

You don't know anything about her! And to immediately condescend to her, even with good intentions, is just so, so insulting.

Nice piece, though. Very thought provoking.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Run ANC said...

What a tough question! Honestly answered, I probably wouldn't have said anything because I would be sure the answer would be "Mind your own f***in business beyotch". But that does the other mother an injustice doesn't it? Maybe she would have gladly accepted help/stroller.

If I was feeling particularly outgoing/brave, I would have struck up a conversation and tried to see if she know umbrella strollers were bad.

Sandra's approach was beautiful though, and I'm going to file that away for future use. I love learning new things!

4:55 PM  
Blogger merseydotes said...

Sigh. I hate issues like this.

I recently sent an email to lots of friends about the importance of keeping their kids in a five-point harness carseat with a high weight limit, citing the example of Kyle David Miller whose story I had recently seen on a listserv. A fellow blogger wrote a whole post about my email (though didn't name me), in which all the commenters all pretty much skewered me for being a Betty Buttinski who made her parenting decisions on the basis of fear. I feel a bit burned by the experience and would probably keep my mouth shut to the woman with the umbrella stroller. Even though it's unsafe. I would just remember the baby and the mother in my prayers and hope they never have to learn firsthand how unsafe those umbrella strollers are for newborns.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Redneck Mommy said...

I was that young mother. Barely 22, with two small babies...And not two pennies to rub together. Boy, has things changed...

I understand your reaction, and ultimately the path you chose. But I think if I was faced with that situation now, almost ten years and three kids later, I would have said something.

I probably would have stammered and sputtered and said the absolute wrong thing, leaving her to think all the things you worried she would think, but I would have tried.

But then I am very comfortable with the taste of my own feet. Seeing as how frequently I insert them into my mouth....

Great post Catherine.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Great post. I don't have much to elaborate on as the other commenters have said a good deal and said it well, but I do want to add that I think you have to choose your battles in this realm. There's a fine line between actual mistreatment and proprietary parenting (see mittens: not wearing, and thumb: still sucking). I believe the universe will provide, and your note that despite having an inappropriate stroller, the mother was showing care and love for the baby -- well, that's more than enough for me to decide to mind my business.

It's a good topic, though. Thank you for making me think.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have found that as a much older mother, I have more leeway to talk to very young mothers because I don't look judgemental or competetive. And since I belong to an organization that often has young mothers that know little to nothing about parenting, I usually start conversations with a few baby-questions, like "oh, how old is she?" and "How are you doing?". "Is she sleeping at all? How is she eating? Are you nursing? Oh, no formula is just fine if you can't nurse. Is her daddy involved? Oh, you're doing this alone. That must be so hard. Have you heard about xyz organization? I'm a volunteer there, and we visit brand new moms weekly just to talk and see how you are doing. THe focus isn't on the baby, it's on you. Because we realize that while you were pregnant, everyone paid total attention to you, but once the baby arrived, you're just pushed to the side. That's normal."

And then we'd chit chat for a bit, and I'd say, "You know, I've got a stroller that reclines that is just sitting in our attic. I've been meaning to give it away to someone that would use it. Do you need a real stroller? Because those umbrella strollers aren't made for infants. Please, tell me where I can drop it off and I'll bring it to you."

If she refuses, then at least give her the information about a parenting organization that might help her.

Mostly, new moms are kind of desperate to talk. Remember? Like real grown-up talk. So if you address it as about her, and not so much about the baby, I'm guessing you would get a positive response.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

I think I would have tried to strike up a conversation, and eventually dropped in something about how hard it is to position them securely when they're so little. Then, if she seemed receptive, and only if, I might add something to the tune of "I found it much easier when I was able to use a reclining stroller" (using "I" statements, rather than "you" statements).

It's a difficult call though. You can never truly know what's going on inside someone else's life.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Mama Sarita said...

quite thought provoking. I think it's easy to assume. It's easy to assume the worst. I am all about safety, but we have to remember that many of us rode on our mama's laps or in laundry baskets as babies. I have a hard time believing an umbrella stroller is going to harm a babes spine forever. Would I do it? No. But I don't know that I would assume that this is the babe's primary ride every day.
How many times I have I been judged for the babywearing/'crunchy' look that I have? Of course, in this time and place that makes me a 'good' mother but among others Im a hovering needy mom who can't let her baby be.

None of us can win, can we? We are all muddling through, some of us genuinely 'better' or better equiped...

I think it is worse than class that seperates us...we are women/mothers/sisters and we can't have a simple conversation about a stroller without it throwing us into inner conflict. HBM: I have no idea what I would have really done. Your honesty has sparked a great discussion.
Why can't we women unite? Our culture totally sucks for women right now.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

These suggestions are all so helpful. One thing that I probably did not make clear was that I *really* struggled with trying to NOT judge her, because, as Elise said, I didn't know her, didn't know her situation. I felt profoundly guilty about my assumptions once I saw that the child in the stroller was newborn, and was well conscious of them *as* assumptions. And that was what stopped me from speaking - I didn't want to condescend, I didn't want her to feel that she was being regarded by me as everyone must regard her - young, poor, disadvantaged. But in this concern for politesse, I may have missed - I almost certainly *did* miss - an opportunity.

But then, mightn't this be said for any nosy parker? I get my back up at any story about mothers being accosted about bottle-feeding, about *drinking*, about whatever, and think that everyone should mind their own business. But aren't such people often only trying to be helpful? Is it always only that they are abrasive in their helpfulness? Is the intervention itself that we take to be an expression of judgment, or just the manner in which the intervention is expressed?

Even if I was the kindest, gentlest communicator in the world - even if I was fully self-reflective in approaching that young woman - would there not still remain the kernel of judgment? In approaching anyone with the message that 'there is a better way,' no matter how helpfully, kindly, is there not still the whiff of judgment?

Gah. Will feel guilty about this one to the end of my days.

6:37 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Forgot to address your question, Slouching Mom - what if she had been my age, etc, etc, more obviously a *peer*? Tough one. Because this had everything to do with class, as I was well aware at the time. Her youth caused me to make a great number of assumptions, which I was aware were only that, assumptions, but still, they fully informed my reaction.

I suppose that I would have been fully confused at seeing an older, better-appointed (!) more obviously middle-class mother with a newborn in a cheap umbrella stroller. I probably would have wondered what was up, what the story was, because I would have assumed (!) that she would have had to have known 'better,' and that she could afford 'better,' etc, etc...

Would I have been more inclined to talk to her? No. My confusion - and my desire to NOT put words to my assumptions, to NOT judge - would have shut my mouth, as it did with young woman. But that's the problem, is it not?

7:23 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

There you are screaming inside for her to see the real you but the idea of you out in front of the real you just can't seem to make way for connection to happen. You are probably right, her idea of you would have prevented her from being able to be helped by the real you. It's so hard to get out in front of the idea of ourselves that walks around this world. I wonder what her real self was saying inside at that moment? It makes me sad all up one side and down the other about how isolating life and circumstances make us.

