Years ago, when I was a young adult, I purchased my first motorcycle. One thing I immediately noticed as I rode it around was that any time I passed another motorcyclist on the road, the rider would wave to me. It wasn’t a full on take your hand off the handlebar and wave your arm around all crazy sort of wave, that seems dangerous. But without fail, as I passed other riders, they would remove their hand from the handlebar, hold it out for half a second and then proceed on the way. It was one of the things I really enjoyed about riding, as it always made me feel like I was part of some sort of brotherhood and that there was some sort of unspoken bond between all of us riders.
Fast forward a few years, and I am a thirty-something father of three who long ago gave up his bike. I mean, I have a family to worry about. But as a father, I often feel a similar feeling of brotherhood as I am out and about. I see other dads, out with their children, and feel a kinship with them, because I, too, know the struggle. And I think I am not alone in feeling that way. Here are a couple of stories from my life recently to illustrate my point.
On a recent road trip, my family stopped at a gas station to fill up and to allow everyone to use the restroom. I took my son and daughter, who are toddlers, to the restroom with me so that they could make use of the facilities. The trip to the restroom was uneventful, I went, they went, I told them not to play in the urinals, and then we all washed our hands. It was totally routine and by the book, but as we prepared to leave, another man looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’re doing a great job, dad.”
On a trip to the aquarium, my wife asked me to take a picture of her and the kids in front of the aquarium sign as we were leaving. It was hot outside and we had just spent the day herding our children around the busy aquarium. I was hot, tired, and ready to leave and get home, but, dutifully, I took the camera and took a picture. As we finished taking the picture, a man passing by patted me on the shoulder and said, “Good job, dad.”
And it’s crazy, because here I am, getting complimented and supported for doing normal everyday things that are not exceptional or notable in any sort of way at all. And this kind of stuff happens to me all the time. I take the kids out, I get warm smiles and encouraging words from other adults who are all so supportive of me, a father of young children who is out there, fathering. Even when my kids act up, the reaction I usually get is one that is basically summed up as, “Kids suck sometimes dude, keep on trying dad.”
So I find it incredibly baffling when I talk to my wife, and she tells me stories about mothers who are being judged out in public for their supposed poor mothering. We have talked and she has expressed to me, how at times, she has felt anxiety when the kids act up because someone might come up and say something to her about it. On this blog, there was a post about a mother whose kid started screaming and a stranger called that mother out for her kid’s behavior, basically shaming her for her alleged failures as a mother. When I heard about that, I was stunned and angry. Why is my experience as a father so seemingly different than that of mothers? And why does anyone think it’s ok to, in that moment of difficulty, make the moment more difficult by trying to make a mother feel worse? I don’t have the answers, but thinking about it has definitely made me evaluate what I can do to try to support other parents I see throughout the week.
And so, in an effort to help mothers feel more supported, I would like to offer the following belated encouragement to some of the mothers I have noticed lately, as well as apologize for not having offered it in the moment. I will try to do better and would hope that all of you will join me, moving forward, in making an effort to be supportive to other parents you might see throughout the day.
To the mother of the screaming kid I saw at the grocery store, good job. Despite your kid melting down, you were there, buying food so that you could make dinner for your kid. I’m sure it would have been easier to give up and buy them a happy meal, so good job, making sure your kid would have healthy food to eat.
To the mother at the zoo, good job. Zoos are great and kids really love animals. You are encouraging your child to be curious about the natural world, to enjoy learning, and to be respectful of all life. Great job.
To the disheveled looking mother at church, whose kids were clearly not paying attention, good job. Getting kids that age to focus on anything is nearly impossible, as I’m sure you well know. And, yet, you made the effort to get them ready and get them to church anyways, because you know that forming a habit of going to church every week is something that will bless your children throughout life. Well done.
To the mom, buying your kid comic books at the comic book store, good job. Maybe you like comics, maybe you don’t, but you are supporting your kid’s hobby and encouraging him to read. You are giving him the freedom and the means to pursue the things that he enjoys. Super cool.
To the mother whose kid fell at the park, good job. Kids fall down. It happens. They don’t always have the best motor skills and they have way more confidence in their physical abilities than is warranted. But you took your kid to the park, letting her run around and play and challenge herself. You could have stayed home, in the air conditioning and sat her in front of the TV, but you didn’t. You got her outside, let her get some exercise, and then you rushed to your child’s side to comfort her when she fell. Way to go.
And lastly, to every mother out there, doing your best from day to day, struggling like we all are to make sure those lovable little jerks turn into decent human beings, good job. Parenting is hard. Kids are demanding and, at times, the devil. Keep on putting in the work. There’s a whole slew of people who understand what you’re going through and who are ready to offer encouragement. Your kids are the future, and you are helping to shape that future. Thank you, and good job.
So next time you see a father or mother out in the world, struggling with their kids or not, I hope you will be able to tell them in all sincerity, “Good job.”