A Big, Buttery Nugget of Mom Shame

I woke up with a searing headache and a foot to the face. After working on a freelance project until 3am, I was up and at ’em at 6am with two kids who don’t seem to understand the concept of actual sleep. The house was atrocious since the garden is up and my husband is planting and mowing pretty much all night every night. Honestly, nothing was right when I woke up today, but what ever is when you’ve been dealing with postpartum anxiety and depression for, like, EVER?

So, you know how sometimes you just see the day tanking fast and you decide to abandon ship and take the kids out? Somewhere. Anywhere. That’s what we did.

The kids lasted about 4 minutes at the mall before the whole trip started getting hairy. The 4-year-old: poking, whining, antagonizing, arguing.  Then the baby started crying. And crying. Very unlike her…she just doesn’t do that. Except she did today.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for over a year now, and this moment is one we’ve dissected a few times. Without getting into all the boring details of My Own Head, I’ll just skip to the end part where I try to find a way to hit that reset button and change the direction of our day.


When we first became parents, my husband and I made whole organic food our #1 priority. But, 2 kids later, we’re at about 85/15.  Sometimes, grab-and-go foods are just a necessity, and soft pretzels are one thing on our “OK while we’re out” list. They don’t contain dyes, have fairly simple ingredients, and while some might cry “Gluten!” on us, when you weigh them against bags of candy or head-sized cinnamon buns, they’re just not that bad. Especially when the three of us share them.

So off we headed to our pretzel mecca. The kids were smiling and happy and the pretzels smelled awesome. Find a bench, breathe, regroup, shop for something to wear to a meeting with my main client tomorrow. In my head, I was working through that “inner dialogue” diagram my therapist keeps telling me to use when anxiety sets in.

Just as we began to pop our first pretzels, I looked up to see three of the most heavenly looking children I’ve ever seen. Long, curly hair, with outfits just mismatched perfectly enough that they could live on a magazine page. Then, the dad. Well dressed, with a thick Australian accent, asking his kids to behave so he could check work emails on his iPhone (they did), and good looking enough to make me quite aware that I hadn’t showered and I couldn’t really be sure there wasn’t any food on my old maternity shirt.

Yes, maternity.

That’s when I heard it. One model child, seeing ours, asked if they could have pretzels, too. Dad’s response nearly knocked me on the floor.

“No, you may not have pretzels. You may never have pretzels. Not if you were starving to death – STAHVING to DEATH – would I evah, evah buy you garbage like that. That kind of food will KILL YOU.”

OOF. Mind you, this guy was about two feet from me. His comments were pointed and deliberate and filled with disgust aimed right at my face. I sat there, in that moment, realizing that I had been mom shamed right there in the mall.

A Big Buttery Nugget of Mom Shame

I wanted to sink into the floor. Because he was right. I fully agreed with him. But I also wanted to rise up and yell at him, too. Yell that I have been working unimaginable hours trying to establish a new business on my own. Yell that I just registered for a half marathon and I harvest asparagus and spinach from my yard every day and that my kids eat ALL THE GREEN THINGS and that I know I’m failing every single day because I just can’t meet these expectations I set up for myself and I DO know how to make better pretzels at home but OH MY GOD THE TIME THERE’S NEVER ANY TIME.

…and seriously, doing things I never thought I’d do – like feeding my kids mall food –  is becoming pretty flickin’ commonplace around here these days.

And then his flawless wife bounced out of Hollister (of course she did) and off they went, surrounded by a soft, hazy white light, leaving me feel like I’d been punched in the stomach.

Because you, Mr. Haughty and Successful Australian Stranger in the mall, have no right to try to shame me for taking a moment to just let things slide. I’m very well aware of my own shortcomings, but I see no need to make my kids so well aware of them that they start making up shortcomings of their own. I didn’t judge you for lining your obedient children up on a mall bench while you checked work emails (nor do I judge the iPhone-toting playground moms who are so popular to pick on these days.)