7:34 PM  
Blogger EUC said...

Ah the ever careful how not to offend those you think may want/need help. I'd probably have asked her about the little one and said how beautiful s/he is and said that I had an extra stroller that wasn't getting enough use as my (hypothetical of course) little one got older, and would she have any use for it? That kinda gives her an out at least.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I would have said something because that's just how I am. But I wouldn't have been abrasive, probably would've started with an ice-breaking joke. Then DELICATELY said, "Hey, there are so many ins-and-outs to this mom stuff" and then mentioned the stroller.

8:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Catherine,

I was that girl beside you. On the bus. 20 years old. Extremely poor. And women like you, richer, older, wiser- did say things to me like, "I have a stoller you can have" and I hated them- but I took the free strollers, and I creid because I hated them so much, but I took the free stollers.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In situations like that, I just acknowledge my judgmental thoughts and do-gooder instincts and try to say something warm and make a connection. I mean what else is there more simple than to care for another mother as a mother and let the "I would have done different/better" stuff fall by the wayside.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

Tan said this: "It hurts my heart that, in general, people fear embarassment or a little hostility or God forbid, being wrong, so much so that they won't intervene in what they believe to be someones best interest."

But isn't this the problem with how we treat the issue of judgment? We get all pissed off when people do exactly this: make suggestions about breastfeeding to total strangers, suggest to pregnant women that they not have that glass of chardonnay, suggest to *mothers* that they not have that glass of chardonnay, etc, etc. Why do women judge each other so much, we ask? Why do mothers judge each other? We judge because we think we know better, we get angry when we think that others think they know better - isn't that a terrible catch-22?

What would have made me - intervening in this case (and, for the record, I still feel bad for NOT doing so) - any different from the person who asks a bottle-feeding mother whether she understands that breastmilk is better? From asking the pregnant woman with the chardonnay whether she mightn't be better off putting it down? If I believe those things to be her in best interest, *shouldn't* I say something?

Or is this really, as slouching mom suggested, really a class thing? That is, that perhaps I *should* have intervened because all the signs pointed to that young woman *not* knowing better, because of all of the hallmarks of class. But isn't that, as others have said, the height (or depth) of condescension? It's okay to judge those who seem to deserve/need to be judged?

Gah gah gah gah.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

And, oh, Krista, break my heart.

8:44 PM  
Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said...

I don't have much to add---your post and the comments have left tears in my eyes. Krista, your comment---your experience--- is heartbreaking.

8:54 PM  
Blogger NotSoSage said...

Go home and nurse the bruises on the backs of my legs from kicking myself the whole way home. And probably donating a stroller to a shelter to try to rebalance my karma. In other words, I don't know.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Sunshine's Mommy said...

I would have probably bit my tongue, just like you did, even though I've worked with a few young mothers in the past.

Interestingly, I found that many of them, as young as 16, managed to find places which gave them support, education and many, many free things for themselves and their babies. New and used. And sadly, in many cases, young mothers don't use those services, not because they don't know about them, but because of their pride. I had such a hard time understanding that.

9:20 PM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

It seems as if there's a certain amount of nature-nurture at work here as well as social positioning.
We balk at talking to others because we don't want to overreact, judge or otherwise be the bad guy. But what ends up happening is that we seem to lose the ability to talk to one other.

We all feel judged. People told me all the time of the things I was doing wrong: kid doesn't have enough clothes on; shouldn't bring a newborn out in this weather; kid's head flopping forward in the snuggly sent some grandmotherly sorts in a rage, as did ears folded over (and sticking out) by an illpositioned hat.

We also tend to think we are right, even when the majority of children we are seeking to "save" will likely survive their stupid parents without our intervention.

When these well-intentioned people spoke to me I wanted to tell them where they could put their assvice, but I knew the BIGGEST reason I was bristling was because a part of me thought I was a horrible mom. I don't get as upset by "judging" anymore because I know that sometimes people can't help themselves, but underneath it all they've made 1000s of mistakes, too.

I don't have any solutions, but I have to think that if we adopted just the right tone, had just the right smile we could put each other at ease and make our points without animosity.

9:45 PM  
Blogger metro mama said...

I don't know what I'd have done in your situation--I suspect I'd have been paralysed. I like Sunshine Scribe's approach and will use it if I'm ever in this situation.

I do think speaking up in this circumstance is different from chastizing someone for having a glass of chardonnay, or breastfeeding vs bottle. In this case, the consequences are much more severe and it is most likely she didn't have the right kind of stroller because she couldn't afford it.

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm 21 and in my third month of pregnancy with my first child. I have the blessing of living on an Army base, where it's not really remarkable to be young and pregnant.

I'm going home to Austin in May for a couple of weeks. Despite knowing that 'I really shouldn't care what others think', I'm worried to death about it. I'm fully expecting people I've known for, well, forever to start giving well-meaning advice. Will I listen politely? Sure. Will I take all of it with a grain of salt? You betcha.

Your predicament made me think of cringing every time I see a 6-year-old in a rated-R movie. Or every time I see some 10-year-old girl dressed up like a hooker. I'm not even a mom yet and I want to scream at these people, "What is WRONG with you?" However, I'm also aware that my judgments are purely values-based. It's totally not my place to say anything there.

But when it comes to something like physical safety, is it a different thing? Would I be more inclined to say something if, say, I saw lots of bedding in a crib? I think so. I'd try my best to be polite and considerate. I'd say something like, "Are you afraid he/she's going to be cold at night?" and try to get to talking about SIDS.

I'm going to be a young mom, but we're definitely middle class. I've been reading everything I can find about different areas of concern (safety, feeding, etc). However, I know lots of other young moms (even ones on this same Army base) don't do stuff like that, probably because it never occurs to them to do so. Or they lack the resources.

In the end, I'd say offer the advice in a friendly way. She may think you're a bitch or she may be so grateful. Either way, you'll know that you had the best of intentions for doing a 'good deed'.

10:22 PM  
Blogger Knock knock - it's cancer! said...

Wow. What a good question. I'd probably not have said anything either. We are taught from early on that "if you can't say something nice...." but still, I wonder. Maybe in this case, we should speak up.

Chances are she wouldn't have listened. But you'd have probably felt better about it afterwords.

This way, by sharing the story, you are now helping other moms (young or old) to get the knowledge out. Kudos on that.

10:28 PM  
Blogger karengreeners said...

i probably wouldn't have said anything, for fear of inciting the 'wrong' response in the mother, but i would have gone home and cried for the baby.
i donate most of bee's outgrown/unused stuff to a shelter nearby to hopefully help the moms that wanna, but can't.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

This is where the Southern US thing comes in handy. We are absolute masters of offering charity and making it (a) seem like it is YOUR idea and (b) making it seem as if YOU are doing ME a favor.

