To the Mom at the Mall
February 27, 2001

One day last summer I took my daughters to a mall in a nearby town. It's one of those malls that has more mall walkers than shoppers, but it does have a big old platform full of coin operated toddler rides.

Victoria was about 26 months old and Annalee was about 6 months old. I wheeled us on up and turned Victoria loose on the various buses, magical dinosaurs and cowboy chickens. Annalee happily sat in her stroller.

Soon another mom and her daughter joined us, and we struck up a conversation. The little girl was about 4 months younger than Victoria, and the mom was impressed by my daugher's vocabulary. I assured her that they really do have a "language explosion" at around two, and that it was perfectly normal for her daughter not to be talking much yet. She looked relieved.

Victoria wandered up to her and asked to be picked up (snort) and the woman automatically reached down and scooped her up. She was loving and fun, and my daughter insinctively liked her. Yet the more we talked, the more she showed how insecure she felt as a mom.

She said she didn't know how I did it, taking care of two little ones when she frequently felt overwhelmed by one. I explained that I'm blessed and have my husband right there to help, and that I had plenty of times I was overwhelmed too.

She asked about toilet training and I said that we hadn't even thought about that yet, and from what I'd read my daughter was nowhere near ready. I told her the advice I liked best was to wait until they were ready enough to learn in a weekend. I swear her face looked five years younger when she heard that.

The more we talked, the more I got the feeling she was surrounded by people who were condemning her as a mother. It was clear I was saying things she'd felt too, but hearing another mother saying them seemed to finally validate her own feelings as a mom.

Before too long, her husband showed up. She immediately told him, "She says her daughter didn't talk much till recently and you should hear her!". He smiled politely and told her it was time to go. She scooped up her daughter and we all said goodbye.

I've never stopped thinking about that anonymous mother and what else I wish I had said to her in that short time.

I wish I had told her that her daughter was sweet and fun, and that it was obvious she was doing a very good job as a mother. I wish I had said that nobody knows how to mother your child except you, and to let all the well-meaning (and not) outsiders yap all they like, but to let it slide right off at the end of the day.

I wish I had gotten her name and number and offered to get together if she needed some company, and to babysit if she needed a break. I wish I had recommended Dr. Sears's books for a different take on parenting advice.

I wish I had recommended that she find local groups for moms and toddlers, and to surround herself with people who were supportive and helpful and ignore the rest. I would have recommended contacting local schools, libraries and such about story time, Early Child and Family Education and other great social options for moms of little ones. I would have told her my e-mail groups of moms and other women helped keep me from feeling isolated and gave me great parenting advice.

I would have told her that every mother gets overwhelmed sometimes. Sometimes we get overwhelmed for weeks at a time. It's a sign we're doing a great job taking care of everybody else but need to take a little care of ourselves. Of course I've lost it too, have collapsed in a heap on the floor and sobbed. So did our mothers. So did our grandmothers. I know, mine told me so. And my grandmother was not the type to collapse on floors.

I didn't get a chance to say any of that though, and I would have felt a little goofy sprinting after her to shout all this out to her. Still I wish I had.

So to that mom out there somewhere I'd like to say that it was a pleasure spending time with you and your daughter. I hope things are going a little easier and that people have gone off to criticize some other mother and give you a break for a while.

You're doing a great job.

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