The words of a stranger bruised my heart, but at the same time, allowed for a flower of philos to blossom though the black and blue.
She approached me with a smile and with so much confidence that I was unprepared for the punch she was packing. A nice looking, European blonde bundled like an Eskimo in the unusually warm weather for Mont-Tremblant, Quebec she confirmed with niceties that I spoke English, and then, without pause, launched into an impassioned proclamation about my parenting.
In short, Ellie, as most kids do, has learned to make a game out of taking her socks off. Months ago I surrendered to this war-on-socks. I still put them on her, with full knowledge that they will be turned into toys. To keep her tootsies warm I now travel everywhere with a big, pink, fluffy blanket wrapped around her bottom half as she is chauffeured in her stroller.
Ellie and I had unwrapped ourselves to take a quick selfie in front of the sparkling white fir tree that commanded the center of the cobblestone plaza. We snapped a few, laughed and snuggled a bit and then found ourselves being approached by the woman described above.
“I’m crying for your baby”, she wailed dramatically. Wait, I thought, that doesn’t sound like “What an adorable baby! May I help you take your picture?” , which is what I was expecting based on my experiences with smiling strangers approaching me in public.
“How dare you allow your child to be exposed to these elements?!,” she continued, scanning my body with her eyes as she launched into her tirade. My mind reeled a bit as I tried to catch up to her outrage but jumping from contentment to anger isn’t an easy shift. So I responded with the response my mom taught me: be respectful, listen and answer politely. It never hurts to say thank you and it never hurts to say I’m sorry. So, I kindly thanked her for her concern, explained my losing war on socks and reassured her that Ellie’s feet are in fact quite well loved and quite well looked after, but she didn’t accept my excuses.
“Shame on you, as a parent, shame on you,” she firmly concluded before I thanked her again for her kind attempt at love and walked away to get as far away from the woman whom I now considered a wild card.
It was the first time I had ever been confronted on my parenting, and it frazzled me. It was so public and so unexpected – particularly since I thought this kind woman was approaching me to offer to take a picture for me and Ellie to relieve us of our awkward selfie attempts.
What a powerful reminder to me that we don’t always see what we think we see. This kind woman’s concern (and angry but misplaced judgment) came from a place of good intention, but was delivered with condescending judgment. Even though I knew she was out of line and had no idea how well bundled my little Ellie really was, her words stung me. They crawled down into the depths of my mind and bruised my parenting ego Worse, they caused me to question momentarily whether I was a good parent.
Usually I have confidence that I am a good mom, and that every day I am learning how to become a better and better version of the mom that Ellie needs, but this stranger’s comments wounded me at my core, at the thought that someone might think I am even close to being negligent when it comes to my child’s well being. The fact that a stranger could cause me to question myself so quickly caused me to reflect on my parenting and I learned a few things:
The lessons for me?
Lesson #1: I need to stop caring so much about what others – particularly strangers – might think of me. Any type of thinking that lends to such thought of self-doubt, insecurity or concern about how I look to others, is a waste of emotional energy. That being said, there’s always something to be considered in another persons’ words, regardless of where they come from when they are saying them to you, you have to take into account that they chose to speak. I will always look for the good – a good lesson, a good point, etc. – that people say to me because sometimes, in all of the crap, there can be a hidden diamond (and the trick is to know how to throw away the crap to keep the diamond).
Lesson #2: Being on the receiving end of judgment – warranted or not – by others, stinks. That being said, we don’t have to let the judgments and opinions of others affect us; this is much easier said than done, but it is essential to remember that we have the power to control what goes on in our minds, and their words can be blocked access.
But here’s where the table turns, and where I found myself as the person forming opinions without the right to do so. Just one week ago I was given the opportunity to feel what it feels like to live on the other side of the judgment tracks:
A week ago, someone I expected to say hello to me didn’t say hello. I was standing there with my “Hello!” ready to fly and then she walked on by, like I was invisible. Since I’m new to the area, every bit of kindness makes me feel warm and at home, and so on this particular chilly morning, with my hands full – Ellie on my hip, my gym bag on my back and the diaper bag on my other side – I was disappointed to not receive a hello from this person. She walked right past me without even the slightest acknowledgement.
You can imagine my sheer shock when the very next day, as I walked into the gym, I noticed a giant poster and card for this trainer. The trainer – the one I thought had been too busy for kindness – had actually been on her way to surgery that morning we had passed each other. It was elective surgery. It was surgery for someone else. She was donating her kidney to a gym member she had only recently met… and I had judged her – as she was on her way to the hospital.
What a great reminder that we never know someone’s full story. What a lesson to love openly, lead with kindness and fight the propensity to judge.
The lessons for me?
Lesson #1: Sometimes we judge others unfairly without even realizing that we are doing it. Comparing, assessing and criticizing other can be so easy and so natural that we can often overlook what we are actually doing – judging. It is not okay. How we judge others is how we will be judged, and what a reminder to always try to choose love over judgment.
Lesson #2: Judging others is ugly. That being said, it is humbling to find yourself in the wrong. I long to have a heart filled with love, and not just love for those whom I know deserve my love but rather, love for all. I want to love when love doesn’t make sense. I want to love on the days I feel exhausted and frazzled. I want love to be my answer, my go-to response, instead of judgment, criticism and comparison.
Judging others is easy. Choosing love over judgment isn’t. But this is why we must strive to pursue the higher road, the road paved with sentiments of love. We don’t have to understand, but we always have to love.
I am so thankful today that my heart is under construction and that I have been given two recently, very poignant examples of the pain that is felt by the person who judges and the person who is judged. I want to choose love, always. I want to choose kindness, always. God, please continue these works in my heart!