I think we’ve all been there at some point.  Had that moment when we have felt judged as a parent.  Whether it’s a disapproving look because your toddler has decided to use his democratic right to protest very loudly in the supermarket.  Or maybe your 4 year-old had decided it is hilarious to shout “poo” and “bum” in the library.  Maybe your kid hit another kid, or snatched a toy.  We’ve all had those moments where our parenting skills are called into question by strangers who are judging us.

The day I was judged ranks up there with the best of crappy days.  Way above the time a stranger dumped a strawberry milkshake over my head in Macdonalds when I was 15.  Or the time I walked round a party for an hour with my skirt tucked in my knickers.  As crappy days go, it’s one I will never forget.


Bad mother


The day in question happened in November 2010.  My now 6 year-old had celebrated his first birthday a few weeks previously.  I had a stinking cold and was feeling pretty crappy.   I was still in my PJ’s, my hair needed a wash, and there was certainly no make-up applied.  I wasn’t planning on leaving the house, or seeing anyone.   I certainly wasn’t planning an emergency trip to the hospital.

My son wasn’t yet walking, but was pulling himself up on all the furniture with glee, crying when he couldn’t figure out how to get back down, and stumbling around somewhat precariously with his walker.  Otherwise known as the ‘bambi’ stage, and the cause of many grey hairs and heart stopping moments.  

On this day he was stood with his walker babbling away to himself when he wobbled.  He grabbed hold of his walker for support.  The walker went one way and he went the other.  I watched the whole thing happen in slow motion as I dived across the living room to catch him. I didn’t make it.  He fell.  His head missed the corners of the coffee table that had lovingly been protected in an effort to ‘baby proof’ the house, and collided with the edge of the table leg.  The bit that wasn’t protected.  

He screamed.  I scooped him up and he buried his head into me as he cried.  I saw blood on the leg of the coffee table.  I pulled his sobbing body away from me to see the damage. He had a cut on the bridge of his nose just between his eyebrows and it was bleeding quite a lot.  I grabbed my box of man size tissues and I applied pressure, kisses and reassurance. His screaming subsided to sobs, and the sobs very quickly returned to smiles.  

In a matter of minutes he was wiggling to get off my lap and play.  Then it was my turn to sob. Although the cut had stopped bleeding it looked quite wide and I felt I needed a second opinion. Still sobbing I phoned the husband, it went to voicemail.  I decided to phone one of my neighbours.  I’m lucky that I have plenty of neighbours I can call on.  One is the godmother to both my children, one is a midwife,  another a retired couple.  On this particular day, none of them were around.  

I phoned NHS direct for some advice.  He wasn’t showing any signs of concussion and was now seemingly oblivious to the whole thing.  The advice was to take him to A&E to be on the safe side.  

To be honest I hadn’t given my appearance (now add red puffy eyes to the mix) a second thought.  I threw on yesterdays stain encrusted clothes and grabbed the change bag before heading out of the door.  I was worried about my son and still frantically trying to get hold of my husband.  I was also already beating myself up so hard with the guilt stick.  He had hurt himself in my care.  I should have been faster / closer / better.  I was the worst mother ever.  I wish it was me instead.  All the thoughts that go through a parents head when their child is hurt or unwell.  At that point in time, I could have really done with a hug.

We didn’t have to wait too long to be seen.  My son was happy and babbling, enjoying new toys in the waiting room, and completely unfazed by the whole experience.  I was still a blubbering wreck.  Damn those hormones!  I explained what had happened to the nurse in triage.  I was still very tearful as I relived the whole thing.  Her first question, delivered pretty bluntly and without an ounce of bedside manner was “Where were you when it happened?”  I replied “at home”.  She repeated her question emphasising the “YOU”.  Clearly not grasping what she was getting it at I replied “at home, in the living room.”  She then changed her wording.  “Were you there, in the room with him, when it happened?”

It was then that I realised that as much as helping my son, they would be interrogating me, and questioning my parenting skills.  Judging my capability as a mother.  Whilst I understand this is an important part of protecting children from neglect and abuse, I wasn’t prepared for the accusing tone of her questions.  To be made to feel somehow not good enough.  

