Why we Shouldn’t Judge Other People’s Parenting
I like to think of myself as not only a gentle parent, but a gentle person. It’s a nice feeling to think you’re one of the “good guys” out there fighting in a sea of meanness. Until you realize that you actually may be part of the problem sometimes. You see, a friend of mine shared an article with me that starts with the story of her waiting in a long line at the store. In that line is a mom with a baby in a stroller. The baby is screaming. Mom is trying to hush it but to no avail. Time passes. Baby is still screaming and still in the stroller when finally a customer says, “A good mother would pick up her crying baby.”
I read this and I felt, “Yes she would.” It’s exactly what I would have thought and I probably would have high-fived him in my head had I been there because I get so sick of people who seem to not want to actually respond to their baby. In today’s society where non-responsiveness is the norm for parenting, I’ve seen far too many parents refuse to pick up their crying babies, overhearing parents say to their screaming babies, “You can stop now because I’m not going to pick you up/give you what you want.” Too often, parents treat an infant’s need for comfort and touch as something to be stomped out, something evil or wrong, something that will somehow hinder them in the years to come.
So I read this story and I went there, all high and mighty as I thought it.
Luckily the author didn’t.
She brought me back to my humanity and I got to experience the guilt of realizing what an ass that response would make me. Why? Because we have no idea what had happened to that woman right before. No idea what her mental state of mind was. Was she suffering PPD and simply unable to even contemplate picking up a crying child thinking she had no hope of stopping the crying? Was she sick and didn’t have the strength? Was she disabled in some way that wasn’t apparent but would have hindered her ability to do what everyone expected – pick up her baby? We don’t know. We just don’t know. I took the experiences where I did know what was going on and put them on someone whose story was a complete unknown. I was wrong, even just in thought.
The hardest part to admit is that I’ve been there, on the other side… Two and a half years ago I was in Toronto and walking back to where we were staying with my 2 year old screaming in my arms. She was beyond exhausted, it being half an hour over when she naturally would have gone to sleep, and I was trying my best to stop the full-on meltdown and get her home for the nap that she so desperately needed. A woman was walking by me and had seen this progress through our walk in the park towards the apartment building. As she passed she said, “She needs to be in bed! She should have been asleep a while ago and not out!” The tone was clear – I had screwed up and was a shitty parent, clearly I had valued something in my own life over the well-being of my daughter.
What she didn’t know was that we had just come from the bank. The bank had set up a time that I negotiated based on when I knew my daughter would need to nap. I was told the appointment would take no more than 30 minutes and it ended up taking 90 minutes. I didn’t leave early because this appointment was to handle the closing of my mother’s accounts and I didn’t know I could go back again to deal with the same bureaucracy a second time around. She had died a couple weeks earlier, quite unexpectedly, and I was finding myself not visiting with her as planned (she died the day I flew out to celebrate her birthday and my daughter’s as they were a week apart, so I heard the news upon landing in Toronto), but instead serving as executor to her estate, cleaning out her apartment, handling her remains, and trying to cope with a loss that left me walking in a daze most days.
In the previous weeks I had cleaned my mother’s blood off the floor in her bedroom (where we would now be sleeping), I had brought her remains to New Jersey to scatter while visiting my grandmother who had now buried both her children before her, had started to realize just how much there was to do, and was trying to be there for my siblings who were far younger and trying to cope with her passing. I had done all this with my 2-year-old in tow and though my wonderful husband stuck around as long as possible, but he had to fly back to Vancouver to work. Bills don’t stop being due just because your world stops spinning for a while. So I was on my own with my daughter, trying my best, and obviously it didn’t work out as planned that day.
This woman couldn’t have known all that, but she did what I was ready to do and swore I wouldn’t do after my own experience: Not even try to understand. She didn’t ask if she could help in any way, she didn’t offer empathy or ask what was wrong, she didn’t seem to care to do anything but declare what I had done wrong based on the small snippet of time she spent seeing us struggle to go back to my mom’s apartment so my daughter could nap. And here I was in the mindset of doing the same thing.
Sadly I’m pretty sure I’ve done this more often than this one time. I don’t even mean to, but I do. So I make this pledge: I may not be perfect, but I am going to try and offer a bit of understanding before making someone feel worse, I am going to try and think about the million things that might prevent a parent or anyone from doing what might seem so obvious and right to the rest of us before condemning them, and most of all I am going to try and help instead of scold. Imagine if the woman in line hadn’t been condemned publicly but someone came up and asked if there was anything they could do. Perhaps that alone might have led to some help for that baby and that mother and everyone would have been happier. Maybe then others would have walked away with a different, more gentle idea of how to respond to someone in distress.
Goodness knows we could use some more of that in our society.