I’m seeing a lot of “let’s stop judging” pleas lately, but I don’t think that’s the answer. Yeah, I judge. Most of us do. Just keep that nonsense to yourself. Because there’s a very good chance that the mom being looked down upon is pretty darn aware of whatever judge-worthy thing she’s doing, and she just may be judging herself over it harder than any stranger ever could. But she’s trying. We’re all trying. And if a cup full of pretzels is the worst thing to happen to my kids today, well then we all just might make it until tomorrow.

Oh damn. I still have nothing to wear to my meeting.

High fives all around, moms.



  1. Ruth Tincoff says

    You tell it Wendy!!
    We need penalty flags. When the shame and judgment flies, throw the flag. postcards with #nojudgment?

  2. says

    LOVE!!! So well stated!!! I hope the day comes when, instead of judging others for their preferred parenting style, we can just be kind and supportive and help each other out! You’re an amazing mama!! Good for you to get out, and use a “safe” thing to calm a situation!! :)
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  3. says

    Wow. I would just love to unload on that guy. Ugh, what a douche canoe.
    Who does that? Especially in front of his kids. I will never understand that kind of parental behavior.

    Okay, I’m done judging him.

    I’m sure he’s got his own insecurities, too.

    But YOU are doing an amazing job, one of the most productive moms I know – I wish I accomplished half of what you are juggling. My kids don’t eat nearly so well and I’m not doing any blogging or official work of any kind, and yet I feel like I’m drowning most days.
    I am doing better now since I cut down, but I have definitely struggled with PPD since Elanora. It makes me want to punch people like that guy in the face for making any mom feel that way.
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  4. lisa jones says

    People Stink & I’m Putting That Nicely But Keep Doing What You Do Best & That Is Being A Mom Yoyr Doing A Great Job & Don’t Let Anyone Knock You Down!!! XO

    • Wendy says

      I know what you mean. Truthfully, I have to admit that I do judge sometimes. Probably too much. But the difference is that I DON’T say anything to parents who are doing things I don’t agree with. You get so much further by sticking to your own guns and trying to be a positive example, maybe inspiring others on occasion.

      No positive example came from this guy. I just left feeling like a hypocrite in need of a good juice cleanse. :/

    • Wendy says

      Rock, they do! But if we’re being honest, they’re not MY choice for my family either! But I focus on promoting what we DO choose, not bashing what we don’t.

      I was already feeling like I was bending rules, which for me = a feeling of failure and not being able to quite “hack it”, and that’s why his attitude affected me as much as it did. I kind of felt like he kicked me when I was down, you know?

    • Wendy says

      True! Funny part = I was checking work emails all day too, on the sly. I had to wonder if he and I did the same job for a living. Wouldn’t THAT be funny!

  5. says

    I totally agree – no judging! I have news for Mr. Know It All – the lesson he taught his children by his remarks are much worse than a few pretzels. Also, if he is like that in a busy location….can you imagine how he is behind closed doors! Scarey!

  6. says

    Unfortunately this stuff keeps happening even when the kids are older, just what the judging is about changes.
    Hey, I have given my kid a lollipop at the bank at 9 in the morning just to make it through the day. It doesn’t make me a bad parent it makes me a survivor-LOL!
    Milena recently posted…10 Things I Learned This Week in MayMy Profile

    • Wendy says

      I can only imagine how bad it gets once the kids reach their teenage years! Ugh… Maybe then I’ll be better at dealing.

    • Wendy says

      Yeah, it was definitely a bit over the top. He didn’t actually say it TO me, but his intentions for me to hear it were clear. I preach about junk food quite a bit myself, but it’s not like we were eating a big bag of Nerds, you know?

  7. says

    I think we have a right to parent our own ways. Judgments galore it seems since I’ve had a kid. I see it all over the place. The way people look at you, etc. Sometimes we just have to pretend they don’t exist. :)

  8. says

    “I wanted to sink into the floor. Because he was right. I know this, and I fully agreed with him.”
    I think stopping judging should begin with yourself. Why, why, why(!?!) was he right? I don’t often give my kids Auntie Anne’s pretzels because I think they’re overpriced, but I certainly don’t think they’re gonna kill them.

