Unspoken mom rules
“Nooooo!” the little girl screamed, shooing away her sister’s hands from her plate of munchies. “Stooooop!” The shriek echoed in the cramped living room of my grandma, the host of a late Christmas family gathering.
“Shhhh… the baby’s sleeping!” I reminded gently, pointing to Grace, asleep on my mom’s shoulder a few feet away. My cousin– the little girl’s mom– got up promptly and walked to the kitchen, her two children in tow.
Fast forward to this morning when a busy toddler, intent on ignoring his mom’s suggestions, walked away from the slowly-forming circle at playgroup. “Sit here,” his mom said, gesturing to the open seat between us. Grace bounced on my criss-crossed knee, eyes looking anywhere except the front of the circle, where an energetic and soft-spoken librarian reminded us to “shake our wiggles out.” The mom gestured again. Not interested in a low-key read aloud, the toddler continued walking around the circle. He bent over to grab the library book I had picked out for Grace a few minutes earlier.
My hand hovered over the book, then the open spot next to me. “Can you sit right here? This is Grace’s book to take home.” He looked at me and paused, turning around to go back to his mom.
…Oops. The small talk between me and his mom never resumed after the read aloud. And she must have forgotten to say goodbye on her way out.
Last summer, I remember a conversation with my dad, during which he aimed to alleviate some of my anxieties about becoming a mom. “I do think you have a huge advantage, Cal,” he said to me. “Teachers understand a lot of stuff already that other families have to figure out on their own.” He was talking about the basics, of course, beyond the newborn and infant years– how to advocate for your child in the context of school, or how to process challenging behaviors and deliver logical consequences. The downside, I’m realizing, is my mental likening of all children to my students, leading to a comfort and ease redirecting other people’s kids– a strict violation of mom code.
I keep hypothesizing why this is– is it parental embarrassment that they didn’t say something first? Rose-colored glasses that hinder them from seeing that gentle feedback was needed in the first place? More likely, I think it can be explained with a reasoning similar to why some teachers, themselves, recoil at observations and flinch at feedback. Teaching, like parenting, involves the core of what makes us human: how we talk with, and guide, and empathize with others. In both feats, the extent of our success can be gauged (at least partly) by how we relate. Feedback or involvement from others can feel like stark commentary on something astonishingly personal. In other words, it feels like feedback about us– about the kind of humans we are.
I’ll hold out hope that Grace will learn about her world– in essence, how to relate– not only from me and Adam, her dad, but also from other adults and children, familiar and new. But before I proclaim, “I’ll never be upset with someone redirecting Grace!”– I’ll suspend judgment until she develops communication skills beyond holding up her head and making eye contact. In the meantime, I’ll continue my inference work regarding the critical yet unspoken rules that govern momhood.