When it feels like that other mum is judging you, she probably isn’t. When you imagine her criticising you for doing whatever you need to do to get by, she most likely isn’t.
Every morning I reluctantly drive my kids half a mile from our house to their school. I wish we could walk that short distance but for many, many reasons we can’t at the moment. Every morning I overtake another mum who’s walking the same distance with her two older kids. And every morning we look at each other, unsmiling.
For the last eight weeks, this daily, fleeting encounter has got to me. I have felt a pang of anxiety as I turn the corner and see her outline up ahead, and then as I slow down to overtake her and her children. And when our eyes meet, I feel worse still. I just know she’s judging me for driving the short distance to school. And I feel painfully guilty that we’re not walking like them.
But the thing is, this whole scenario is in my head.
I have never spoken to this mum. I have no idea what’s going through her mind as she turns and looks at me through the windscreen of my car, while I carefully drive past her and her kids.
Is she judging me? Probably not.
I sat down today and thought through some of the things she might be thinking:
- She’s not even thinking about me. Instead, she’s watching the narrow road, keeping an eye on where my car is in relation to herself and her children. She doesn’t see me through the windscreen, or think about me, or judge me for driving to school. Instead, she’s just doing her thing with her kids. Keeping them safe. Getting them to school on time. Just like me.
- She feels for me. Maybe she’s remembering how difficult the school run was when her kids were as small as mine. Perhaps she’s remembering how hard it was to get them both dressed and ready for school every morning when they were so tired and home was so warm and cosy. And she’s thinking about how her youngest refused to walk any distance at that age and how stressful it was having to piggyback/persuade/bribe her all the way to school while her older child fretted about being late.
- She’s intrigued by me. Maybe she’s wondering what in the hell kind of mornings we must have at home to have to drive that short distance to school every day. Maybe she’d like to talk to me – find out who I am, what my story is. Only I don’t seem very friendly. I never smile at her, anyway.
- Or maybe, just maybe, she really is judging me in the way I fear she is. Maybe she’s looking straight at me and thinking: What a lazy woman you are! Why don’t you just walk your kids to school? Why aren’t you giving your kids the fresh air they need? Why aren’t you enjoying a walk on this beautiful morning? Why can’t you get your shit together so that you’ve got time to walk in like we do?
But even if she is thinking the worst – so what?
Of course, none of this is really about the woman I overtake every morning. The critical voice I hear in my head every morning is really my own. It’s the voice telling me I’m not good a mother because school mornings are always so difficult. The one judging me for taking the easy transport to school option after the near impossible getting ready for school routine.
Instead of choosing to hear that last, judgy voice every morning, I can choose to hear one of the others instead. I can choose the kind voice, reassuring myself that I’ve done my best, and celebrating that we’ve all got to school safe, on time, relatively unscathed again.
I can even choose the voice that doesn’t have to dissect every damn thing that’s not perfect about my life and just gets on with the business of living.
I have that choice. We all do.
Tomorrow, when I overtake the mum and we exchange that momentary glance, I’m going to try to hear a kinder voice. I’m even going to smile.