My husband says I’m a chronic over-helper. He might be right. And yet, that mindset is the reason parenthood can feel so siloed these days.
It seems like everywhere I go, I find moms and dads doing their best without anyone nearby bothering to check on a fellow parent in the trenches.
A month ago, I met a woman at a local park. She was with her newborn and 3-year-old son. I was in the bathroom helping my oldest use the restroom and trying to keep my thumb-sucking almost 2-year-old from rolling around on the floor. My newborn was being the perfect baby — just smiling at the chaos around him from his stroller.
I’m pulling up my little guy’s Thomas the Tank Engine underwear when this mom comes in to change her older son’s diaper. Her newborn was in a sling crying, and all I could think was how many times I’d been in her exact situation. I asked if she’d like me to change her son’s diaper, and she said yes. I hoisted her kiddo on the changing table, and 60 seconds later everyone was calmer and cleaner.
Yes, this woman was more than capable of changing her toddler’s diaper. She could probably change his diaper while feeding her baby and washing the dishes. Maybe I over-helped. But is that really a bad thing?
I wasn’t enabling a bad habit or turning a blind eye to neglect or abuse. This mom was in a tight spot, and I was capable of giving her a hand with a situation I’ve experienced no less than a million times.
What I learned from this interaction — and so many others I could share over a cup of coffee — is that our communities are not bolstering the “it takes a village” mentality. I don’t know how many times I’ve schlepped my three kids into a public bathroom when there were more than enough less-busy moms around to give me a hot minute to use the restroom without a protesting toddler in tow.
I’ve actually contemplated asking strangers to watch my kids while I use the restroom just 10 feet away, but thought otherwise for fear of judgment or concern. I’m not suggesting we ditch our infants in the incapable hands of our toddlers and assume the nearest adult will save the day. I’m also not offering to watch everyone’s kids at the local splash pad so they can get a martini before naptime.
But for all the times we shout “it takes a village,” are we really being that village? Instead of scoffing at the dad with the runaway 2-year-old or sneering at the mom with the wailing baby, what if we offer a silly distraction to help them recover their wits? Or, what if we give that parent words of encouragement for showing up?
The next time you see someone in a pinch or looking just a little bit over it with their threenager, consider giving that parent a big smile. Or be like the guy who saw me wearing my baby, holding my tantruming 2-year-old, and nudging my 3-year-old along. He yelled: “Way to go, champ! Keep it up, Mom. You got this!”
I likely will never see that man again, but he made the rest of our miserably hot, full-of-whining morning A LOT better. That, my friends, is parenting together.