Last month, Minnesota mom Kelly Dirkes did something many of us moms do: She went to Target, and she went to Target with her kiddo in tow. While Dirkes shopped, her daughter slept — soundly and comfortably — in the carrier strapped to her chest. This should have been a routine trip. This should have been like any other trip, but it wasn’t. Because while walking through the store, another shopper stopped Dirkes to tell her she was “spoiling” her baby, and warned that her daughter would never be learn to be “independent” because of it.
Why? Because Dirkes was “wearing” her daughter; because she was carrying her, hands-free. And while Dirkes didn’t respond to the woman, at least not initially — she just smiled, kissed her daughter, and continued shopping — she later turned to Facebook to share her story. When she did, it was not in an angry or hateful way, but in a loving and informative way. In the most emotional and poignant way possible, beginning with the words “if you only knew … ”
In her post, she wrote:
“If you only knew how she spent the first 10 months of her life utterly alone inside a sterile metal crib, with nothing to comfort her other than sucking her fingers. If you only knew what her face looked like the moment her orphanage caregiver handed her to me to cradle for the very first time — fleeting moments of serenity commingled with sheer terror. No one had ever held her that way before, and she had no idea what she was supposed to do.”
That’s right — the daughter that Dirkes was holding so closely spent the first months of her life completely alone. She had no family, no true caregivers, and as Dirkes continues, she daughter didn’t even know how to connect:
“If you only knew that she would lay in her crib after waking and never cry — because up until now, no one would respond … [i]f you only knew that that baby in the carrier is heartbreakingly ‘independent’ — and how we will spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years trying to override the part of her brain that screams ‘trauma’ and ‘not safe’. If you only knew what I know.”
Dirkes went on to write that “‘spoiling that [her] baby’ is the most important job I [she] will ever have, and it is a privilege. [And] I will carry her for a little while longer — or as long as she’ll let me — because she is learning that she is safe. That she belongs. That she is loved.”
(Wow. Just wow.)
Here’s the thing: Dirkes owed no one an explanation. She didn’t have to say anything, and she didn’t have to defend her parenting, but she did. And she did so to remind us all there are two sides to every story. In this judgmental world, there is always “what you see” and “what you don’t see.” And Dirkes did so to eloquently remind us to mind our own business and stop offering unsolicited advice — at least in my opinion — because when you become a parent, unsolicited advice and judgmental comments are everywhere. They are par for the parenting course.
But it shouldn’t be. Our parenting shouldn’t be judged and criticized every second of every day. We shouldn’t have to second guess ourselves, especially since us parents are all in this together. Especially since us parents are all on the same team.
In fact, the first bit of unsolicited parenting advice I received was when I was six months pregnant. I was waiting in line at my local grocery store — presumably buying chocolate and cupcakes and/or some sort of laxative — when an older woman tapped me on the shoulder:
“Bless your heart. How far along are you?” she asked. (An invasive question, I know, but since she was older I smiled and played along.)
“Six months,” I responded.
“Really,” she paused. “Six months? You, you just look so small. Are you eating enough? You know you are eating for two now, sweetheart, don’t you?”
Her gaze shifted my face to my cart: She was judging the food I was buying. She was judging me, and while I would like to say I came back with intelligent remark — or even a snide remark — I didn’t. I was too stunned to speak. I placed my groceries on the conveyor belt, checked out, and waddled away.
I scuttled away saddened and ashamed.
So thank you, Kelly Dirkes, for standing up and speaking out. Thank you for following your instincts, and your heart — as so many of us wish we could, but can’t always find the words.