Glass house parenting

The Compass - - SPORTS -

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?

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