Earlier this year on a rainy weekend day, my family and I went for a ferry ride. Actually, we went for 3 of them, because my kids love the ferry. First we drove to Tacoma and hopped the little ferry to Maury Island, then we drove to the Vashon ferry and rode it to Southworth, and then we drove to Kingston to catch a ferry to Edmonds. We stopped for food and at a bookstore along the way and it was a fun outing. As we were sitting in the ferry wait line in Tacoma, my son and I got out of the car for a minute to stretch our legs, and then he and I sat in the front passenger set for a little while, while we waited for the ferry to arrive. My husband took a photo of us and posted it on Facebook.
Now, what happened next says a lot about how Judgy McJudgersons come to think at their behavior is totally acceptable, and why it drives me COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY INSANE. It’s sorry for the shouting, but seriously, this behavior just makes me stabby. If anything about this story sounds like something you have done, please please please never ever do it again. Ever.
People began commenting on the photo about the fact that my son was sitting on my lap in the front seat of a car and neither of us were wearing a seat belt. The comments were along the lines of, “I hope the car wasn’t moving when you took that photo” and “why isn’t he in a booster in the back seat?” Well, DUH. Because I think boosters are for wimps, and so are seat belts, and also I send my kid to the store to buy me some smokes and a bottle of Jack every afternoon. (That’s called sarcasm right there.) Of course, the real reason is, the car was parked. In a long line, that wasn’t going to be moving until the ferry arrived and unloaded the arriving cars. Last I checked, when a car is parked, it’s socially acceptable to be sitting in it without a seatbelt on.
Because of my NICU experience, one of my triggers is when people make me feel like I am not a good parent. It makes me completely irrationally angry. I spent too many weeks where I wasn’t allowed to parent my kid at all because he was in an incubator on oxygen, and the feeling of having my independence and judgment as a parent questioned…well, it pretty much sends me over the edge. So when people suggest I am idiot enough to drive around with my kid not seatbelted in, that makes me nuts. It makes me feel like my autonomy and authority as a parent are being taken away. That said, I know a lot of moms without PTSD who feel the same way when someone questions their parenting choices or accuses them of being less than safe with their kids. They get angry and defensive. I mean, who DOES like to feel like they’re being accused of being a bad parent or endangering their kids?
Now, the Judgy McJudgersons of the world aren’t trying to make us feel that way, of course. They come from a place of good intentions–that is, they genuinely want what’s best for my kid. They want him to be safe and healthy. And that’s great and all, except, they use that good intention as an excuse to throw out everything they know about me as a person and as a parent, and let themselves assume I am doing something crazy dangerous with my kid.
I’m not talking here about your friends who are experts and so you ask for advice about stuff like which car seat is going to fit best into your tiny car or whether you’ve installed it properly. The difference is, you ASK an expert for advice, you seek that information out. A Judgy McJudgerson forces that information upon you. A Judgy McJudgerson assumes you do not know as much as them and makes it their job to educate you, whether you want or need them to or not.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering what it could be about the Judgy McJudgersons that makes them act this way. And the best theory I can come up with is that they are scared. Scared shitless, in fact. Scared shitless that THEY aren’t good parents themselves. So they take every opportunity they get to show off their parenting expertise, be it car seats, the dangers of GMOs, the benefits of homeschooling, whatever. Whatever their “thing” is that they’re into being an expert on, they take every opportunity to tell everyone, from their friends to perfect strangers, the absolute best information about their thing. That it comes off as demeaning to the parents they are lecturing just doesn’t seem to cross their mind.
And the reason they feel scared shitless? You guessed it, the Cult of Perfect Motherhood. It makes all of us feel like we aren’t good enough. And then we feel the need to show the world we ARE good enough, by Judgy McJudgersoning all our friends and their parenting choices. I will not lie, I have done it. Truth time: we are all Judgy McJudgersons sometime. I have looked at a photo of a mom and kid doing something and thought “oh my gosh, that looks dangerous…I wonder if she’s read that article about blah blah blah…” But now that I’ve escaped from the cult, I say to myself, “SHUT UP JUDGY MCJUDGERSON” and I keep it to myself. Because that mom is a friend of mine, and she is doing what she thinks is best for her kid, and I am not going to judge her. Just like I don’t want her judging me.
So, next time you see a photo of a kid in a car who isn’t wearing a seat belt, just take a step back from the computer and ask yourself, “Is my friend really that much of a moron, or is it possible that there is a reasonable explanation for why that kid doesn’t have a seatbelt on? How will this person feel when I publicly shame them? Am I being a Judgy McJudgerson right now?” And then wait five minutes before you comment.