"Oh my such a TINY baby!" I'd say, "I remember mine at that age...so sweet. How old? Boy or girl?"


"Oh yes! Such a blessing and curse, the newborns. So precious but the sleep deprivation!"


"You know...looking at your sweetie and how cute he/she is...it reminds me, I've been wanting to have a garage sale, but (cluck cluck) such TROUBLE. I just don't have the TIME. It's like PROVIDENCE meeting you today. We're so limited on space, and have SO MUCH we just don't need any longer...if you needed anything, well, it'd be such a FAVOR to me...you know...how about if I give you my number and a few things we're trying to find new homes for...you let me know...if you would like any of them? We got them from friends, ourselves. They're just taking up space at our place these days. I hate to just give them up...I'd rather know they went to a good home...you know...and your baby is so PRECIOUS!"

Tone. Smile. Desperate facial expression. Little bit of pandering.

But you'd be surprised, maybe, at the culture here.

I don't know.

It's unique.

I can say that, having lived so many places.

People here just STEP IN. No questions. No judgments. It's just what you do. Period.

And then...you take that help RIGHT BACK when it is offered.

One NEVER scoffs at pride and dignity. EVER. Or need.

I have bought groceries for a lady who turned around and found me a double stroller just when I needed it most. None of us have much AT ALL but we give what we've got, even if it is mostly just heart.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

Oh Catherine, you are so CANADIAN in this post LOL. Liberal guilt, LOL.

So many of these responses just leave me feeling...sad...wistful.

I don't understand this judgment thing.

You don't tell her what to do! GAH!

You don't judge her! You don't offer advice! You don't intervene!

You ask her what SHE wants!

You identify. You relate. You extend kindness, caring, friendship, camaraderie. You give her the chance to help you out by taking something she might need off your hands. It's a total honest win-win.

Honest abe she likely knows better. And likely is doing the best she can, with rationalizations trying to outyell the reservations.

It's not a class thing!

It's a mom thing.

However, subway, okay. Bathroom, not so much. ;)

10:59 PM  
Blogger flutter said...

You know what struck me most? You were going to offer her your stroller. What a beautiful heart you have

11:44 PM  
Blogger Lindellica said...

I'm not sure that's worse than all of the mothers I used to see in my mother's group with their newborns folded in half in their maya wrap slings. I wanted to say something to them too -- but I never did. I even remember one of them making an issue about it -- someone had lectured her -- "she slept this way in the womb," she snapped, sipping her decaf latte. True enough, but in the womb, she didn't need to breathe, right?

But I held my tongue and remarkably, her daughter is still alive and well.

I think you're making a class issue where none has to exist. Is it bad for spines? Possibly. A similar study just came out about sleeping in car seats and how bad that is -- yet I suspect many people who have posted here thought nothing of letting their children sleep in car seats.

There is such a culture of fear built up around the whole motherhood thing... it can be hard to navigate what's acceptable and what isn't, and half of it is all matters of opinion. Would you lecture someone for using plastic bottles? Feeding their child sugar? Where do you draw the line?

I'm not sure, but I wouldn't draw it an umbrella stroller.

11:50 PM  
Blogger MARY G said...

This hit me so hard that I just wrote a post about it. Really, really thought provoking, and so are some of the comments. One more thought. Maybe an umbrella stroller was all she could handle on the bus and all that. I had a two year old and an umbrella stroller on a subway in Spain, and if I hadn't had teenaged brother with me I would still be at the bottom of the stairs.

11:54 PM  
Blogger jdg said...

you did the best thing.

we are all the girl with the newborn in the umbrella stroller in someone else's eyes.

12:16 AM  
Blogger Kyla said...

I think as women, as mothers, we need to stop the judgement/fear of judgement cycle somewhere. Sure, your honest offer for help could have been misconstrued and taken as an offense, or it might have taught that young mother that there exists a community of mothers who are kind, supportive, and giving. Would I have been brave enough to make the offer? I don't know.

I think part of your reluctance to make the offer was BECAUSE you were judging, quietly and innocently. You were presuming she did not know better because of her youth...or that she could not afford it for the same reasons. So while your offer was 100% kind and generous, you could not look her in the eyes and say it, because you were afraid of the judgement you were passing in the same moment.

We all judge, all of us. We are all judged at one point or another. We just have to find a way not to let it hold us captive any longer. We have to learn to reach out in spite of it, and to accept the hand that reaches out to us in spite of it.

And I think that Julie's comment is AMAZING. *lol*

1:16 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

I would have wanted to say something, tried to come up with a soft opening, and the moment would be past, opportunity past. Thanks for sharing this and even more for hosting all these wonderful comments about how to possibly help someone who needs it. I feel like I've learned a lot.

3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I were that lady, I would love to be told about that.

4:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often have strong opinions on other peoples parenting, especially when it's poor. But I keep it to myself and only share my views with the wife. The exception is if someone else is putting their child in danger. Then I will say something.

If I see you, or anyone else, in a car without a child seat, not watching your toddler as he falls off the deck into the water, hit your child, or something similar. I will get involved, and it won't be pretty.

It's alright if people disagree and scream at me, I think it's important to say something when a child's life might be in danger.

You're a smart, articulate person. I'm sure you could have said something nice, kind, and helpful which would have made a difference in the young womans life. You are very good at communicating, the chance that she would listen to you is 99%. And if not, at least you tried.

I'm more and more coming to the conclusion that my job is kind of meaningless and the way I can really help people is in these kind of situations.


8:13 AM  
Blogger Moments Of Mom said...

I have found that if you Talk to these kinds of moms, ones you feel that you NEED, you must offer them some advice. Just talk to them, you can find out in a short time what their situation actually is. Maybe she has a proper stroller, but didn't want to take it on the subway. Bad as it might be, that may be the truth. Just talk to these young moms, don't councel, just talk. Once in a while they surprise you, once in a while they make you feel like a total ass for wanting to help.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The amount of concern you have both for mother and baby and also for not potentially hurting the mom's feelings is remarkable. My suggestion to overcome your guilt- donate your second stroller and or purchase another one and donate it to a shelter or mom and baby group.

8:31 AM  
Blogger LSM said...

I was a relatively young mother with my first child, though not as young as I'm guessing the mother you encountered is. I had the experience of being on the other end of a similar situation when a man stopped me in the grocery store parking lot while I was putting my daughter, in her infant car seat, into the front seat of the car. This was a time when passenger airbags were a newer thing. My car didn't have one, but it was a late enough model that it wasn't strange to assume that it did. He said, "Oh, my daughter just had a baby too, and she's told me how dangerous it is for them to ride in the front seat because of the passenger airbag." My response wasn't negative at all. I thanked him for caring enough to warn me and told him that my car didn't have an airbag, and that I had read the information about the dangers. And, yes, I know that my baby would still have been safer in the back seat if we had had an accident. At that time, the security of being able to see her and make sure nothing was happening in the back seat outweighed that for me.