    • Wendy says

      Yeah, you got me. He wasn’t really right, I just felt like he was. I spend so much of my work and personal life fighting the good fight for real food, that I just felt so small when he caught me during what I already felt like was my weak moment. That jerk.

      Thanks for the dose of reality. I need those sometimes. :)

  9. says

    Oh heck no, you didn’t let that stick up his ass, judgmental douche canoe make you feel bad about buying your children some occasional mall treats. It’s all on him, not you. It is in no way a reflection of you or your parenting.
    We all get our kids pretzels from time to time, and that was just plain rude and thoughtless of him. It’s awful when parents judge each other. We all need to stick together in a show of parental solidarity, you know?
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  10. says

    Well it’s safe to say those kids will leave the house and never return as soon as they either married a rich partner or got a well paid job with their miserable dad’s help! Oh and secretly stuff themselves with junk while he isn’t looking at friends houses/school! He raises his children to lie to him and deceive him as he raises them with impossible expectations and no fun or respect for others!

  11. says

    You know what, Wendy? He wasn’t that perfect. If he had been, he wouldn’t have felt the need to put someone else down. He would have shown compassion and humanity and seen you with his heart, not only with his eyes. Can you imagine being his wife or children and living under that cloud of perfection every day. Not good. You are a good and brave mum, for even posting this and not hiding behind a veil of pretence.xx
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  12. laura harris says

    Give me a brwak. Ppl are getting so pretentious / paranoid. A mall pretzel on occasion or even weekly is hardly “poison”. It’s full of carbs and no real nutrients to speak of but calling it poison is a tad over the top. Gluten is only an issue if you have a sensitivity to it. I know it’s an inflammatory but it won’t kill or even mildly hurt a child. Ppl need to get over themselves.

  13. Frank Smith says

    I think there are two sides of every story. And since most of the comments here only address one side of the story, I guess I will be the “bad guy” here and talk about the other side of this story.
    It is true that every parent has the right to decide what is best for their kids. But isn’t it every parent’s duty to try to provide what is best for their kids? I mean even some animals do this, and we are humans. We should know better. In the article, you already stated that you know feeding your kids junk food is bad, but it is just easier sometimes. So you’re putting your needs in front of your kids sometimes. And when another parent points out your mistake, you feel insulted and wrote an article expressing your feelings. So instead of correcting your mistake and spend more time to make sure your kids eat less junk food, your choose to use these times to write an article and I am assuming to get support from other people, so you don’t feel so bad about the mistake you made and make it easier in the future for you to make the same mistake again since people online agreed with you. I agree that the way that dad used to point out your mistake is very wrong. But it is increadably irresponsible of you to not address the mistake about it’s been pointed out, and trying to use article like this to make yourself feel better about the mistake. So in this short little rant, you successfully demonstred at least two occasions where you put your feeling ans need infront of your kids. I sincerely hope this is not a Trent in your household.

    TR;DL: That dad is a douche. The author needs to try harder.

    • Wendy says

      Sorry, Frank. I’m going to have to disagree with you. Every family needs to achieve a certain balance. Setting goals that are neither realistic nor sustainable inevitably leads to failure, and that’s what I was doing. I was putting my kids’ needs in front of mine on EVERY occasion, and trying to provide what was best for my kids (or so I thought) TO A FAULT. Realizing that the most obvious choice wasn’t always the best choice was a revelation for me, along with realizing that allowing a breather (which was what our small detour in the mall was all about) had nothing to do with putting my feelings or needs in front of those of my kids. (Not to mention the realization that stopping for a pretzel is NOT a mistake. MIND = BLOWN.)

      My kids eat a miniscule amount of junk food, and spending more time to make sure they eat even less, as you suggested, would be making the problem even worse. That suggestion – along with your ending your comment with the suggestion that I “try harder” – tells me you missed the point entirely. Frankly, putting my own needs in front of my kids’ needs to happen sometimes, because if Mom falls apart, the kids follow. After all, it only makes sense to take good care of the person who takes care of your kids.

      And I’m not sure I’d call this post a rant. I’d call it more of a rally – not to get support, but to provide it.

