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This post is all about a bag of Cheetos. Well, not really. It’s about making snap judgments. It’s about motherhood. It’s about compassion. But mostly it’s about a bag of Cheetos. This is for the mom in the grocery store who decided to shame my 4-year-old and I for buying a snack-sized bag of Cheetos.

In case you don’t remember, grocery store mom, here’s what happened: You and your toddler daughter were in line ahead of us on one of those busy weekday afternoons — it looked busy for you, and it was certainly busy for us. When the checker was scanning your items, our offending bag of Cheetos wandered over to your side of the divider bar thingy and the checker asked if they were yours. “Oh, no,” you said dramatically and loudly. “We don’t eat processed snacks.” Now, I can’t replicate your inflection here, so let me describe it: judgmental. Your words implied, none too subtly, that only terrible moms feed their kids that shit. As you can imagine, and, as I’m sure you intended, the comment irked me — it reached that tiny place that resides within parents that questions every day, am I doing this right? 

When you saw us that day, grocery store mom, my daughter had been having a difficult week, we all had. And she had handled some adult-sized stressors with a grace and bravery beyond her years. When we were walking through the grocery store, the snack food display caught her eye. She picked up the bag of Cheetos, looked at me hopefully and said, “Mom, these look good. Can I get some?” I thought about the week she had, and that all she was asking for at the end of it all was a salty, cheesy snack. Was it the healthiest snack choice? Of course not. We usually aim for healthier choices, but life is far too short to never indulge in the occasional cheese puff or ice cream, so I said, “of course.” But you didn’t know all this. You didn’t know anything about me. But you made a snap judgment about my mom-ing based on my groceries.

Perhaps you also didn’t realize that your comment smacked of elitism. Because you knew nothing about me, you didn’t know whether “processed foods” were all we could afford. Sadly, and, as we all know, the bad-for-you food is much cheaper than the healthier fare. Had I been a mom who was just doing her best to feed her kid the only food she could afford, well, your comment would not only have been rude, it would have been deeply hurtful and cutting. But you didn’t know that. You also didn’t know if we had been having “one of those days.” You know those days, right? The kind where the world seems like it’s crumbling around you and all the while your child is melting down and the only thing that stands between you and a Level-10-Grocery-Store-Panic is giving your child a snack, any snack. This wasn’t happening for us that day, but it’s happened before and it will happen again.

No, you didn’t know any of this, nor did you care to. You didn’t even look at me. You simply wanted to draw a line in the sand between the good moms — you — and the bad ones — me. Perhaps this is how you quiet that voice inside of you that questions whether you’re doing things right. But I ask, isn’t there a better way? Isn’t there a way for parents to feel secure in their own parenting without having to cut others down, without having to judge and embarrass families we know nothing about? We’re a collective, us moms, and though we may never become a sisterhood of unconditional love, perhaps we could at least silently support one another, or at the very least, live and let live. Maybe we could even go a little further and offer kind words or a knowing, “you got this” nod to one another. We all know how hard this parenting thing is. If we took the time to say to someone, “You’re doing a great job,” “You have a lovely family,” “The tantrum phase doesn’t last forever. Be strong,” you might just make someone’s day and give them the encouragement they need to know, for one day at least, that they are doing this parenting thing right.

Oh, and one last thing, grocery store mom: I saw the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups hidden among all the healthy groceries you were purchasing. I sure hope those were the non-processed kind.

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