That said, I don't know that I would have said anything to the mother about her umbrella stroller either.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Bon said...

what a quandary. i agree your heart is good and that i would have agonized over what to do in that situation, too. and probably slunk away with all my words still stuck in my mouth, afraid to judge. but in reading over the comments, part of me wants to ask...really...what's so wrong with judgement?

usually, we all resent it...and often, it's misplaced. but is it really something SO terrible that we must protect others from it at all costs, even if it means also 'shielding' them from potential kindnesses, too? and from open conversation about it.

she probably knows she's a young mom. she probably knows the stereotypes about "her kind" just as much as you do yours. if she needs a bigger stroller, maybe she'd have appreciated the offer. or lashed out, i don't know.

but reading the responses, i'm kinda overwhelmed by the "omg we must not show judgement, must protect the poor young girl from judgement!" flurry.

she's a mom. she's an adult. she's the age many of our moms were a generation ago. she's not a flower or a six year old or a kitten. and she's probably not unaware of the class divide and age gap between herself and HBM on the subway. to me, there's a lot of judgemental condescension in the "don't you dare judge her!" that's leaking out here. we all get judged. the young mom has a position from which she judges too. and it may not be as socially powerful, definitely not, but it's still valid and her own and not unique to her. the paternalistic protection of her as an object to be sheltered from judgement is more disenfranchising than the judgement itself, i think...because it keeps her out of the conversation about it entirely.

maybe, directly, with the stroller offer dropped on her on the subway, she would have no more idea how to negotiate the awkwardness and assumptions obvious in that exchange than most of the rest of us would. but at least she'd be overtly in the conversation, getting to take part in it.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do not think I would have felt judgemental. . .people really just don't know any better. But I would have said something. Like, "Oh my goodness isn't he/she uncomfortable in that stroller?!"

How you feel will most likely come across in the way you say something. . .so if you are judging then live with it and be one of those women. . .or don't say anything.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Amy Jo said...

A dear friend of mine will frequently offer to walk homeless people to shelters when they ask for money. The first time I was with her when she did this, I was terrified of how the man was going to react. I was so surprised when he took her up on her offer. On the way over, we had a long conversation with him and found out a little about how he ended up on the streets. Later, I asked her how she was able to do that. Wasn't she afraid of people lashing out at her, a young woman in the city at night? She said that occasionally people do yell at her, but most of the time they can tell she's honestly trying to offer some help. If the motivation for your words is genuine, then maybe it doesn't matter what you say.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Mama Sarita said...

Okay, so I have been thinking about this since last night. HBM: you are totally right...where is the judgement line? When is it okay and when is it not okay to 'say something' and who gets to decide? We ALL make judgements. Snap ones, every day, all the time. I hope that you don't continue to feel guilt over this. Your heart wanted to help her...its not like you were clicking away in your head about how she didn't deserve to be a mom or something horrid.

In the interest of full disclosure it came back to my mind that over the weekend I saw someone walking down a street with a bugaboo frog stroller in one of the upscale suburbs around here. My mind was spinning a million times over about the pretention of something so stupid. How's that for judgement? Mine was plain old mean.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It was a rare individual, however, who learned how to separate compassion from condescension."
Ferrol Sams-Whisper of the River

The only way to really spare the judgment is to offer anonymously. Sometimes pride is all people have left.

I have stumbled through this issue and I have been deeply humbled.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Laural Dawn said...

I read this and I was kind of frustrated by it.
I get where you're coming from. I really do. But, I was that young mom. (not as young, but everyone thought I was like 19).
I had people judge me or try to helpfully correct me ALL the time - I was always told Bjorn was hurting my son.
Ironically, my story is that I did get told off about using an umbrella stroller. The truth is that the day I got told about the umbrella stroller was the very day I had chosen to go to my doctor because I couldn't handle this whole parenting thing.
I had literally put him in the stroller put some shoes and left the house. I went to the doctor's office, without an appointment, found the nurse who I knew and burst into tears.
Thank goodness the person who stopped me stopped me on my way home - not en route.
I was a mess, and I almost told the person commenting on my parenting skills that I'd made the choice to stick him in the easy to push/get on the bus with stroller rather than jump out the window.
I get where you're coming from. It was out of kindness. But, it would have made such a difference if people, that woman in particular, would have just said "what a beautiful baby. You're doing an amazing job".
I guarantee you that she will be told 20 times over that her stroller is wrong.
I also guarantee that she will not hear nearly how often how wonderful it is that she's getting through the day.
And, that's not at all an insult and criticism to you. You didn't say it - and your heart was in the right place. I just think it would have done more harm than good.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nothing. Just like you. I would have likely have had the same breadth of emotions, but in the end any gesture could be perceived as condescending. A power play. I also would probably have figured that the baby seemed loved, and that much much worse things could happen. I don;t know. Very tough...

11:42 AM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

What's so wrong with judgment?

Well, if you are using it to evaluate and make a choice within your own life, nothing (usually).

If you are using it to make a wise choice from a place of enough information, then it can also be okay.

If, however, you are using it with your own preconceived notions and biases to decide what somene else is doing is wrong and that person is lesser and lacking, well, then a whole lot.

HBM and most of us have good intentions.

But to assume that someone who is a young mother is (a) poor, (b) uneducated about proper parenting, and (c) lacking in an item that someone else perceives as necessary is not a good result. That's an assumption, and a judgment that is not constructive.

My point about judging is *not* about "protect the poor fragile fleur." My point is to look within yourself and decide how much of what you are thinking is about YOU versus HER.

To approach with a suggestion is not constructive because it stems from assumptions that may be incorrect.

To show camaraderie and get to know this stranger who struck you for one reason or another can help you formulate a better evaluation of the situation and the part you might have (or not) within it.

A friendly hello and what a cute baby comment might cause her to unload, "yes, love my cutie but what a morning! OMG my stroller broke this a.m. and I have this important appointment and ACK ACK ACK!"

You never know. That's why living within your own head and judging from there isn't usually very cool in my book.

Sure at times we all judge and get judged. If we get judged on an issue that's a pain point for us, it bothers us.

I will say in general though that when I reflect, most of my judgments are about ME and come from an assumption without enough real data to determine anything at all. That's why I try to withold snap judgmets about *others* as much as life demands I decide quickly many times for *myself.*

My point isn't protective, it's intended as personally reflective. The result ought to actually actively involve the other person rather than disenfranchise her.

I hope that makes some form of sense.

12:44 PM  
Blogger m said...

I already said my two bits above, but I just wanted to tell you that I keep coming back to this post, reading all the new comments obsessively, unlike I ever had for any post before.

This is obviously a very complex question and it has touched a nerve in all of us. I thank you for getting us talking about this. I can't stop thinking about it.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

You know, I'd have probably done the same thing as you and feel guilty about it afterwards. I would have felt like crap for not helping that mother.

