This is a judgment-free aisle

I was at the supermarket, standing in the dried fruit and muesli bar aisle, not finding what I was looking for. As I stood there, gazing perplexedly at the shelves, a little girl in a trolley nearby beamed at me. “We have meat!” she announced, holding up a pack for me to see. “Good for you!” I replied, smiling at her. I looked up to see her mother smiling, too, but somewhat nervously. “This isn’t our normal shop,” she told me. “It’s his birthday.” And she gestured to her little boy, presumably the younger brother of the little girl so happy about the meat pack they were buying.

I was about to comment on how expensive meat is and that we also seem to save it for special occasions, but that wasn’t what she meant. She went on to say, “We don’t normally buy lollies and marshmallows.” As she said this, she looked down at the contents of her trolley. The expression on her face was one I’ve felt often enough on my own face. Apologetic. Braced for judgement. Maybe even ashamed.

It was an extraordinary moment, standing there in the supermarket aisle. Extraordinary that this mum I’d never met before in my life felt she had to explain and justify to me, a perfect stranger, that she was buying lollies and marshmallows for her child’s birthday celebration. I stumbled over my words a bit as I replied that that I wasn’t judging her and that we’re all just trying to get by as mums. But then she added, “We’ve had a few disapproving looks already.”

What. The. Actual. Who wanders the supermarket peering into strangers’ trolleys and judging their food choices? Who had already done that to this mum and made her feel like she had to preemptively apologise for buying her kid a bag of marshmallows?

I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days, about how people are so quick to judge others when they know absolutely nothing about them, their lives, their circumstances, their finances, their values, their goals, their challenges, their joy, their grief. And even if you DO know any of these things about someone else, it’s still not okay to judge them. Because they are not you. We are all just trying to get by. Some of us are doing a more socially acceptable job than others. And “socially acceptable” is an unfair standard anyway.

To that mum in the supermarket: I hope you got through the rest of your shop without anyone making remarks or giving you looks or generally causing you to feel crappy about your desire to give your child a birthday treat. I hope your son’s party is fun and that the children enjoy their marshmallows and lollies. I hope your daughter is still excited to eat her meat after it’s cooked and served up with some vegetables. I hope you know what a good job you’re doing. You are enough.

Katherine Granich

Editor, Tots to Teens

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