      Nice try, though.

      • Frank Smith says

        You made a good point about achieving balance in a family, as I have not considered that since I dont have kids of my own. So I’m making the same mistake you and most new parents made, which is putting their kids every need infront of theirs. And I surely will remember this if I’m to be a parent someday. But I don’t get how your mind got blown regarding the pretzels. Personally I don’t see feeding kids pretzels as a bad thing or mistake. I am merely going off the face that in your article and I quote “Because he was right, and I fully agree with him”. Maybe I misunderstood, but I to me, that implies you think pretzels sold at mall is bad for kids too. Again this is just my opinion, but if I realize something is bad for my kids, my first instinct would be figure out how to prevent if from harm my kids again. I do understand stopping your kids from eating more pretzels would be have a very low priority on your listof things to do, but shouldn’t it still trump over writing an article online about how your feeling got hurt? Maybe this prevent you from falling apart. If that’s the case, then my all means write away. Lastly, I think we can all try harder unless we know we are perfect. And from your article, it is obvious that even you think there is room to improve on your parenting skills, it is just that current circumstances is preventing you from doing so. But isn’t this the exact moment where people try harder to overcome those circumstances and achieve something better? Maybe I sounded condescending when I said you should try harder, but shouldn’t we all strive to improve our current situation? Looking forward to hear from your response as I’m learning a great deal in this exchange. And please elaborate on how preventing your kids from eating more junk food would make situation even worse for them. It sounded to me like your are saying if you taking something bad away your kids it would harm them even more? So your choosing the lesser of two evil? So what is the other evil? And regarding your nice try comment. I’m trying harder right now 😉

        • Wendy says

          Thanks for your response, Frank, and I do apologize for the delay. I think, stepping back and looking at the bigger picture, my main point is that striving constantly to be the perfect parent and provide only the BEST for your children at every single opportunity is setting yourself up to feel like a failure when you just can’t measure up. It’s not possible. I went in to parenthood that way, and it took getting severely burned out, both mentally and physically, for me to realize that I was looking in all the wrong places. My anxiety got to a point where it was uncontrollable, and I don’t want my kids to feel that when they look at a mess on the floor or a mall pretzel. Are those things good? No. I don’t want my kids to eat or do things that are bad for them, but they have to be exposed to those things, and they have to learn balance, self-control, the ability to weigh priorities, and the art of being able to take things in stride (because as we all know, life hands us twists, turns and, occasionally, pretzels.) I have to consider that that one moment of lightness might have been more valuable and “better” for my kids than a week’s worth of attempts to shield them from junk food. (And by that I still do mean a pretzel, and not a pile of Happy Meals. That still ain’t happening.)

          You asked this: “Maybe I sounded condescending when I said you should try harder, but shouldn’t we all strive to improve our current situation?” My answer? YES. Absolutely. But when the striving to improve starts to cause harm, THAT is where the problem is.

          And please accept my thanks for a thoughtful comment. I do appreciate the conversation.

          • Wendy says

            Oh, and as for the writing, it does help – and it’s my career. And my hobby. It’s just what I do. If it happens to me, chances are I’ll write about it.

  14. Kristina says

    I saw this blog post when it was picked up by Huff Po and put on Facebook. A lot of Facebook comments were without mercy where they blamed you for being thin skinned and caring about his judgment (and even being concerned about a pretzel to begin with because it is a first world problem.) Now I have kids, so I get the kind of stress you are under. I also understand that what you feed your children can become hugely important. I am 100% for your point, which is that of course we judge (it is often called having an opinion) but we have to have the self control to keep these thoughts to ourselves. We, after all, usually only see a snippet of someone’s life and make unfounded assumptions like this man made about you. He misunderstood everything you were about and it did stink and he was rude.