She looked me up and down slowly, and suddenly I was very aware of my appearance. She then said, “Is there a Dad on the scene?”  It wasn’t just the words she used, it was the tone in which they were delivered.  A simple bit of observation on her part would have seen my wedding ring. Asking what my marital status was would have certainly been a lot less condescending. But either way what did it have to do with anything?  It had nothing to do with my sons injury and everything to do with a judgement and assumption she was making about me.  And in that moment I felt like the worst mother ever.  What if the answer had been no, there wasn’t a “dad on the scene”?  It wouldn’t make the accident any less preventable.  It wouldn’t change the outcome.  It wouldn’t make me any less of a mother.

If the question was really necessary why did have to be delivered in such a rude manner?

More questions followed about my lifestyle, all delivered with the same bluntness and disdain. Had I been drinking, did I smoke?  Had I ever left my son on his own?  I wanted a kind and friendly nurse to tell me it was going to be okay, to say “I have to ask you these questions”, and to ask them without assumption.

Maybe that triage nurse was having a bad day.  I’m sure she has seen unthinkable things in her profession.  But that doesn’t make it okay for her to have judged me.  I cannot express just how condescending her tone was, and how awful she made me feel.  Her bad day impacted my life for a year after the accident.  I was terrified that social services were going to knock on my door. I have nothing to hide, but I was so scared of my son hurting himself again and being taken away from me.  For ages I hovered around him constantly.  Always saying “be careful” and “don’t climb”.  To this day he is not much of a climber, and that’s down to me.  I held him back because I was scared.  It was on his second birthday that I suddenly felt like a weight had been lifted from me.  It was as if getting through a year without another trip to A&E made me feel safe again.

I know it sounds over dramatic.  I look back now and can see that it was ridiculous to think my son was going to be taken away from me.  There are far more serious injuries than his.  But the words and judgement of one person had a huge impact on me. Why?  Maybe because I was feeling so bad about what had happened that her words just compounded those feelings of guilt?  Maybe because I was still relatively new to motherhood and this was the first serious thing that had happened to my son.  Maybe because I had gone there for help, and whilst they fixed my son, she made me feel worse. Maybe if I was a stronger person or less sensitive I could have shrugged it off?  But whatever the reasons, it could have been avoided.  A little compassion and empathy would have gone a long way that day. 

The rest of the staff in the hospital were brilliant.  The ‘dad on the scene’, otherwise known as my husband got my frantic messages and arrived at the hospital just as we were taken through. My son needed to have the cut glued.  This involved my husband pinning his arms, whilst I covered his eyes.  My son did not like this one bit, and was pretty loud in making his point clear. The nurse treating him even joined my husband and I in a few verses of “row row row your boat” to try to calm him down.  

My son remembers nothing of his accident.  Unfortunately he has a scar.  That scar is my constant reminder.  It makes me feel like a terrible mother because I didn’t prevent it, and it reminds me of how terrible the judgement of one person made me feel.  Luckily for my son and given his current Harry Potter obsession, he thinks that scar is pretty cool.

I also took an overnight disliking to our coffee table and replaced it with a new one.


Have you ever been in a situation where you felt judged?


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Claire Kirby

29 Comments on The Day I Was Judged as a Mother

  1. Unfortunately we run into judgemental people quite often. When your child has special needs that aren’t visible people often judge your parenting. I think you should have reported her but you were probably just in shock. People need to be kind to each other… shouldnt nurses be kind? I’m sure it should be on their job description!

  2. Yep! Been there– with three boys there was a span that I felt like I was on a first name basis with the ER staff and I too was pretty sure child services was going to be knocking on our day. Luckily our trips involved all three boys; twice for an accident that occurred while they were in another person’s care and a few times for illnesses… I never felt questioned over much by the staff but I definitely felt like a horrible parent for not being able to stop their injuries and to this day I have to bite my tongue to hold in my “NO! Don’t do that! You might get hurt.” Such is the society we now live in… years ago hardly anyone batted an eye. I know… because I was that kid that often prompted my own parents ER trips. Lucky me that my kids inherited my clumsy jean.

