A few years ago, my partner and I went out to dinner with our kids and extended family. I stopped into the restroom on our way out and heard some poor woman retching in the next stall. Her 4 year old daughter was standing by the sinks looking concerned.

I asked the woman if she needed help or if I could call someone for her.

Her panicky response was, “I’m not drunk. I’m pregnant and I’ve got morning sickness. Please don’t call anyone!”

I had to explain that I was offering to call one of her friends or a relative to help her.

She came out of the stall and looked tired – and pregnant – but not impaired. She tearfully thanked me and told me her husband was waiting in the restaurant and she had gotten ill while she was taking her daughter to the bathroom. She told me this pregnancy had been brutal.

But it made me wonder where the hell we’ve gotten to that some poor woman with morning sickness feels like she’ll have her kids taken away if she gets ill in public.

And then there’s the case of Cherish Peterson: A young mother of four small children who left her two month old baby in his car seat in a shopping cart at a grocery store in Arizona. The online response has been vicious. People are calling for her children to be taken away, suggesting we toss her in jail, saying she’s a horrible mother, convicting her of drinking and drug use with nothing to go on other than the 40 minutes of her worst parenting that’s being plastered all over the news.

I don’t know Cherish. But I imagine that she was exhausted and overwhelmed. She’d just recently had a baby and was likely managing four little children and a household by herself. I don’t know if she was impaired or on her cell phone and I can’t speak to her character. But I do know that anyone managing 4 small kids 24/7 would feel stretched. And I can imagine her terror upon realizing her child wasn’t with her when she got home. Every mother on the planet can imagine that feeling. And believe me, it’s punishment enough!

Yes, I believe the “why” should be addressed compassionately, but punishing this family with fines, time in court or charges feels like we’re heading in the wrong direction. I also know no one would want their worst parenting (or otherwise) moments splashed across the media from coast to coast and made open to public commentary.

As moms, we hear about people like Cherish and, if we’re compassionate, we think, “I WISH I could have been there to help.” We wonder why someone didn’t see this happening and yell, “Lady, you forgot your baby!” We hope that the police, social services and any other agency that gets involved will be gentle with this overwhelmed mom.

But there is a mom just like Cherish right in your neighborhood. Maybe she lives next door. Maybe your children go to the same school or daycare. You might see her at the grocery store or Target. She’s the one that looks exhausted and drained. She’s the one on the verge of tears as she blankly tries to decide between brands of diapers.

I know it’s scary to get involved. I know we’re afraid that we’ll been seen as interfering or nosy. And we may even be criticized for doing it. Unfortunately, we’ve come to assume the worst about one another. But the vast majority of people, when approached with compassion, will respond with kindness and appreciation.

So if you see a mom who leaves her baby in the car or cart, please let her know. If you see a child wandering alone, ask the store manager to announce over the PA that a lost child has been found. If you see a mom who is crying in the diaper aisle, hold your judgement and have some compassion. Just ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

And if you feel overwhelmed and exhausted, reach out. There are parenting hotlines, classes and groups that exist because they know that parenting is tough. The National Parent Helpline at 1-855-427-2736 is one resource. Another is MOPS https://www.mops.org/ Your local schools and churches may also offer groups. It can be difficult to reach out – even scary – but it is the most amazing thing to reach out and find a kind voice and helping hand on the other side.

We have ALL had imperfect moments as moms. Most we can recount various faux pas with a degree of humor years later and we remember that compassionate soul who stepped in and saved the day.

Moms, let’s have each other’s backs and help one another be the best parents we can be for all our children.