What can you do? I don't know. You could have started up a conversation and not talk about how she had the baby in an umbrella stroller. Maybe she's open the door some how. Thinking about the positions my kids will sleep in while in the car, the baby would probably be okay. It's not optimal, but perhaps it's the best she could do.

You know, offering to help someone is a fine line. It could be viewed as kindness or as a judgement: "I see you're raising your child in a manner that I wouldn't find acceptable. Here, let me help."

I'm not offering up any advice. I wouldn't know what to do. But, perhaps seeing her could be seen as a knock on your door. Maybe you could offer that stroller to someone for free on Craig's List or to a place that helps women with young children. That particular mother may not get your stroller, but seeing her might have prepared the way for another mother. Maybe there's another mother out there somewhere who is meant to help the lady you saw.

I don't know.

1:21 PM  
Blogger Domestic Slackstress said...

I would have been brimming with judgement. I admit it. I wouldn't have said anything though. I only say something when it's really, really bad. Like a mom smoking near her kid or while preggers.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Maddy said...

Unfortunately I don't know what a meta-post is [technically challenged person] but I'm glad you posted the story as to be honest, that's something that I didn't know.
I thought that umbrella strollers were a think from the dark ages anyway, back from when my 25 year old was a babe.
My current crop of children missed out too because of the 'innovation' of bjorns, which are easier all round.
Best wishes

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a very thought-provoking post. Getting away from the question--should you have spoken up or not-- I think the larger question of judgment is more interesting.

How we visually (and aurally) judge each other as mothers and as human beings. How we decide who is open to our comments and who is not.

I applaud you HBM for thinking about your thinking process. The sides of the issue that you and others have brought up have made for interesting cogitation on my part (oops, that sounded awfully elitist).

Anyway, I would have done as you did--been paralyzed by my own what-if's until one or the other exited and I would be left with my feelings of regret.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hey Cath, your post was a little challenging for me. I mean, to what extent is a $400-$500 stroller actually any safer for babies, really? I just kept thinking about the specifically maternal marketing they use to sell SUVs to mothers. There's a big segment of the population out there that shells out $40k plus for a car because it's bigger, rides higher and smoother, has more cupholders, bubbly lines, and is marketed in a myriad of wonderful ways to appeal to a mom's protective instincts. Just like the big-ass strollers Graco has on the market today. We've got it into our heads that we can somehow spend more to keep our children safer. That bigger and more expensive is better.

If you ever watch Dad hucking the baby absentmindedly at the ceiling fan, every instinct cries out that we're being sold a cocoon when we don't in fact need it. Drop your kid on his or her head a few times, and you find out pretty quickly that it takes a pretty major trauma to do much damage to the things. I've got a six-year-old who somehow learned to do math, his alphabet, and a complicated set of "palm heel strikes" to escape schoolyard bullies, not to mention achieving level 436 of B'Dman Destroyer Bot on the Gameboy advance, and somehow growing to be a strapping 4 feet, 60 pounds of lean schoolyard playing machine in the process, depite multiple negligent blunt traumas to the head and other bits in his pre-toddler days, the occasional electrocution, and an ill-advised granting of permission to the two year old to bang in the tent pegs using the blunt side of the axe.

All in all, I'm pretty much convinced that so long as the kids get something reasonably close to a balanced diet, a cup of apple juice now and then, just a judicious dose of getting yelled at once in a while, and no actual overt physical abuse, they're pretty much going to be fine as long as we do the things that matter most - pay attention to them, respect them, love them, and give them the thing that matter most, our time. Nature has already taken care of the physical aspect by building them out of rubber.

With a little something-something jingling in our wallets, we can sure as hell buy convenience. But we can't buy health and safety and happiness. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced we're falling further and further into believing the marketers' message that we can. $400 strollers are convenient, but I'm not convinced they're safer.

Your post, to me anyways, and with all due respect, didn't seem to be about class as much as it was about this larger issue of how we're all - but especially mothers - becoming parenthood consumers instead of parenthood providers as our fears are increasingly effectively being preyed upon. Anyways, my two cents - rock on.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Baby in the City said...

Intentionally or not, this is SO the post on judgement. So let's talk.

I ask you (everyone) what is so wrong with a little judgement? If I, for example, think this blog is fantastic, that is a judgement. Judgement itself is not bad. So having different opinions, personalities, etc., that is not negative either.

I think it isn't judgemtn per se that people shy away from, it is that no one wants to hurt someone's feelings or undermine their confidence - especially when you can empathize with the fagility of that confidence. But, surely a little tact can address this. And yes, maybe you - I - think we are right to intervene and it turns out we are wrong, but maybe sometimes we are right. Krista's comment is reason enough to at least try. And also goes to the point that, really, a situation may be extremely complicated and uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean you don't forge ahead. Does it?

To use the breastfeeding example: There is a big difference between the breast-is-best zealot who wags her finger at a mother feeding her infant a bottle and a kind stranger who approaches a frazzled mother trying to breastfeed her crying infant with advice that lets that mother know there are professional consultants that can help (and you know because you needed help) or that sometimes breastfeeding doesn't work or just an expression of solidarity...point is that tact, compassion, genuine acts of friendship and fraternity can make judgment okay. Intentions matter.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Eek, Jeff, wow I didn't get that at all. I think this was a post about seeing a mother who may not have known better, and another mother wanting to help her out but feeling it would come off as condescending or patronizing. The price of the stroller is incidental, except in the way it became an indicator of class differences and the awkwardness of crossing lines. (And by the way a reclining stroller, whatever the cost, is indeed more appropriate for a newborn than an umbrella stroller.)

I think the right thing was just as you did, C. It's sad it has to be that way though.

By the way I love this post just the way it is. Rah!

8:33 PM  
Blogger BOSSY said...

One time Bossy witnessed a young baby fall from a supermarket cart and hit the shiny concrete floor with a thud she won't forget.

Bossy was so worried about this baby, whom the mom plunked back into the cart and tried to quiet as though the baby was just being bad. Bossy fretted over what to do. She finally approached the woman in the check out line. "That exact thing happened to me," she lied. "And you really have to check the baby out - go to a doctor to make sure the baby didn't hurt his head because it's impossible to know." The lady promised Bossy she was going to -- and that had to be good enough.

In your case the stroller could never achieve the sort of traumatic injury that would require you to say something judgmental to a stranger on the fly. Chances are someone else will do that. And that baby has time. Sleep easy.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

You're totally right, Tan, that this was the post on judgment. Intentionally so. Because the experience *so* brought home for me my ambivalence about judgment. I *don't* think that judgment is bad. But I'm still a bit fuzzy on where the line is drawn. Is it intention? The way that it's communicated? I'm pretty sure that *my* judgment v.v. this young woman was well-founded and well-intentioned, and had I had the nerve and more time, I might have found the right words. But when someone says to me, shouldn't your baby be wearing a hat? or *if* someone asked me why I was bottle-feeding, I'd be put out, no matter how well-intentioned that someone might be. Because *I* feel like I know better, and feel that others shouldn't interfere in my parenting. My discomfort here has more to do with being sensitive to the possibility of hypocrisy than with anything else, except, maybe, guilt.