  3. I managed to throwTHROW my eldest out of her formula one 3-wheeler buggy when she was 8 years old and I was at the doctor’s surgery for a smear test. She landed on her nose and there was blood and screaming and a LOT of unhelpful surgery staff. (That was actually meant to be my rookie mistakes post but I couldn’t bear to relive it and frankly it’s not funny). In fairness A&E however were amazing and reassuring.
    Then 2 weeks later, after I’d finally stopped berating myself for being the world’s worst mum, social services called.
    Not. Funny.

  4. I took Little B to A&E once with a fever and they asked me where he got a bruise on his leg from. I replied I had no idea, and then realised what they were asking…for what it’s worth that triage nurse sounds like a b**tch! #twinklytuesday

  5. Oh sweetie, what a horrible thing to happen and what a horrible nurse. Whilst at the time, I didn’t feel judged, there was one time when Zach was about the same age (a little bit more than one) and we had a long hallway which had one step going down into the kitchen. We had a gate before the step. Zach was in the front room with my friend and I was in the kitchen making tea. I heard him running down the hall and I just knew what was going to happen but u couldn’t get the train I time – he tripped over the gate and went flying down the step face first, biting his tongue as he did so. He bled and it looked like loads because it was his mouth and he was inconsolable. I felt absolutely horrendous. It happens to us all, we cannot be standing next to them every second waiting for them to fall. Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

  6. That’s grim … Accidents happen and nothing you do can stop that. I know that questions need to be asked to pick things up and get help for those who need it, as when we went to A&E with the Tubblet, the nurse did the same. But there are ways of doing it that don’t make innocent people feel terrible afterwards! I’m sorry you went though that. 🙁

  7. Jeeeeeez that is terrible. There was no reason for her to be so awful. Caring profession eh? You did nothing wrong. In fact all the right things. So glad you were treated well after but sorry it took a while to forget. It happens to us all. A step fell on my daughter’s head when I was having physio!! I felt awful it was so heavy. We just live and learn and thank god their heads are made of cheese or something soft like hehe xx #twinklytuesday

  8. That is just awful!! I know how easy it is to happen and any mother would know this and have lived through it. Accidents happen but it doesn’t stop us feeling guilty over it. #twinklytuesday

  9. Well, what a disgrace to the profession that nurse was! She is in a position of seeing very vulnerable people, probably at their most vulnerable, and I wonder how she’d feel if she knew that her words had a lasting impact on you all that time… I used to be a nurse, and in that position would have just said ‘sorry, just a few quick questions, it’s nothing to worry about, just to tick all the boxes, you know what it’s like!’ I’m outraged that she made you feel so terrible. I was worried that my children were going to be taken away from me when I had a bit of a postnatal breakdown, and even though my HV was wonderful, I struggled to believe her when she said they wouldn’t be. I felt like that after someone had been nice about it, it’s no wonder you kept thinking that after the way you were treated. You should send this to the NHS, it’s a valuable learning tool for the staff.
    Thanks for linking to #bigpinklink

  10. Oh just how awful for you and just how wrong of that nurse top be so judgemental – maybe a bad day for her but so unkind to make you feel like that – just when you needed reassurance and a hand on the arm to say don’t worry – Oh I wish I’d been the nurse on duty that day and seen you. I dropped my son once – it was horrific and I was in pieces but thankfully my HV who I called was incredible – if she hadn’t of been I know I would have felt like you – by taking your son to A&E was responsible – you should not have been judged. I know that they are the first port of call for spotting any problems but there are ways of doing that – innocent til proved – oh I could go on and on – can you tell? Anyway, well done for writing this – oh and for the little giggle about the skirt in knickers – ouch! #BigPinkLink

    • All the other staff were so good, and I do think the NHS is amazing. But the way that one nurse treated me really stayed with me for such a long time. Thanks for commenting. I’m not the only one whose done the skirt in the knickers thing, right?

  11. How awful! I would have reported her!
    I have six kids and have only ever received a grumpy comment from an old lady about my children’s behaviour after school at the supermarket quite a few years back. She was promptly put in her place. Sorry you had to deal with anxiety over this. Just horrid.

