Don’t Believe It

by Abby on November 2, 2011

Mean ladyThere’s nothing like having someone scream at you “You’re a bad mom!” to make you question your parenting. Only it didn’t. I knew this lady was completely, unmistakably wrong.

Let me back up. This happened a while ago, on a muggy summer afternoon when I was planning to meet a friend and her kids at a nearby playground. We were running late because my youngest son, who had just learned to walk, had tipped himself over on a chair and split his lip. Unfortunately, that was par for the course for us.

So we show up at the playground and the bigger boys, ages 5 and 4, start running around while we moms try to keep the little ones from sustaining further injuries. There were only a couple of other kids at the playground. I remember this one little boy clearly, because he was very cute and had the same T-shirt as my oldest son.

Our boys were running around playing tag, and my friend asked them to include this other boy. They all ended up inside a little playhouse. I noticed the boy’s mom was hovering kind of closely, but didn’t think much of it. I was busy chasing my toddler. My son and his friend were giggling inside the playhouse. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it sounded like, “No, you’re dumb!” “No, YOU are!”

“Hey, guys, no name-calling,” I called to them.

Suddenly the other boy’s mom rushed up to me and said, “My son has autism. They need to be nice to him,” and before I could respond, she rushed away.

The boys continued giggling. I repeated my “no name-calling” reminder. The woman’s son didn’t appear to be upset in any way. But she bent down and said loudly through the door of the playhouse, “Come on. These aren’t nice boys. You don’t want to play with them. Let’s go!”

I was a little miffed that a stranger would announce that my son and his friend weren’t nice boys, since I thought they were behaving like typical kids and I was right there monitoring them. But I didn’t say anything. The lady and her son left, and it began to rain. “Come on, guys! We have to go before we get soaked!” my friend and I shouted to the kids as we gathered up all our stuff.

We were crossing the parking lot, 2 adults and 5 kids holding hands in the rain, when a car screeched to a halt in front of us. It was the lady from the playground. “I want you to apologize to my son!” she shouted from her rolled-down window. “Your kids need to apologize!”

My mouth fell open. “For what?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.

“They called my son dumb! I heard them!”

“I don’t think they—“

“They did! I heard them!”

“Well, I spoke to them about name-calling and I don’t think they meant—“

“They’re bad kids! They could tell he was different! They need to apologize!”

“Now, wait a minute. You can’t—“

“You’re a bad mom! No wonder your kids are brats! You’re A BAD MOM!!” She was screaming at this point. I was so irate I felt like jumping through the window and grabbing her throat. But I didn’t have to, because she screeched away.

Soaked by now, we all ran for cover under a roof. I was shaking. My friend was stunned. I squatted down and said to the older boys, “That lady was mad because she thought you called her son a name. We don’t call people names. It can hurt people’s feeling. Do you understand?” They nodded. To my relief, they did not appear traumatized by the fact that a stranger had just screamed at their moms in a parking lot.

This incident stuck with me for the longest time. I was furious at this lady, furious she had lashed out at me—in front of all those kids, no less. And I felt sorry for her son. I remember glancing in the backseat and seeing him in his car seat looking cute, helpless, and bewildered. I have since decided that this was about her, not me or the kids. She was obviously very angry and very unhappy about her son’s diagnosis. We just happened to be the target.

What also sticks with me, though, is that I did not believe this woman when she shrieked, “You’re a bad mom! Your kids are brats!” I was shaken and upset, but by her behavior, not her words. I knew what she was saying wasn’t true.

It’s the same, in a way, when someone tells me I’m a not a good writer or that I’m not good enough to succeed at something. Because people have said that to me. Recently. And it hurts. It’s upsetting. But I don’t believe it.

VIDEO O’ THE DAY: Let’s lighten things up, shall we? Speaking of judgmental moms at the playground, have you seen this funny video, “Why Can’t I Make Mom Friends”?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Catriona November 2, 2011 at 8:59 am

It’s so sad how we as moms are so quick to judge other moms…I think sometimes we’re so full of self-doubt that we lash out just because we want to feel like someone is doing a worse job than we percieve ourselves to be doing (even though we’re great!) I’d like to call for a reinvention of this mom judgment…let’s support each other and be cheerleaders for one another. That woman was probably so overwhelmed with her son and his diagnosis that she took it out on you rather than just admitting (to herself) that she’s tired and needs help to cope. I’m glad your boys weren’t too traumatized and it sounds like you spun it into a great lesson for them. Remember you’re a wonderful mom and try not to let her bad judgment and actions bring you down.