I should have spoken to that young woman. But I also want to keep all of this in mind the next time that I get all pissy about judgment.

And, Jeff, the thing about the umbrella stroller? It wasn't that I felt that she needed an expensive stroller - just one that reclines. It's well-established that newborns should be on their backs as much as possible - umbrella strollers are meant for toddlers.


9:13 PM  
Blogger Kyla said...

Holy comments, Batman! *lol* I keep coming back to read them. :)

9:18 PM  
Blogger Girl con Queso said...

I agree with Dutch. We're all that girl in some (or many) ways. Great post.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my goodness this brought up ALOT of stuff for me..i agree quite a bit with adventuredad and julie pippert... there is certainly a fine line when it comes to "getting involved/helping/safety issues" versus "simply passing judgement"...

however, when it comes to saftey issues, like a child about to fall into a pool due to lack of supervision or a newborn infant in an umbrella stroller (undeniably unsafe), i believe it to be my obligation to step in and do/say *something*... otherwise I'm the one who can't sleep at night because i *could* have helped or prevented a death by drowning or injury or whatever the case may be. If i had had the courage to say or do something, I coudl have prevented a potentially really bad situation.
In all honesty, I'm not sure I understand the reluctance to get involved when safety is at stake. I'm not talking about people butting in to bash a formula feeding mother or berate someone for letting their child CIO... there are things that are quite simply a matter of opinon and parenting style and have nothing to do with real SAFETY issues. when it comes to "style", it's quite simply NONE OF YOUR F-ING BUSINESS. Safety though is a whole other matter. Maybe my former career as a cop makes me the kind of person who feels the need to intervene when safety is a factor, or maybe my type of personality to intervene when safety is involved is what led me to being a cop.. who knows? but I do know that we, as a society, owe it to each other to look out for one another. and especially for those little ones unable to look out for themselves.
She may have simply not known better and would have really appreciated being given some valuable information to help keep her newborn safe, or safer at the very least. Your approach with regard to her would certainly have been critical to how the information was received but HBM, i have a hard time picturing you being rude or condescending to this young woman. "Intent" is a factor and IS discernable to others. And in the end, even if she did take it the wrong way and got all huffy with you and told you that it was none of your business, what harm has really come from that? Is she not an adult? Is she not going to get over it and get on with her life? Do we not ALL eventually move on and get over a personal affront or judgment that pissed us off? What's more important? her pride or her baby's safety? With whom do our priorities reside?
I have found that there is a really bad trend in our society NOT to get involved these days...everybody wants to just mind their own business..blah blah blah and because of this stupid trend, we have the situation where a kidnapped boy (shawn hornbeck) was kept in PLAIN SIGHT in a small apartment housing complex where people instinctively KNEW something was weird, thought he LOOKED ALOT LIKE the kidnapped missing boy, heard "weird sounds" and "pleading" and "abuse" coming frm the apartment in question but no one, NO ONE, called the cops to report it. NO ONE wanted to pass judgment on this man and accuse him of being a bad parent EVEN THOUGH HE WAS A SEXUAL PREDATOR who was, for years mind you, abusing this poor kid in the worst ways possible... no one wante dto "get involved" despite everything pointing to something being very, very wrong. i'm sorry but i'd rather be the person who made someone feel judged than the person who didn't do anything and could have prevented a bad situation (i'm not referring to you HBM in yoru scenario which is clearly nothing compared to the kidnap situation)... if i feel something isn't "right", i do something about it. i sleep better at night that way. being reluctant to get involved for fear of hurting someone's fragile ego to me, is a whole lot less important than potentially doing something that coudl really benefit someone, especially when that someone is an innocent child who has no ability to look out for or speak up for himself/herself...
sorry for the ramble but you hit a nerve with this one.

1:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't talk to a young mom over her stroller choice. My kids are 9 and 11 now, and I've come far enough along in the parenting process now to see that a lot of the approaches and choices I disagree end up yielding children who are just fine.

I used to freak out when my babies heads would flop forward or to the side at uncomfortable angles while I was driving. I talked to my chiropractor about it and he said as horrible as it looks, it's generally not a big deal.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

For me, the judgement is implicit in the first paragraph: "she clutched a Mcdonals take-out bag in one hand".

All writing is subjective- especially blogs- and therefore contains judgements. You chose to include the detail about the Mcdonalds bag, which *to me* (as an equally subjective, judgement-forming reader) speaks more about your judgements to do with class and possibly mothering skills than anything else you chose to write. By including this detail, to me you linked a to b, Mcdonalds bag to umbrella pushchair, whether consciously or not.

That's just my impression- perhaps wrong. But well done for opening your own actions and thoughts up for debate/criticism.

ps I'm not a mother but every parent I know regards criticism of their parenting skills as the most personal and hurtful slight there is. So I think it is usually best to keep one's mouth shut! Unless there is abuse of any sort involved, of course.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Julie Pippert said...

RE: Judgement

Catherine, I love your post---this reflection and discussion---and I really love this question, "I *don't* think that judgment is bad. But I'm still a bit fuzzy on where the line is drawn. Is it intention? The way that it's communicated?"

Is this a language thing? Here's how *I* think of it:

Liking Her Bad Mother's Blog...that's an opinion. A good one, a sound one, but an opinion. :)

"I wouldn't ever put a baby that small in an umbrella stroller for any length of time for any reason," is still basically an opinion, although it does carry some judgment. Still, not a bad thing, especially when it leads to, "I wonder if I could or should help." That's all good.

Here's when it becomes judgment IMO, and how taking one course of action from that judgment isn't terribly constructive or helpful:

Deciding the mom is doing a bad job. Deciding you know better. Deciding she doesn't know better. Deciding she needs to do it like you do. Deciding she needs your help and stepping forward to tell her how she's doing it wrong, without knowing anything beyond just seeing her in that moment, with the baby in the stroller that way.

Of course we all have opinions. Of course we all judge at times, ourselves and others.

I just get all icky feeling when we decide someone *is* lesser by comparison.

I think the line for me is whether it is internal, about yourself, or external, how another person should change to accomodate how we think things ought to be. KWIM?

Even if we're RIGHT, LOL, such as it's not safe for a newborn in an umbrella stroller.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

I was wondering when someone would bring up the McDonald's bag. That detail was very intentionally included - because a) she *was* carrying a McDonald's bag, and b) I was very conscious of the McDonald's bag being some sort of marker of class. It doesn't say anything about her as a person - other than she likes her fries, and hell, I like my fries too and have carried my share of McD's bags - but it's a convenient (lazy?) shorthand for a writer, because it speaks to the readers' assumptions. So I took a writer's shortcut, intentionally, and left the (factual) detail in. I fully expected to get called on it.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I would have probably just made some friendly chit-chat, letting her know that I was also a mom, but not said anything about the stroller. I might have asked her in a roundabout way if she had any help/support, to see if she was open to accepting help or advice.

