It may have been eight years ago, but I still remember the moment like it was yesterday.
I was new to motherhood back then; my days filled with the all-consuming tasks of caring for a rambunctious toddler. You arrived to place a satellite dish on top of the humble little pre-fab rental home we were staying in. You were polite enough in the beginning and seemed to be watching me with thinly veiled amusement as I tried to keep up with my son in the front yard.
But eventually, we struck up a conversation. And I was shocked by how quickly it started to feel like an interrogation.
“Do you work?” you asked pointedly.
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“No, I’m staying home with my son right now,” I explained.
“You’re a stay-at-home mom and you only have one kid?” you said back. (And believe me, your condescending tone wasn’t lost on me one bit.)
I was stunned but managed to answer back something along the lines of admitting I was finding it to be plenty challenging. But really, that was actually an understatement; motherhood was rocking my world.
The truth is, I don’t remember everything that followed after that word-for-word -- most of it is lost to memory now -- but I do recall you saying something that has stuck with me to this day: You called me spoiled.
You referenced your own wife, who had four kids. I don’t know if she worked outside the home or not, but you wanted me to know I was “spoiled” because I had decided to stay home with “only one” child.
I wish I knew what made you feel comfortable enough to voice your opinions about my life choices in that moment; after all, we had only just met.
And I wish I knew why, of all the terms to use, you chose “spoiled” to describe me. Did you mean to aim to make me feel small, juvenile and weak? Perhaps it was because I’m a woman. I can’t imagine a man telling another man he is spoiled.
But I also wonder if you gave any thought to the person on the other end of your insult.
I was angry, but also hurt. As a young 23-year-old mom, I was still insecure in my new role in life. Most women my age were out discovering their place in this world, finding their passions and partying late into the night. Marrying young and becoming a mother had been my choice, but it was one I was still acclimating to. I was grateful for the opportunity to be home with my son; it’s what I had wanted. But that doesn’t mean it came easily or without sacrifices.
You may have looked at me that day and seen someone who seemed to have it pretty good, but the truth is, you saw nothing at all. You had no way of knowing that the decision for me to stay home with my baby required making a move from a brand new home into what was essentially a trailer that I feared would blow away with the wild winds of our town.
You had no way of knowing that it required me quitting a job I enjoyed with people that I missed. And no longer could my husband and I go out to eat on a regular basis; instead, I had to work with a shoestring budget and even -- gasp! -- become a “crazy coupon lady” overnight.
You could not see into my private, painful insecurities and anxieties about being a mother. And my guess is, you didn’t care to.
I know that there are so many mothers out there who have sacrificed much more and had greater challenges than I have, but that’s not really the point.
The point is, we all need to stop making snap judgments about each other, whatever our life decisions may be. There is so much of that running rampant in this world, but especially when it comes to parenting. All it’s managing to do is drive us all crazy and make us even more insecure.
To be fair, I am not immune to it either. I have been on the other end of things, sticking my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion, and have had to apologize to someone I hurt.
Why is it so easy for us to forget that the hardships another person may be facing are rarely seen on the surface? We all struggle with private battles often guarded in secrecy. And yet we lose sight of the lessons drilled into us as children: That kindness and tolerance are the best approach.
I wish I could have told myself at that time it was OK that I was struggling; instead, I felt like everyone else made it look so easy. But it isn’t easy for most, and it’s OK not to “enjoy every moment.” There are plenty of moments to cherish during parenthood and plenty of others that’ll test our limits; and although the days can seem to stretch on like pulled taffy, it’s true what they say -- the milestones will fly by.
I wasn’t a confident new mother, but I was a happy one. I adored my little boy. I felt so many things all at once at that time in my life. Sometimes I was joyful, sometimes completely overwhelmed; I was perpetually exhausted, forever amazed at my ever-changing and rapidly growing little man, and full of so much love.
I did not, however, feel spoiled. In the nine years that I’ve been a stay-at-home mom -- now to three little rambunctious boys -- I have felt very blessed and very challenged but never ever spoiled.
In the end, this isn’t really a letter to you, as much as a letter to myself.
You see, had I met you today rather than eight years ago, I would have reacted so differently. Time and experience have taught me so much about parenting and motherhood and myself. Now I know that I have made the choices that would work best for my family, and I am confident in those choices. And I wouldn’t doubt or regret them even if an army of ignorant satellite installers dared to cross my path again.