    But – it took me awhile to put my finger on what bothered me in your writing – but it was when you agreed with him! Now I get that you agreed that the pretzel was not the best thing to feed your children, but that is not what he said. He said – he would not give it to his kids it they were starving and that it would kill them. Do you agree with that hyperbole?! Would you want to parent where that kind of hyperbole comes flying out of your mouth in front of your children? Some commenters on FB said that maybe he had a child with celiac disease and it would be one of the only things that would make his KILL YOU comment anything less than hyperbole. But what I don’t understand is why you still saw the family as “perfect” after this instant? They lifted up the veneer of their apparent perfection and showed you the meanness and fear mongering behind it, and you still wished you could live up to their feeding standards?!! It was a moment that could have set you FREE and could have made you feel really good about your very reasonable 80/20 food balance. And that is where you let yourself be shamed more than you had to be.

    • Wendy says

      Hi Kristina! You raise a good point – I most definitely did not agree with the hyperbole that man sent my way. I did, however, agree that I could have made a better choice that day. Looking back, I’m not sure I agree in the same way anymore (this was written several months ago.) I’m pretty comfortable with the “relaxed” set of revised goals we’ve set since becoming parents.

      I can’t say I ever really saw the family in question as “perfect”, as I know that doesn’t exist, but I did elevate them in my mind. PPD and anxiety are such complex issues, and even without them, our view of ourselves changes a great deal after parenthood begins, and that can be a lot for any mother (or father) to work through. I was feeling badly about the pretzels, but also my parenting, my appearance, and just about everything else. You might be happy to know that I am working toward the freedom you mentioned. Not because of this encounter, exactly, but in my own time and on my own terms. I think it will be much more permanent that way. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. :)

  15. Julie Koo says

    Hi wendy,

    i think your daughter is adorable and i don’t doubt that you are a great mother. I have 2 little ones 3 and 1 years old myself and i totally get you on those tough days when processed carbs are the answer! It seems like your article is focusing on the harshness of parents judging other parents and how hurtful that can be. That being said, arent you also judging the man and his family? Making fun of his accent and how his wife “bounced” out of hollister…

    I don’t think you need to justify yourself for wearing a maternity shirt and feeding your kids pretzels, not to the rude man or the rest of the world. You obviously care about your children’s nutrition or you wouldn’t be growing fresh vegetables in your garden or buying organic food when possible. Why the need to poke fun of the inconsiderate man you encountered?

    I am all about moms empowering one another through positive encouragement. I sincerely hope you do not have another encounter like this but if you do how about brushing it off knowing you are a great mom doing the absolute best you can for the children you love so dearly?

    no need to explain yourself or put another family down.

    • Wendy says

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article, and for the encouragement. Although I really don’t think I did make fun of his accent…I actually have quite a love of Australian accents. I mentioned that he had one, and I suppose the reader will take from that what they choose. (I also said that he was good-looking and seemed successful. I’m finding it really interesting to hear what others are interpreting that to mean. The “haughty” part? Quite warranted, I think.)

      As for the wife, saying that she bounced out of Hollister was appropriate, in my opinion – she was petite, young and seemed energetic. A story with no descriptive details wouldn’t be much of a story, right?

      I’m not sure I put them down at all, either. For the sake of getting my point across, I did describe them in comparison to the way I was feeling that day…their “perfect” to my “anything but”, but I think that was integral to the story’s point.

      Again, I do appreciate the feedback and will be sure to examine how I am reacting both inwardly and outwardly if (and I hope not ‘when’) this happens again!

  16. Beatrice says

    If you fed your children pretzels weekly, this dude would still have no place judging you.
    Also, though I liked the article, the gluten craze is ridiculous. Most people have no problem with gluten. For most people it’s a healthy form of protein and actually gluten free substitutes tend to be worse because of more additives and sugar to keep flavor. I just hate seeing the gluten myth perpetuated.

    • Wendy says

      Oh, I agree! My problem isn’t the gluten (we are not gluten-free) but the processed nature of the food at the mall and lack of nutrient value in a big doughy pretzel. And actually, looking back, it was really more about just beating myself up anytime I didn’t make something myself. I’m doing better these days with those crazy expectations…

      But my day job does require me to do some health and wellness writing and research for the general public, and it’s amazing how gluten has become such a dirty word, even for those who have no sensitivities!


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