I like to think I would not have presumed to know more than she (or to care more about safety), based on the difference in our age/class status. That, I think, is the key to finding common ground with other mothers across the socio-economic spectrum. But it is much easier said than done.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

A bit more on what I said about not presuming to know more....and to attempt to tie it back to the discussion about the community of moms who blog....

As bloggers, don't we all presume that we know more? And as moms who blog, don't we presume that sharing our mothering experience via blogging is going to be meaningful or valuable or instructive to others?

I'm having a big "a-ha" moment here. When I chose the name for my blog "The LMD Tells You What to Think" it was to poke fun at that very attitude, which was my view of bloggers (not mom bloggers, necessarily) at the time. Yet it is exactly what I do, and what so many of us do -- presume to know more and care more than others.

11:55 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

A bit more on what I said about not presuming to know more....and to attempt to tie it back to the discussion about the community of moms who blog....

As bloggers, don't we all presume that we know more? And as moms who blog, don't we presume that sharing our mothering experience via blogging is going to be meaningful or valuable or instructive to others?

I'm having a big "a-ha" moment here. When I chose the name for my blog "The LMD Tells You What to Think" it was to poke fun at that very attitude, which was my view of bloggers (not mom bloggers, necessarily) at the time. Yet it is exactly what I do, and what so many of us do -- presume to know more and care more than others.

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: the Mcdonalds bag... I thought so! That's why I admire this post, you are being very honest about your/our assumptions, and addressing those assumptions.

I have to confess that I was "guilty" of making my own judgements as soon as I started reading your post. As a woman who doesn't (yet) have children, who is not (that much) older than the girl you saw, I felt my hackles rise the moment I added together the judgements I had made about you (mother+intelligent+middle-class+"older") and the judgements I perceived you to be making about the girl. Oh god, this is going to be holier-than-thou and pitying, I thought. I assumed, as you are a mother of a certain level of education and a certain class status, that I knew what I was about to read.

I was wrong. The post turned out to be enlightening and really, really interesting. In a way, this post is actually about blogging itself, I would say.

Speaking of judgements, is it a surprise that the unknowing object of all of this debate is a WOMAN?
Would an unknown boy/man be scrutinised by strangers to such an extent? Would their body/parenting/behaviour be as likely to become such a passive interface for discussion, become "owned" by so many strangers? Interesting, I think.

Wow, I've had more than my tuppence worth now. Will stop.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm, well i don't see this as assuming any of us KNOW more or CARE more... and I object to the idea that we shouldn't say anything because we "assume" ten other people will or have already mentioned to her the safety issues at hand. As mothers we were all new mothers at one time, and we all *knew* different things based on what we read, whom we talked to, and how much *advice* we were given. What one new mom has learned another may not have had the opportunity to find out about yet. As mothers, all in this thing together, shouldn't it be our duty to help each other out and share what we know? AFTER ALL, one day we are on the giving end where we are sharing information and the next day we could be on the receiving end of the information. It's not ok to assume that someone has already addressed this with her and that she has "heard all about it" 100 times. Most likely everyone else has had the same reservations about saying anything at all and has thus said nothing at all to her. And so we continue to say nothing? I still fail to see the harm in having a light (non condescening, non judgmental, non threatening) conversation with the mother, relate with her on the level that those of us who are mothers are ALL on teh same level as women who love their children, regardless of class or status or education or priviledge. If you happen to know something that is going to benefit another mom, share it. What is different about letting her know that umbrella strollers are better suited for toddlers (versus newborns) than, say, letting your mommy friend know that a certain toy she has in her home was recalled last month for saftey issues? what's the difference? Sharing valuable information can be, really, as simple as that. Why put so much behind it, why clutter it with issues. If your intent is honorable and your approach is genuine, i still fail to see the problem. By not talking to her due to class concerns, we actually increase the divide between the classes even more. If you would have no reluctance to have discussed this with a friend "at your same level" but feel awkward speaking to her about it because she is "lower class" and you are afraid of hurtng her feeelings/ego/pride then you are assuming she cares more about her pride than she does about her baby. Clearly that wasn't the case as she was attending to her baby and cooing to her baby and loving her baby just as much as we all love ours. All mothers want the best for their children, regardless of the different opportunities to provide various levels of care based on varied levels of privilege. I would never assume that a young, poor, new mom would be more offended by my comments than grateful that someone cared enough about her and her baby to let her in on something she had not yet learned. If someone hadn't been around to inform me about certain things (ie: grapes should be quartered not just cut in halves to prevent choking) I would never have known. I'm gratfeul to all the people who shared the knowledge they had, regardless of whom it came from (strangers or family) It was then my choice whether or not I wanted to follow the suggestions or not. I never was personally affronted by it when the intent was clearly and genuinely designed to be helpful. regardless of whether i agreed with that particular piece of advice or not. I'm not sure i'm getting my point accross since no one seems to have understood the point i was trying to make in my last post but i figured i'd at least *try* to explain my reasoning further. thanks HBM for a very, very thought provoking and interesting post. pascale

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have thought of the perfect thing to say to her, to educate without being offensive, to help this baby and clear my conscience, AFTER she got off the subway. So I would essentially have done what you did. Drat. But I take heart that it appears this young mother otherwise loved and cared for her baby. And wasn't feeding it a Shamrock Shake and fries from that McDonald's bag...

2:42 PM  
Blogger Emily Clasper said...

What a great conversation. Applause to everyone!

Now after all of the coulda-shoulda-woulda, HBM, what are you going to do next time?

3:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Pascale! Please get a blog. I'm with you 100%

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks tania, i was afraid i was all alone in my thoughts here (still not wavering from them, yet all on my lonesome!)
I am definitely not casting blame for anyone having reservations about saying anything, that's human nature and even moreso because it was out of respect and wanting to honor this young woman and not insult her, that was not my point and i hope it didn't come accross that way.
my inclination would have been to speak to her and I was only explaining my reasoning behind why I would have done that.
Take care!

11:14 PM  
Blogger josetteplank.com said...

As Redneck said, I'm comfortable with the taste of my own feet. Working in a public place where there are a lot of children, I see all kinds of situations in which maybe the mom doesn't need help...but then again, maybe she does. Yes, I've found that just connecting first as another mom and noting the beautifu child it the biggest bridge. I've found that saying things like, "Yeah, I had one of those days yesterday when my toddler kept throwing herself out of the stroller while I was running errands" does a lot to calm a mom who is about to lose it and start wailing on her kid. And I've had other moms do the same for me.

With the stroller...yeah, I would have made conversation, said that my baby looked like a little lima bean too, and then my friend gave me some hand-me-down neck holder thingies, that a friend had given to her, etc. and they really worked to keep her head up, etc.