  12. Wow, I can’t think of any appropriate words. I would have kicked off. A little support would be great in that situation, not a ton of judgement. Grrr. Grr. and grr some more. I’m super annoyed on your behalf. Lucky me it hasn’t happened in such an obvious way as I’m not sure I’d have been nice or polite with my responses.


  13. My son was a ventouse birth (where they use what looks like a giant hoover to suction the baby out). A common effect of such a delivery is that they baby has a conical-shaped head for a couple of hours after birth…less common is for the cone shape to hold for a number of days or weeks…no-one told me the second part. After 10 days of having a cone-shaped newborn we decided to take him to the paediatrician who had helped deliver him and we were sent for x-rays. The first thing the x-ray nurse asked us was “When did you drop him?”…what a mean old cow! I did report her to the paediatrician when we went back to his offices…I was furious!! #fartglitter

  14. So sorry you were made to feel that way. I completely understand why you feel how you did/do – I think I’d have been the same. I am terrible with Mum guilt, on days when Arthur has hurt another child during play (rare) I’ve felt totally judged as if the whole thing is because of my skills as a parent and I’ve spent weeks waking up thinking about it. It’s silly, because we all know we do the best we can and accidents just happen. When Arthur was smaller, he fell and banged his lip on my knee. It instantly swelled up and looking at his little fat lip an his tears made me feel so bad I cried. The person judging me this time was Arthur himself, who pointed to me knee and said ‘no’ and refused to come near me for the rest of the evening lol!

    Keep your chin up, and remember, you know you’re a great mum, you don’t need others to validate that for you. #fartglitter

  15. I’m having a visceral reaction to this post! First, I felt sick, empathising with you and how you must have felt when his little head hit the table leg and you couldn’t prevent it. (If only the nurse had been as empathetic!) Then I shared your panic, the inability to contact the “husband on the scene” and the guilt, guilt, guilt. Twin 2 fell down our stairs from top to bottom, because I took my eye off the ball for a mere moment, and I felt sick for days. Then your experience at the hospital… Talk about kicking you when you’re down! I’m amazed you remembered to grab the changing bag! Let alone any thoughts of making yourself look bloody presentable! Mind you, it sounds as though Row Row Nurse was maybe nicer…?

    I once admitted to my GP, at an unrelated appointment, that I occasionally struggle with the twins, and she got really concerned and offered me antidepressants! I felt like a freak for telling her that sometimes the incessant crying (they were mere weeks old at the time) did my head in! Thanks to the blogging world, I now know that my feelings were – and are! – normal!

    I always love your posts, and your honesty is inspiring.


  16. Gosh, some people are just utterly obnoxious. This sort of thing could happen to anyone, accidents do and happen to everyone. I know Mother has felt judged in the past and when she has been vulnerable soon after my birth, it made her feel horrible. Now she has far more confidence and would tell anyone judging to mind their own business! You’re clearly doing a brilliant job x #bigpinklink

  17. You’re not a bad mother! You’re going a great job!
    I’ve been on the end of judging from hospital professionals before now and it is NOT nice at all. I understand certain questions need to be asked, but there’s a way to phrase them and a tone to use to not upset innocent parents. We can’t wrap them in cotton wool their whole lives, and a bad mum wouldn’t have been at A&E getting advice as far as I am concerned.
    You’re doing a great job xx

  18. Oh yes! This has happened to me. My little man rolled off the bed and broke his collar bone when he was about 1. I took him to the hospital and the doctor treated me like I was a serial killer. I had the look up and down and the blatant judgement. It was hideous. As if it isn’t upsetting enough.
    Then social services called me to check on him a couple of days later.
    It’s not fun at all and it totally could have been handled better and I’ll never forget it. X

  19. As someone who works in a hospital, I have to say that this kind of attitude is rare and unfortunate. It is true that we all have bad days, and that we’ve all seen terrible things, sometimes perpetrated by parents. It still doesn’t excuse it. Even before I was a parent myself, I would always try make people more comfortable, not less. Things like this can happen to any one of our kids, at any time. Sorry you went through that.

  20. Oh no! I’m sure it must have been obvious both that your son’s injury was the sort of minor cut that happens to little ones all the time, and that you were visibly feeling terrible about it. To ask whether there’s a dad on the scene is outrageous!

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