"How bad is her cough?"
We'd been in the house most of the week, what my Father-in-law had diagnosed as croup was seemingly fading. There was the occasional coughing fit but mostly in the morning and evening, but otherwise things were looking up. The week before my 1 year old was sick and the week before that my 3 year old was sick. And three weeks before that yet another cold had taken over the house, my husband even fell victim. To say I was OVER cold and flu season was an understatement. But I decided to venture out to the park. It was a nice day and we needed to get out of the house. The park was lovely. It was HUGE park with 2 sides, one for smaller kids and another for bigger, more adventurous kids. And with it being so early we had three park to ourselves mostly with the exception of a few other moms and kids. So we started playing, after about 15 mins of playtime, a cough attack hit. And I won't lie the cough sounded bad, I cringed a little, but I knew in a bit it would be over, and it was a few coughs (and seconds) later. I could see the faces of the other moms, one of whom had a small baby. I felt terrible. I moved my little one further away to another area, so she could still play but be further away from the other kids just as a precaution. The kids followed us to the other side of the playground, and proceeded to tell her she couldn't play because she was coughing. My heart sank as she came over to explain through tears. Again I moved her to another playground toy, they followed, at which point one of the kids asked, "How bad is her cough?" I know he had gotten the idea from a conversation he had heard. Albeit innocent, in that moment I felt terrible as a mother and a person.
In my defense, when it comes to croup the time for contagiousness is the first 24 - 48 hours, and after 5 - 7 days while the cough might last (up to 14 days) doctors say it's ok for kids to return to school or daycare. And the doctor verified all these things. But in that moment all I could feel is failure. Had I made the wrong decision to come to the park? Was it still too soon to bring her out? Was I bad mom? What must those other mothers think? The questions came fast and hard, and in that moment a wave of guilt washed over me. I decided to leave the play area and go over to the picnic tables and have a snack. As we sat my mind raced, and heart ached. I watched as the moms packed up their kids and left. And I took the kids back on the empty playground to play. They had a blast. I wish I could tell you that's all that mattered, but what stands out most in my mind are the kids reactions. An adult conversation translated into mean playground behavior.
Now I will be the first to admit when my daughter was little I was a cough and cold nazi. If I heard someone cough, or saw any signs of a cold, I was out of there. I quickly learned everyone didn't share my sense of urgency when it came to being sick and staying inside. And after my second baby I relaxed on my cough and cold policy, because of, well, life. Lol. I learned several lessons the hard way and adjusted my thinking. For instance, I learned kids get sick. As hard as you try, short of locking them in the house, they get sick. And most times they'll be ok. I also quickly learned after child number 2, if one child gets sick the other child is HIGHLY likely to get sick. Toddlers share everything, especially germs, you can't avoid it. I am not saying I don't try, but accepting this has me more relaxed. And after a few days inside I venture out as long as fevers were gone. I usually avoid places were there will be a lot of children in close contact. This usually consist of a quick grocery store or Target run (I can't help it!). Something just to get us out the house. I could go on and on to try to prove I'm not a terrible mother who intentionally takes her sick children around other children to get sick, but that's pointless. As a matter of fact, as you read this, and I write this, judgement has been cast. And I'm learning to be fine with that.
As I described the situation to a friend she noted the lack of empathy on the other moms part. And I feel like that perfectly explains what we are sometimes missing in an effort to protect our own children or boost our egos. I've been on both sides, I get it. Sometimes as moms we can be unforgiving of other moms shortcomings. The truth is you will almost never get it ALL right. And I know it's totally natural at times to feel that sense of failure, but it shouldn't make you question your responsibility as a parent. Nor should you feel justified in shaming those who seemingly don't have it all together or are handling a situation differently than you would. We're all out here doing the best we can, and we can all admit some days are better than others. And believe or not, we could all use a little empathy most days. So, the next time you see a mom doing her best, give her a smile and nod, let her know she's not alone. Because mommy guilt is real and a little empathy can help the guilt slip away.