Verdict -- by Laura Houston
My friend Lisa from Oregon just left. She was here for five days, and it was an easy five days. She was a great houseguest. She made me coffee. She did the dishes, put toys away in their proper place, and entertained the boys while I was otherwise occupied. I never had to ask her to do any of it. Her help was automatic, thoughtful and unobtrusive. I was surprised how naturally maternal she was because Lisa doesn’t have kids. She’s 45-years old and focuses on her art, her career, and her health. She’s a successful, happy, whole person who finds fulfillment in almost all she does. Children never entered into her picture by choice.
I understand and respect this, and I made the mistake of assuming that perhaps she did not like them. After all, if you don’t have kids you might prejudge them to be whiney, sticky and unpleasant to the olfactory senses a few times a day. I know I did. So I made an incorrect judgment on how my friend would feel about my children.
As it turns out, Lisa was great with the boys. And with me as a mother. After a day of running around the city, I put my swollen feet up, turned on the TV, and tried to recover from a long, fun day. I was too tired to deal with Lyle’s sporadic tantrums, which were escalating. I could see things coming to a head with him, and I did nothing to thwart him. I had been gone for the better part of two days, and my son needed my attention, so he acted out. He ran up to Lisa, who he is smart enough to accuse for my absence, and started flailing his arms at her, hitting her, and then throwing himself down on the ground at her feet in absolute tears.
I was mortified he did this. Embarrassed. Even more so knowing I could have prevented it. I ran over to Lyle, picked him up, and told him not to hit, then I held him and kissed him while he fell into me with wracking sobs. Lisa just shrugged it off. I didn’t feel any judgment coming from her. Thank goodness. Because before I had children, I can’t say I would do the same.
Before I had children, I was often judgmental. I had this idea in my head that I would never let my children behave like Lyle did. I would be on my game at all times. I would not feed my kids sugar or fruit juice ever, we would stick to a schedule, we would have routines, and we would all get along. I would be Supermom.
Go ahead. Snicker. I did.
I have been thinking a lot about judgment since Lisa’s departure. It feels so good not to have it sent my direction from someone who is close to me. But at the same time I am glad I have my strong judgments as a parent. I believe I had the best intentions when I proclaimed I would not give my kids sugar or let them behave badly. These objectives gave me a quality of purposefulness and perimeters to work within. I want to judge myself and hold myself to greater standards as a person and as a parent. Judgment teaches us to discern and use good sense. It challenges our observation skills. It teaches us to decide. And then it leads us to make choices based on our principles and values.
However, I need to reserve this judgment for myself. As I learned this week, the act of non-judgment is one of the best gifts you can give someone. These days I am watching my brother struggle with some serious parenting issues. It has been a very challenging year for him and his family. He is doing a lot of things I would not do, and he is not doing a lot of things I would. But he doesn’t need that kind of judgment from me right now. He needs to feel from me what I felt from Lisa: absolute compassion.
So here I go. I’ll give it a shot. Not just for my brother and my nephews but also for the mothers I see in the park who are talking on their cell phone while their kid beats up another kid. I’ll try not to judge the father who tells his kid to “not be a pussy” after he has fallen off the jungle gym and sprained his wrist. Somehow I will try to remember how tired we are as parents, and how easily we lapse into behaviors that are not the best for our kids or the people around us.
After all, we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got at any given moment. Say it with me now. Again. And again. And again.