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.
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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