Parental Judgement - My Experience and How I Copedby Gemma Campbell
Once upon a time (as all the best stories start this way) I ran a popular Bumps and Babies group. Each week we met in a church hall and I provided biscuits and made cups of tea. We chatted and our babies lay there or rolled about. I felt buoyed by these ladies turning up week after week. I was making friends – we went to each other’s houses and we met up at soft play or other baby groups. There was a little group chat online. And then one week I happened to say that I had separated from my partner as there were some domestic abuse issues and that he’d cheated on me. And, in that little morning session, they were all super supportive and offered to help in any way etc. The next week, as ever, I rushed to the church hall to open up and put the heating on. I put the biscuits out on the plates and turned the urn on. I got the playmats and the toys out. I set the chairs up. And then I waited. Not ONE mum, granny or childminder turned up. I put a little message up to say the group was on. And I hoped against hope that it wasn’t because of my previous announcement. The next week and the week after that NO ONE turned up even with my social media reminders before the day. And I noticed that the group chat had gone silent. I’d seen a few of them at a baby group and they had smiled and chatted and so I didn’t think it was me and my situation. Until I saw they’d all been for a walk on the beach together. And then they had been to the soft play. I shut the baby group down. I handed over my Facebook page and removed myself as admin.
And even now, as I write this I can still remember the absolute devastation I felt. Because they weren’t all antenatal friends as my sister tried to say, but some who had only met at MY baby group. Discovering my partner had cheated on me, the subsequent fall out from that and the MARAC were nothing in comparison to being so suddenly and obviously shunned. I moved away. I stopped going to soft play and baby groups. I’d save those for when I visited my parents back in Manchester. But randomly I never unfollowed them on social media. And then I was invited to a gathering at one of their houses and so I decided I would go. I still feel it had been an accident that invite.
But dammit, I braved it out. If I could stand in a courtroom and face my ex down, I could sit in someone’s house with a bunch of mums and let my toddler have a play date. My presence clearly made them all feel uncomfortable, but I chatted away as if it was all fine. There was no way I’d ever let them know. A month later we were invited to a birthday party by one of the mums I’d spoken to at that play date. And I drove the 40 minutes from where we now lived to hers. And then another mum a few weeks later invited me to another birthday party. And I did the same again. They weren’t my friends I realised, but my daughter needed play friends her age. And I smiled and chatted. But then nothing. Over a year later, one of them ran a festival and I paid for a ticket and me and my daughter turned up, all alone and we camped over. And they were all there. And none of them invited us to join them or made any real effort with us bar a timid smile. And I was crushed all over again. This time, I decided, I wouldn’t bother again.
As the years have gone on, I still hope it wasn’t deliberate or malicious. I still hope they didn’t send round messages saying stay clear, don’t get involved. I still hope I wasn't being judged for what had happened to me and that they didn't think a cheating partner was catching. It was probably me being oddly nervous and detached that saw them be oddly nervous and detached back. After all, I had moved away. Why would they carry on inviting me for Saturdays on the beach or weekend zoo trips? Other than I really needed that bit of normality and friendship!
And then I moved back to the area – in fact, back home. And now I see them at the school gates. I see them at nursery pick up (baby no. 2). I bump into them in the village. We chat, we pass the time of day. I still like their posts and occasionally comment on them. They occasionally like mine. I never asked them, I never challenged their behaviour. Because I didn’t want to know. Because it may have been totally accidental. It may have been completely innocent. I wasn’t in the best place and so I could well have been paranoid. And because I would never allow anyone to know the pain and hurt that compounded the hell that I was already going through. And bar this blog and my private diary of that time, I don’t think I’ll ever allow anyone to see the tears I still shed over this every time Timehop reminds me of that Bumps and Babies Christmas Party or the festival or that playdate.
I didn’t need them to go out of their way to be nice or nicer because life had happened. We all have really shit points in our lives. I just needed them to have carried on as normal, or at least to have eased out rather than all abruptly abandon me at a really low point. And the worst/best part. They all nominated me for an award for being the Most Supportive Volunteer. And whatever they had written meant I won for the whole of Wales. But never really seeing them by that point meant I could never thank them. And in fact, never seeing them also meant I never actually got the physical framed certificate. Just a photo. And the celebratory afternoon tea at the Houses of Parliament as my reward.
I’m in a much better place now. And some of them have gone through the cheating spouse, the separation and divorce. And I sent them messages of support. Because I knew some of what they were feeling and what they were suffering. And sometimes, smiling and being the better person is the best way. Kill them with kindness. Or something like that.