I posted this on my Facebook yesterday and had a request to publish it has a blog. Here’s the original:
A friend of mine shared, courageously and honestly, a post about parenting today. It reminded me, all too much, of some of my own parenting battles and baggage. I had my kids young and know many of my friends are still in the baby/toddler/preschool years. I hope reading what I am about to say will bring some comfort and sanity to the chaos that children are.
First, I need to offer my heart-felt apologies to anyone and everyone I have ever judged or critiqued on their parenting. I have at times used other people’s bad moments to not feel so bad about my own. I am sorry. Very, very sorry. I turned my pain into criticism when it should have become compassion. (With the exception of the time I called the school and filed a report after my child came home worried about a girl in his class being abused at home. I’m not sorry for that.)
It has become a trend to publicly shame parents and children. But guess what, did God make any of us perfect? I have great kids. I do my very best to be a good-enough mom. But they fail and screw-up and I fail and screw-up. We are not perfect people. There is no shame in kids acting like kids. There is no shame in needing help and support in dealing with kids acting like kids.
There will always be people judging and criticizing, teasing and advising, guilting and shaming. And we all have the reflex to be embarrassed, even mortified by our children’s bad behavior, poor manners, and childish ways. I know. I’ve stood there and wished to melt into the floor as my child made a scene. I’ve grabbed a sticky little hand and dragged a child to a private corner for a strong reprimand. I’ve walked out of family gatherings with a screaming toddler in my arms. I’ve avoided public places to avoid public humiliation. I’ve listened while people reported on every single time my child was less than angelic. I’ve gotten calls from the principals’ and nurses’ offices. I’ve breastfed in public and been shamed. I’ve fed carrot sticks and appleslices in public and been shamed. I’ve fed McDonald’s and lunchables in public and been shamed. I’ve had gossip about my kids come back around to me. I’ve given time outs and scoldings. I’ve given hugs and back-pats. I’ve wiped noses and butts.
Raising kids is hard, and doubly hard for those of us doing it alone. It’s both the most rewarding and most exhausting challenge we can rise to. None of us are ever truly ready for children, it’s always a leap of faith. And in return for that leap we get a powerful little glimpse of how God sees us. We learn to love unconditionally and cherish efforts that fall flat. We love those ugly pictures and macaroni-glued-to-soup-can gifts. In our eyes they are beautiful and special. We know why one penny from a poor widow is such a precious gift, know it in our hearts. We also know it does take a village. We don’t need shame, we need support. We don’t need criticism, we need compassion.
Yes, my kids can be wicked little stinkers. I know this. No one needs to tell me, I’m already worried about it enough. Yes, I am a “bad mom.” No one needs to tell me that either. And so, for all my friends with kids, try not to worry about kids being kids. Try not to worry about “what will people think?” Try not to worry about what anyone thinks. I know it’s hard. Kids bite and hit, kick and scream. They pick their noses and then shake hands. Or the refuse to shake hands at all. They talk too much or they don’t talk. They laugh too loud or they pout too long. They slip a pack of gum from the candy rack or they break a friend’s toy. They talk back and they tell tall tales. They use swear words and they write on walls. And they’re guaranteed to do it at the worst moment in front of the worst people when you’re already tired and stressed.
It’s OK. You’re not alone. I’ve been there. And I’ll be there. And I’m so, so sorry for ever, in anyway, contributing to that culture of judgement and guilt. Let’s say enough is enough. We are all doing the best we can, the best we know how, the best with the support available to us. We don’t have to be perfect and our kids don’t have to be perfect.
For the fellow mom-in-the-trenches with the aggressive toddler: thank you and don’t be embarrassed. None of us has absolute control over our children and they aren’t reflections of us. They are their own little-people, made in God’s image and capable of both great kindness and great rudeness. We do the best we can to train them and trust that God’s got the rest. They’re really His children anyways. If I can share one thing I’ve learned in ten years of this mom-thing it’s that worrying about what people think is a recipe for disaster. The people who matter will love you and him when you’re both at your very worst. The rest of them are probably only criticizing your parenting because it helps them ignore their own insecurities. I love you for your courage and vulnerability in sharing where you are and your feelings about it.
I want to add to this that the people pointing the fingers, whispering, glaring, teasing, criticizing, judging; they need compassion and love, too. They don’t mean to spread their own misery and fear. The things they do and say are a reflection of their own childhoods and how they see God. They haven’t yet learned to turn the pain into compassion, that irritation into empathy, that anger into understanding. They don’t understand how it is that no one knows guilt like a mother does. It is hard, terribly hard, to turn the other cheek and simultaneously protect a child from harm. I don’t know how to do this myself. But I know my children are watching me and I need to learn.