The Mom in the Mirror

March 13, 2007

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.

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    Lindellica March 13, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    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.

    Mary G March 13, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    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.

    Dutch March 14, 2007 at 12:16 am

    you did the best thing.

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

    Kyla March 14, 2007 at 1:16 am

    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*

    Lady M March 14, 2007 at 3:44 am

    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.

    Adwina March 14, 2007 at 4:17 am

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

    AdventureDad March 14, 2007 at 8:13 am

    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.


    AnotherMomCreation March 14, 2007 at 8:21 am

    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.

    Steph March 14, 2007 at 8:31 am

    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.

    LSM March 14, 2007 at 8:46 am

    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.

    Bon March 14, 2007 at 9:18 am

    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.

    Dawn March 14, 2007 at 9:29 am

    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.

    Amy Jo March 14, 2007 at 10:31 am

    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.

    Sarah March 14, 2007 at 11:01 am

    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.

    kim March 14, 2007 at 11:37 am

    “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.

    Laural Dawn March 14, 2007 at 11:38 am

    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.

    gingajoy March 14, 2007 at 11:42 am

    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…

    Julie Pippert March 14, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    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.

    m March 14, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    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.

    Jennifer March 14, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    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.

    Domestic Slackstress March 14, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    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.

    mcewen March 14, 2007 at 3:03 pm

    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

    Lydia March 14, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    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.

    Jeff March 14, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    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.

    Tania (urbanmommy is so 2006) March 14, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    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.

    Mom101 March 14, 2007 at 8:33 pm

    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!

    BOSSY March 14, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    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.

    Her Bad Mother March 14, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    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.


    Kyla March 14, 2007 at 9:18 pm

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

    Girl con Queso March 15, 2007 at 12:40 am

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

    Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 1:58 am

    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.

    V-Grrrl March 15, 2007 at 9:34 am

    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.

    bok March 15, 2007 at 9:40 am

    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.

    Julie Pippert March 15, 2007 at 10:11 am

    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.

    Her Bad Mother March 15, 2007 at 10:25 am

    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.

    Mrs. Davis March 15, 2007 at 11:14 am

    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.

    Mrs. Davis March 15, 2007 at 11:55 am

    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.

    bok March 15, 2007 at 11:59 am

    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.

    Anonymous March 15, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    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

    Mrs. Q March 15, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    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…

    Emily Clasper March 15, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    What a great conversation. Applause to everyone!

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

    Tania March 16, 2007 at 12:32 pm

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

    Anonymous March 16, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    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!

    Jozet March 16, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    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.

    Gurukarm March 17, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    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.

    Joker The Lurcher March 17, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    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.

    ewe are here March 18, 2007 at 7:59 am

    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!

    nthnglsts March 18, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    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.

    mo-wo March 19, 2007 at 12:38 am

    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.

    andrea from the fishbowl March 19, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    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!

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