I was an amazing parent...until I actually had kids.
I was an amazing parent…until I actually had kids.
When I was in college, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a variety of families as a nanny. I spent so much time with these families that it was like I was part of the family. I got an up-close look at the daily life of a young family, and you might say that I began to form a few opinions about the right way and the wrong way to do things.
One of the toddlers that I worked with had an incredibly difficult time with sleep. I was tasked with getting this sweet angel to take a nap each day. This was about as easy as tacking jello to a tree. Each day I left completely worn out from the task of trying to get this child to rest, which regularly resulted in me loading her into the car and driving all over the hill country to ensure that she got a nap. I had definite opinions as to why this precious child would not sleep... and they were all the parents’ fault!
As a 20-year-old without children, I, of course, knew everything there was to know about parenting.
I regularly judged the parents that I worked with, and I thought to myself, “When I’m a mom... my kids are going to do what I tell them to do. When I’m a mom... I’m going to put my children on a strict sleeping schedule. When I’m a mom... my children will not watch tv. When I’m a mom... I will not be so distracted and frenetic all the time.”
Then I became a mom and had three little darlings essentially running my life.
It wasn’t long before I discovered that what I had envisioned as the perfect path of parenting was not so perfect after all. It was so easy for me to judge the path of another parent as someone with no experience as a parent. Not only are parents judged by 20-year-old babysitters like me, but we are the worst at judging one another.
When my children were one, two, and three, my husband was in a terrible car accident. I was in the thick of a tough parenting season already, but now I needed to also care for my husband during his recovery.
I remember sending my youngest to Sunday School with a bottle which he was really too old for at the time. He really loved his bottle and the meltdown that would result by taking it away was not something I had the bandwidth for at that point. I was so embarrassed that my kid was still using a bottle. There were so many things needing my attention in that season, and that silly bottle was not one of them.
The fear of what other parents would think of me was very real! Why was I so worried about what someone might think? I knew what I needed to do for my family in that season, but the weight of judgment from others was still a burden that I could not shake.
Fast forward a few years, and now my kids are nine, ten, and eleven. The fear of judgment is still there. We make choices for our families every day, and we are still afraid of looking “weird” to the outside.
When we decided to make a radical change with our children’s education, we knew without a doubt that we were doing the right thing for our children, however, we feared what others might say about us. Our youngest struggles with learning differences and we made the very difficult decision to pull him out of school and in order to homeschool him. This was completely out of the norm for many in our family and in our friend circles. Even if no one was judging our decisions, we felt the pressure of judgment by others. Still, we knew that God had called us to do something radical, and so we continued down the path we felt God leading us toward.
I have been on both sides of self-righteous and judgemental parenting, and I’m not proud of it.
What I have learned over the years is that we see only a glimpse of a family’s situation. It’s easy to judge the mom in the check-out line with the screaming kid that is insisting on getting a treat. Surely, that child needs some firm boundaries, right?
But what if instead we put ourselves in that mom’s shoes and offered encouragement rather than judgment?
What if we offer a hand or a “Hang in there, mama!” instead?
When I feel tempted to judge, I often reflect on a story I read a few years ago. The story was about a man and his two sons riding on the subway. The boys were running around like crazy and really acting up. A woman on the subway was giving the dad “the eye” indicating judgment that he needed to get his kids to straighten up. He then apologized for their behavior and shared that they had just come from the hospital and these boys who appeared to have a behavior problem had just had to say goodbye to their mother as she passed away.
How many times do we make assumptions from what we see on the outside?
What if instead, we sought to see below the surface? What if when we were tempted to judge, we made the assumption that the person we are judging may be having the worst day of their lives? What if instead, we tried to empathize with the other person’s experience?
Whatever the judgement of the day may be, to work in the home or outside of the home, to breastfeed or bottle feed, to educate public or private, and all of the other parenting topics we rip one another apart for, let us trust that each of us is doing what is right for our family in that season. Let us be reminded that we only see a snapshot of the surface, but there is so much more underneath.
Thankfully, I have been humbled in so many ways since my early twenties as an amazing parent without kids. The very things that I judged are, in fact, many of the areas where we struggle the most. The judgment I once had has turned to empathy and understanding
Instead of judging one another, let us lift one another up as parents. For we are, indeed, doing kingdom work!
This story is part of a new sermon series, called The Wrong Way to Be Right. Over the next few weeks, we'll take a look at the human condition, why it's so hard to get along, and how we might work through our differences with new insight.