Two little incidents from the past week:
First, I'm in a shopping centre with my 3 year old. I'm talking to her, telling her a story, as she walks alongside me, one hand lightly on the trolley. She's calm, smiling. I'm calm, talking quietly.
An older lady, white-haired, bent, pushing her trolley through the fruit & veg, drops a tomato. Before she can reach to pick it up, my 3 year old has darted forward, collected the fallen fruit, and handed it back to her with a shy smile.
"Thank you, dear," says the lady warmly. C says, "You're valcom!"
The lady turns to me and says, "What a lovely thing to meet such a well mannered child. And so well behaved too! What a good mother you must be. Not like those mothers that let their children run amuck - " (this with a glare at a cute 2 year old who's hooting loudly and scampering past us).
This is intended as a compliment, and she is a stranger, my elder, and frail. I smile and nod noncommittally, but I feel uncomfortable, complicit.
Second: talking on the phone to someone close to me. I mention a mutual acquaintance who's started back to paid employment, and the difficulty her small son is having integrating into fulltime care.
"Oh," sniffs my interlocutor. "Well, that's her decision, of course, but if she'd put her children first, the way you do, it wouldn't be necessary. More mothers should be like you."
"Not called for," I riposte. This person isn't a stranger, so I won't wear it. "How do you get that she isn't putting his interests first? There are LOTS of ways to do that. As many as there are families."
"No need to get stroppy," huffs my caller. "I was only trying to give you a compliment."
But here's the thing:
Giving me a compliment by running down others in comparison doesn't make me feel good, or valued.
Telling me that my choices or actions (or children) are "so much better" than other people's isn't true, or fair, or kind.
Judging me - even if you're judging me to be "good" - makes me uncomfortable and uneasy. I know what lies behind it, and usually not very far behind either: a negative comparative judgement of someone else, someone whose story and circumstances aren't mine, and aren't known.
I stand behind my decisions, but I realise that they are not perfect ones or appropriate ones for every woman.
I know that my children are just people like everyone else - beautiful, wonderful, amazing, difficult, whiney, persistent, angry, kind, generous, foolish, intuitive, polite, rude, and incredibly changeable. The sepia-tinted Goode Olde Days behaviour that C pulled out in the supermarket was followed by a tantrum of truly Herculean proportions 20 minutes later in the library.
I know that I try to be the mother that it's in me to be - I want to give my kids the best version of myself. I don't always succeed, and even when I do, it's still imperfect, because even at my best I am deeply flawed.
As are we all. Every one.
So don't build me up by tearing others down. I don't want to be praised in comparison, or, really, compared at all. I don't want any part of the judgement that goes into that.