This afternoon I had the joy of hanging out with one of my close friends. We took our children (4 in all) to a local arboretum and watched on happily as our children soaked in the sunshine, fresh air, and each other.
On the way home we had a great conversation about parenting. We talked about how we have all had our horrible days when we just hate ourselves because we feel like we totally blew this whole mom thing. And other days (like today) that went great! We talked about how we all have different methods of discipline and instruction, but all in all, we have the same goals in mind and a loving heart. We laughed about how it is so different being a teacher, auntie, or babysitter than it is to actually being the parent! We talked about how it’s so hard to look into someone else’s situation when we can’t truly understand what they’re going through.
And that thought has stuck with me all afternoon.
As a young adult I imagined myself being an incredible mom. I would be totally engaged. I’d be a cool mom. But not too cool. I was going to raise strong, independent, hard working, respectful kids because I watched other peoples’ kids throw temper tantrums in the store, yell at their parents, and cheat on their homework. That wasn’t going to be my kid. I was going to do a better job.
Then I became a mom. As a mom of one child I had it all together. My kid was a great sleeper because I let him cry it out. Sleep wouldn’t be an issue if everyone did that. My kid ate all fresh, homemade pureed food and was going to be a healthy kid. No sugar until his first birthday. I wasn’t going to be like the moms who give their kids canned pasta and chocolate milk. No way. Not me.
Then I became a mom of two…and suffered with PPD. My new angel wouldn’t sleep…no matter what I did. He just cried all the time. I tried to let him cry but it didn’t work! What the heck?! And my totally freshly fed older child now only wanted peanut butter and jelly and pancakes! All that work wasted! I felt awful inside and out. I wanted to scream and cry and lose my temper. But I didn’t want to ask for help. I could do it. I didn’t need help. I suffered.
As a mom of three boys I totally screw up all the time. I get mad over stupid things. I feel tired most of the time. I should probably be playing more and working less. Maybe I should focus less on getting chores done and let them get a little dirty. But I know all of these things about myself. I know that I’m far from perfect…and I think most of us moms are aware of this.
The problem is when we think we have the right to tell someone else all they need to do better. Because we know better…even when we don’t.
Before I had stepped onto the parenting boat I would sit on the shore and watch the ships out on the sea. I would stare in shock as they tossed and turned in the water…sometimes nearly tipping over. I would watch in amazement wondering why people didn’t just follow the simple instructions that came with this whole parenting thing. Just have boundaries. Just say no. Just don’t let your toddler rule your life. Just…Just…Just… It seemed so simple. But it wasn’t until I stepped into my own boat and made my way out to sea that I realized how deep, how murky, and how treacherous the waters really are. Once you think you’ve dodged one wave, another has come from a completely different direction to threaten the stability of the boat. Wave after wave until you feel like you’re drowning. It’s not until you endure the storms, the torrential rains, the massive swells that you realize that only so much of this is in your control and realize you never should have judged those crazy parents…because now you are one. And there are ignorant people out on the tranquil beaches watching as you struggle with condemning faces just like you used to do.
I remember as a little girl reading a story about not judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Somewhere along the way in life we have forgotten this old proverb. Of course we are all naturally going to make judgements about the rightness or wrongness of a situation: Yes it is wrong to be impolite. It is wrong to steal. It is wrong to murder. It is wrong to lie. It is right to be generous. It is right to be kind. It is right to be patient…etc. But we go a step further and make judgements with comparisons such as, “They are bad parents.” Or worse yet, “I’m a better parent.”
I’ve been a stay at home mom now for 8.5 years. I have 3 kids. I’ve worked part time for the last year and have gotten a taste for what it feels like to work and parent and it’s hard. I’ve gotten to do the dedicated stay at home mom thing. It’s hard and I’m no closer to knowing everything than I was 9 years ago! NOTHING in life (for me) has been harder than being a mom. I cannot imagine anything being harder except maybe dreaming of being a parent and never having it fulfilled. Being a parent is a constant test of your character. Your kids will continuously attempt to push the boundaries. They will stretch you to your limits and then force you to stretch a little further. They will bring you joy, laughter, tears, guilt, embarrassment, and a whole heap of judgement. (but they’re so worth it…)
So, to my friends who are watching from the shore… Please show generosity in your thoughts and actions toward those who are tossing on the choppy seas. Instead of offering your criticism, offer a hand. Instead of judgement, show kindness. Try to be understanding and patient just as you would hope someone would do for you.
And, to my mommy and daddy friends out there. Keep on keeping on. The waves will come and go. You’ll have massive successes and epic failures. You will recover. You will not be perfect. You will show your kids how to be imperfect and how to get back up again.