Becoming a mom has given me a superpower I didn’t expect, or even want — the power of invisibility. I know this sounds dramatic, but hear me out.
A few weeks ago our family visited a local apple orchard and cider mill, as Michiganders do. My husband was holding the baby, and I was holding a gallon of cider and the hand of our wiggly toddler. We approached the cashier and the woman working immediately exclaimed, “Oh, I just love seeing dads hold their babies!”
She continued, “You guys are part of a new generation, where dads just get in there and get involved with the kids. That didn’t happen when I was raising mine.” We smiled and thanked her, and left with our cider and donuts and kids.
Shortly after this encounter, we were staying at a hotel for a family reunion when our daughter got sick all over the lobby floor. My husband took her back up to the room to change clothes and I stood there, the baby on my hip, trying to get the attention of the front desk. I told them I was so sorry, we’d had an accident and there was a mess. The woman working threw two towels at me across the desk and said, “just throw these away when you’re done.” I then attempted to clean up the vomit from the hotel lobby floor, while holding a tiny, crying baby who was too little to be put down.
I share these two stories because they happened within a few weeks of each other, and because they reveal something I’m finding to be true in my experience of motherhood: moms are invisible.
When you have young children, especially a very small baby, you are never the first thing someone sees. In some ways that completely makes sense — babies are adorable! They have chubby cheeks and big eyes and silly teeth and their clothes are like adult clothes, but tiny. What’s not to love?
But in other ways, this is infuriating. People honk and stare when you take too long to get in the car and out of the parking spot they want (but have they tried buckling any car seats recently?). I have never once been praised for holding my baby, even when I’m doing that while simultaneously keeping the stroller from rolling downhill, putting on the toddler’s mask and finding my quarter for the Aldi cart.
This invisibility can also contribute to mental health issues for moms. One recent study found that 1 in 7 women may experience postpartum depression in the year after giving birth. Without people checking in on them, new moms’ symptoms of postpartum anxiety or depression may go unnoticed.
I love that my husband is an engaged, wonderful dad who is always happy to hold his babies. I don’t think it’s wrong for a mom to help clean up her kids’ messes. But I think we can all do better, myself included, at recognizing the moms around us.
See the mom juggling multiple kids, a purse, an iced coffee and a shopping cart, and tell her “you’re rocking it!” as you walk down the store aisle. Offer to take a picture for the mom capturing a sweet moment of her kids at the park — “do you want to get in the picture, Mama?” you could ask. Say hello to the mom, too, anytime you wave or make funny faces at a baby in public.
You don’t have to have a whole conversation, and you don’t have to get on your knees and wipe up puke with her (although thank goodness a kind stranger did eventually do that for me). Just see her, and remind her she isn’t invisible. She’ll be super glad you did.