I was listening to a conversation of two women in a waiting room last week. I was sitting just a few chairs away, their words loud enough I could hear as if I was sitting in their circle. I gathered the two were new friends, they spoke of shared common friendships and had both had a child graduate this year. One mom was sharing her concern over her 27-year-old daughter who was struggling. I saw her face. She was embarrassed, her eyes mirrored the worry in her heart. She took a chance sharing in this waiting room, with this woman. I could see her hesitate … should she tell her story? Her daughter wasn’t working, she’d been consumed with anxiety and unable to hold a job. She hadn’t graduated college and she was dating a man who also didn’t have a job. Her daughter’s stepping stones weren’t made of college graduations, new apartments, bridal showers and weddings. No, they were made of mental health appointments, panic attacks and medications. My heart hurt listening to the recounting of the story, of a mother whose life’s work wasn’t turning out the way she’d hoped … just yet.
The woman who was “listening” turned and said, “Oh my goodness. Not in my house. My kids know, you will go to college. You will work. And my daughter is absolutely not dating someone who doesn’t work. She knows that. That’s ridiculous.” That’s ridiculous?
My heart sunk. For a moment I resisted my urge to turn and say something. To defend the mom with the sad eyes. The one sitting in her own anxiety, guilt and sadness that her daughter was struggling. I wanted to smack the “listener” upside the head – really? We are encouraging our kids daily to #choosekind and as adults, as women, as men, as mothers, as fathers … are we modeling #choosekind?
If you know me, you know I sometimes speak out of turn. I can be passionate and outspoken. My solidarity with the hurting momma got the best of me as I stood up to walk into the office for my appointment, “Pretty hard to control an adult even if it is your kid.” I said softly in their direction. I knew I was speaking out of turn — but I also know what it feels like to be the momma who was struggling. I couldn’t let it go.
Parenting is hard. It’s no bullshit. It doesn’t matter if it’s a newborn, a toddler, a 5th grader, a sophomore in high school or a junior in college. It’s. Hard.
You know what makes it harder?
“My kids would never …”
“My kids know better …”
“Not in my house!”
“Too bad that kid’s parents don’t know how to parent.”
“I would never allow …”
That’s what makes it harder.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. ~Unknown
That makes it easier.
While we are busy imploring our kids to be the nice kids, the ones who are includers and who comfort others, the ones who help and speak up, the ones who use empathy and share with their friends … are we showing them? Are we guiding them by example of what is kind?
To be fair, I don’t think the “listener” intended to be unkind. I have “listened” and responded in an equally hurtful way. I had provided my opinion and voiced my thoughts in ways that were not helpful and judgmental at best. I have been the one belittling someone while being certain they knew my way was right. If I’m honest, not because I actually thought I was right, but because I was afraid to be wrong. Because the fact of the matter is, we are all doing the best we can but none of us know how it will turn out. And the thought of our life’s work not turning out in a way that provides us with pride, love, happiness, health and peace to us and our children is overwhelming.
I am trying to do better. I am trying to provide inquiry, invite discussion and listen to more than just words. To hear a person’s eyes, to watch her hands twist and to give her a place to find a common sense of worry. To let her (or him) know that they aren’t alone–that every child (no matter how perfect they seem to you on the outside or to the world on snapchat) has challenges. Every child causes stress and makes mistakes. Every. Single. One.
A couple of weeks ago I had some comments on a blog post I made that upset me. They were less than kind and frankly, insulted my parenting. I wasn’t sure where they came from. I didn’t think my words had invited them –but I began to doubt myself, my work, my blog. Until someone messaged me – she’d read the words and said, “Those comments have nothing to do with you. I don’t know what it has to do with, but it has nothing to do with you.”
It would be nice if separating your feelings with an academic understanding that hurtful things being said to you and about you are rarely what they seem on the outside was second nature. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.
Keeping that in mind after I listened to the conversation in the waiting room — I reminded myself that saying “Not in my house.” was likely meant to cover an anxiety that in fact she wasn’t sure it wouldn’t happen in her house. Because somehow it’s okay to say … “I’ve got this handled better than you” instead of being vulnerable and saying “The shit is hitting the fan at your house, too?”.
So the next time you feel the need to be judgmental … #choosekindparentingversion.
Listen. Not listen to respond, listen to understand. Listen with no intent on fixing the problem but with the intent to provide empathy. I suck at it. Not gonna lie. But I’m trying.
And, for goodness’s sake stop saying …
“My kid would never …” or any version thereof.