From the editor
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
Judge this :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Judge not, lest ye be judged. These wise words are a close cousin of the one universal truth, the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
It's so plain, so simple, so clear.
Even my sweet, dear boys get this one.
"Someone could, like, see me in baseball and I could mess up one catch and they could tell me-man, you stink," my younger boy explains. "But then what happens if all the rest of the season, I make all the catches? Then the guy who judged me was wrong."
My older boy also gets it but, being a teenager, he is a minimalist when talking to an adult. "It's all pretty self-explanatory," he tells me.
As a parent, I want help, support, information and guidance. I'll even take a scolding. But don't judge me. I do that myself. Too many nights as I fall asleep, I watch my personal parade of parental atrocities. I revisit the face of my older boy at age 3 with tears streaming down his face. My fault, all my fault. He ran out into the street when I turned my back to settle the baby into the stroller. The car stopped only inches from him. But why did I grab him that hard? Why did I yell that loud? As he told total strangers, "Mommy got really mad."
We are all haunted by the Bad Mommy Moments, as my friend Mary Kay Blakely calls them. And we should be. Parenting mistakes should be remembered so we can learn from them. Because let's face it, if the judges are scoring us as parents, we all come up lacking, depending on the moment we are caught and in which act.
It's the nature of the job. No matter how well we do it, parenting is, at best, a hit-or-miss art.
The bottom line is simple: Raising a child is hard.
When my older son was born and the nurse laid this magical 19-inch little person on my chest, I felt all at once touched by grace and desperation.
Who left me in charge?
"The absolute dependence of a newborn infant inspired many things in me, but it did not activate any magical knowledge about what to do for the next 20 years," writes Blakely in her book, American Mom: Motherhood, Politics and Humble Pie.
Blakely, now a grandmother, has two boys who are now fine young men. She was wife-and-mother mom, single mom and even coma mom-an experience she wrote about in her book, Wake Me When It's Over. She speaks from experience. Yet she doesn't judge.
Writes Blakely, "A mother is neither cocky, nor proud, because she knows the school principal may call at any minute to report that her child had just driven a motorcycle through the gymnasium."
No two children are alike. This we know. So, why can't we accept that no two parents are alike?
There is no one right way to do everything you need to do as a parent, which means there is no one right way to diaper them, feed them, discipline them or teach them to read, write and be morally upstanding people.
Support for our differences is what we need. But it's not what we get.
Nor is it what we expect. We expect to be judged. We approach one another armed and dangerous, ready to convict at a moment's notice-and ready with a not-so-subtle dig if your parenting choice is different from mine.
"Oh really, you don't feed him solids? Not yet? I'm so surprised. We do. I thought they suffer lifetime brain damage if you don't start them at the right time. Pity. But he's awfully cute. Oh, I'm sorry, she's awfully cute."
Think about it. When was the last time you were at the check-out counter and witnessed a Mommy meltdown or a toddler tantrum-often, they go together.
What, as the observer, was your first thought?
"You poor dear. I know just how you feel. I've been there. We've all been there. You're exhausted. Your dear child is worn out. Let me help you."
After all, this is prime there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-and-a-babysitter-go-I territory.
Yet how many of us, and I am guilty, have found ourselves thinking, "Can't she control that child?"
This is wrong, wrong, wrong. But the times I've mentally snapped out of it and offered to help, I've been rebuffed. "I'm fine. I know what I am doing," I was told.
These mothers assumed they were being judged. Yes, I'm sure they were feeling guilty, but instead of reaching out for help, they shut it down. Does this make sense?
One of my favorite paradoxical twists occurs at the point of information exchange. When parents offer information to one another, it is often more in the spirit of a tactical bragging maneuver than an effort to share insights.
"We have found THE best music class. Really, it is interactive, practical and, well, what it has done for Junior is amazing. He is the best accordion player in his class. The teacher says his squeeze play is better than any other he's ever seen."
Really, we are all in this together. None of want to be judged, so why would we judge anyone?
But we do. Parents judge, try and convict more often than any judicial system, and I'm not sure how to stop it. Because the other universal truth is as we sow, so shall we reap.
So, I ask my older boy, "Do you think people do a lot of judging of one another?"
"Of course, what a stupid question," he says, smiling. "Now, is that all?"
I wish it were.