Kathleen Basi November 2, 2011 at 9:20 am

Wow, that’s such a tough situation! As a parent of a child with special needs, it’s hard for me to pass blanket judgment; we feel such institutional cruelty to our children that it’s easy to overreact. On the other hand, even overreacting can be done productively…or not. I’m glad you were able to hold on to your sense of self through the experience.


Kris-Ann November 2, 2011 at 9:30 am

I totally agree with you…this was about her, not her son. I have a child with special needs and experienced something similar at my son’s own birthday party! Two kids were playing a game and my son didn’t quite understand what they were playing. Because he wasn’t playing “the right way”, they began calling him the evil dragon and pretending to shoot him with laser beams. One of the other kids parents even thought it was funny! I totally understood that this was typical 3 year old child’s play, but because they were in their way pointing out my son’s differences, it shook me to the core. However, I didn’t say anything to the parent or pass judgement…and NEVER would have called him a bad father. I do often wonder how to teach other kids that are not mine how to deal with children with differences…but always come to the conclusion that it’s not my place. All of the hang ups I have about my son’s needs are mine…he doesn’t even know he has them. I’m sorry this happened to you Abby…and for what it’s worth, I love your writing.


Abby November 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, ladies. Well said. It’s interesting to hear the perspective of moms of special-needs kids.


C November 2, 2011 at 10:18 am

I have first hand experience of what a good mom you are. The best evidence to support my argument are the two extremely happy, healthy. loving and respectful children that spend 85% of their time with you. You are everything to them and to me and I am always amazed how you can capture the true feeling of our daily lives in your writing. We believe in you so remember to believe in yourself. Love your biggest fan – Chris


Abby November 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm

thanks, hon 🙂


Kathleen Basi November 2, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Ohhhhh, that was so sweet!


Jennifer Fairman November 2, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Sorry I haven’t commented in a while, but I still follow your stories weekly! I had to react when I read this post (I had a similar situation happen to me a long time ago). Bad moms don’t love their kids like you do. If you were a bad mom, your kids wouldn’t have a blog about them! Having a mommy blog is but one minute example of how much you think of and care about your kids. A well written, funny, witty, informative blog just proves what a loving AWESOME mom and writer you are. But you didn’t need me to point out the obvious. The mom that yelled at you probably needs to take some tips from you.


Abby November 3, 2011 at 8:32 am

Thank you so much for your comment, Jennifer. It’s the first thing I read this morning and it will set the tone for my whole day. 🙂


Malia Jacobson November 3, 2011 at 10:36 am

Abby, I enjoy your writing more than that of many bestselling authors. You have what it takes, and you have the clips to prove it. So don’t ever doubt it. As for that other mom, I truly feel sorry for her. Sounds like the stress of parenting a special-needs child, a bad day, and goodness knows what else just combusted at the exact moment that you happened to be in her path, and you ended up getting burned. Just be glad you’re not her.


Angie November 3, 2011 at 11:50 am

Your assessment of the situation is spot on and unfortunate. This story explains why I don’t identify with the stay-at-home mom world, even though I am one. I try not to get too submerged in it because it begins to feel like middle school all over again. Too many insecurities and people projecting issues, in one big murky stew.

Also, this really speaks to how criticism really hurts. I don’t think we can avoid it. But as you illustrated here, we have to teach ourselves to discard criticism that isn’t constructive and given with our best interests in mind.


jetts31 November 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Not a good writer? Not a good mom? You’re right. Sometimes you have to let things go and consider the source. Had you screamed at that lady, it would have been worse for your kids. They obviously knew the lady had some issues too. I think you’re a good writer and from everything I’ve read, a great mom.


Jennifer Fairman April 16, 2012 at 10:04 am

I had a “Bad Mom” moment yesterday, and it reminded me of this post – I had to go back and read it again to remind myself that I am not as bad as I was perceived. I realize this was the first time in the 865 days of Zachy’s life that I have been called out for bad parenting skills. I did the calculations and that makes me 99.884393% effective in my disciplining abilities. 😉 If you want to read my rant, it’s here: Have a great week!


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