I don't know...I think as I "mother" longer, I become more humble in the face of just how much I don't know, and I think...I hope...that comes through when I talk to other moms. That's we're all still learning no matter how much is in our bank account or how many kids we have.

Anyway, yes, a place to tread lightly. I've had plenty of people turn me on to some new (to me) parenting idea without turning it into a drive-by; but, if I do step on a toe, I just turn it back on myself: "I'm so sorry. You know, this is really one of my own hang-ups with my own kids. I need to remember that it's not everyone elses' problem too. Please forgive me." And that is truthful, too.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Great comments. I especially loved margalit's whole spiel about offering info on an organization that might be helpful. And julie's "southern US" approach.

That said, however, I'm a master of the great things that could have/would have/should have been said - after the fact! But, I ride the subway every day, and because DD is now 18, and DS is 13 and goes to boarding school in India, and I miss them both like mad (DD because she's all grown up - I love her totally, but miss the "little" her...), I always try to catch the eye of moms on the train and smile, perhaps chat a bit, admire their little ones, and so on. Maybe I'd have thought of something useful to say in the moment... maybe not. My heart goes out to them all.

Thanks, HBM.

5:41 PM  
Blogger joker the lurcher said...

don't feel bad. i think you have to think about all the kids around the world who don't have prams or strollers and who get carried in all sorts of ways but still survive. kids are born in war zones and in famines and all sorts. what is important is her care for the baby and her tucking it in and looking out for it. that is what matters in the long run. if she gets enough encouragement she will hopefully feel confident in what she does. babies are strong little people when all is said and done.

7:17 PM  
Blogger ewe are here said...

Amazing post. Amazing comments.

We all judge. We have to, to some degree, otherwise we'd never get to the point of whatever it is we're focused on at the moment. It's the basis of our starting points, however right or wrong they may be. Being open to being wrong, and being able to forgive and be forgiven, is what's important in such situations I think.

As for advice, truthfully, I probably would have done what you did in the same situation. Especially as an American living over here in the UK. People do react to me in 'interesting' ways sometimes, so I tread lightly and don't offer too much unsolicited advice. ;-)

OTOH, when I was waiting to go home with our new wee one from the hospital last Sunday, a somewhat younger mother whom I'd been chatting with off and on all morning, was also waiting to go home with her first wee one. She was 'struggling' a tad more, probably because it was her first, like we all did. Anyways, she asked me if I had any advice for her seeing as I was on my second baby. I thought about it for a minute and said yes. I told her that my best piece of advice, or assvice, was to not beat herself up or get down on herself when everything wasn't going perfectly and she felt like she was screwing up. Because she was going to feel that way at times. All new moms did. And guess what? In the long run, it would mean nothing. SHe and the baby were going to be perfectly fine. Keep that in mind and be happy.

I wish someone had said that to me when MF was born... now I see why subsequent babes are so much more laid back: it's because WE are!

7:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never worry what people will think or say about me, just like now, you could be thinking, oh, here it comes, an uber santimommy and look, watch me not caring!

The point is you recognized you had something that you were willing to share something that was both information and material, and you had the heart and the means to share it and you had no idea how to start that conversation. Instead of just saying anything, you let your idea of what someone else's idea of you might be, change who you thought you were.

So unnecessary. What's the worst that could have happened? Here's what I would have said:

Hi! What a beautiful baby? I was wondering, would you have any use at all for a bit larger stroller? Not too big but maybe more comfortable for longer walks? Those umbrella stroller handles are never long enough and I find my back hurting if I go more than a block with them. Anyway, I was lucky enough to get two (name of designer stroller here) at my shower and have no idea what to do with the other. Let me give you my phone number in case you decide you can use it. Here you go. Oops, there's my train. Call me! Bye!

See, not so hard. One little fib instead of making a judgment either way, either about her means or parenting, and the end result is the possibility that perhaps at least some of the time, the kid will be in a better, safer, more comfortable stroller if/when she calls.

12:20 PM  
Blogger mo-wo said...

99 comments. Shall I make it an even hundred.

Thanks for this you have spurred me to finish a thought hassling me in draftsville for a month or so...

I wouldn't speak. I tend to transfer my thoughts like these... project. And, I made a big donation to a downtown eastside children's centre in our move and that sort of thing is really all I can do.

12:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Holy Mack. I wish I had more time to read everyone's amazing comments! This was a great post.

I just want to toss out two things I'm thinking about:

- How we we really know she was the mother? Just because of the dark circles under her eyes? She may have been the teenage babysitter who spent too much time partying the night before and had no clue that she grabbed the wrong stroller on her way out the door to MacDonald's.

- as a lot of people have pointed out, a short, polite conversation would have probably cleared up a lot of your questions. :)

- I think judgement - or lack thereof - is very much a cultural thing. My mother is Eastern European. She, along with every other mother I've known who comes from this part of the word will lay down her opinions straight: no holds barred. My mother has opined loudly about everything including the colour of our shower curtain and the placement of our kitchen garbage. I'm supposed to listen, acknowledge, and never feel bad about she. She says she's just being a mom! And trying to help!


So where along the line did we lose the skill of "judging" politely and being able to accept the "judgement" ? I know I find it incredibly difficult, especially when I feel like I'm the one being criticized.

Just something to think about!

4:40 PM  
Blogger Avalon said...

I come to this a bit late, but felt the need to comment. A number of people have commented about seeing no problem with judging the young mother in this story. Having been, many years ago, very much that mother in the story, I understand all too well how those judgements...spoken or silent....can sting. They can make a person question their own worth, their abilities, their decisions.... especially as a new, young, first-time mother. It seems as if the entire world is filled with women who "know better" and want to make certain that you are aware of it. I was barely 18 and single when my baby was born. My brand-new umbrella stroller was the ONLY baby item that was not borrowed or donated from a charity. As sad as it sounds now ( 23 years later), I was proud of that stupid stroller because it was mine. it was the first thing i bought on my own for my baby, knowing that I would be walking and/ or using public transportation to get anywhere I needed to go. I wanted the best for my baby, and that stroller was the best I could afford. It took she and I to her pediatrician's visits so that I could assure myself that her donated formula was, in fact, nourishing her, to the free public library to read to her, to the local green to expose her to free concerts and art fairs. It took us to the local YWCA for free mommy-n-me classes. It carried her and I around our neighborhood to the local park where we would feed the ducks and watch the older kids play. It gave us a freedom that we might not have had otherwise. it saved my sanity on many days when I was lonely and alone because it gave us a path into the outside world. So yes, it may have been a cheap little umbrella stroller, but to me and my baby, it was a treasure. Had someone judged me based on the stroller, it might have been enough to push me and my daughter back into the recesses of our little apartment. She would have missed out on so many formative experiences.....all because someone felt it was their right to judge me and my decisions.

1:58 PM  

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