Glass house parenting
There was a mother I knew once. After the baby she couldn’t lose the weight. The anti-depressants she had to take for post-partum depression caused her to gain weight, even. And there were days she wondered if they even worked. She tried hard to be a good mother, but some days it was too much. When her husband left her she tried to keep up a strong front for the children.
That very night she took her two young children to McDonalds, despite the fact that she hadn’t had a chance to shower or change into decent clothes. She wanted to be a good mother for them and keep a positive outlook. She wanted to treat them to something they’d love, and rarely got, because she knew the next while was going to be hard.
But all anyone saw was another unkempt, overweight woman bringing her kids to McDonalds to stuff them full of unhealthy, highfat food. She heard the “tsks” and felt the stares.
Then there was the father I knew who struggled with manag- ing work and family. Since his wife had become ill he tried very hard to play with the children on evenings and weekends to get them out of her hair. She tried hard to keep the house tidy, despite how tired and ill she felt. He let the yard go. It was the least of his concerns.
Until the day a neighbour walking by exclaimed as loudly as possible what a shame it was that some people had no pride in their property, nor a work ethic. Sound familiar? Actually, I don’t know these people. Or do I?
Truthfully, I’m not sure. None of us advertise our inner struggles to the rest of the world. At least, not in a way they understand. The thoughtless woman who cut you off? Maybe her mind was preoccu- pied with the fact that her teenage daughter was pregnant. The cashier who didn’t smile and wish you a good night? Maybe that’s because your hairstyle was the exactly like the one of the man who raped her two years before.
Or maybe both of them just had a really bad day. The kind of day that makes you question what the heck you’re doing with your life. We all have those days.
The mom who packs all kinds of junk in her child’s lunch bag? Maybe she struggles with reading and has no idea how to read a nutrition label. Or maybe she’s just sick of lunches coming home all the time and just wants to make sure her child eats something, anything, making up for the lack of nutrition in the meals and snacks he has at home.
Who knows? You don’t. I don’t. Most people live their lives in complete ignorance of what the people around them are really experiencing or feeling.
But many of us have no problem expressing how others make us feel, or how their actions affect us — when in actuality they rarely do.
One week I ended my column by saying I hoped no parent was “stupid enough” to buy their kindergarten daughter a tiger print mini-skirt. And I really do hope no little girl wears that to school this week. But the judgment is wrong. I don’t know why someone would buy clothes like that for their child, but until I know the actual reason I should reserve judgment.
And if some little girl did wear that skirt, how would it affect me personally? Oh sure I might need to explain to my daughter why she can’t have one like it, but really that’s a positive result: another learning opportunity in real life.
Parents, mothers especially, seem so eager and quick to judge other parents and their choices. Even the simple act of offering unsolicited advice is often tinged with judgment. But unless what that other parent is doing actually affects us personally in a negative way, why does it matter?
Perhaps it’s part of our connected, digital age. Maybe it’s because many parents these days can be exposed to any number of books and studies that back up what they believe. Whatever the reason, it seems we’ve all become quick to judge those who do things differently than us and slow to understand that our opinion doesn’t really matter.
What does matter is the pain, fear, and shame our judgment causes. When someone is hurting or struggling and knows they’re not doing their best, the last thing they need is someone else telling them about it. No one gets through life without making a few choices that they know are wrong but that fit their life at the time.
A woman I really do know once tweeted about the mother in front of her on the plane who was yelling at her kids. She wanted to step in and tell her it was wrong. I gently suggested that instead she step in and ask what she could do to help. It turns out she could help and the other woman greatly appreciated it. Isn’t that a happier ending than two mothers yelling at each other on an airplane?