This is my first contribution to Charleston Moms Blog and in the interest of full disclosure, my eight-year-old ran away today. Yup. He packed a cooler with a box of gluten-free granola bars, four apples and two 20 oz. Nalgene bottles of water. (At least he was thinking healthy.) He then put it in a rolling suitcase to make the journey easier. I found him, out of our neighborhood, a little while later. He looked a bit relieved, jumped in the car, and asked, “Mom, do you think this was idiotic?” To which I replied, “Wellll, I think you needed a better plan.” But I think I was talking to myself.
Ladies, do you feel like you are barely keeping your head above water? Like, at least once a day, you fail at something… miserably? Like you should be the one running away? Like, at some point, someone is going to call your bluff and realize you have no idea what you are doing? Most days I feel like I’m one step away from creating disaster, or being discovered, or maybe even monumental success.
The worst part of this whole debacle was not that my child ran away. I did not have one guilty feeling about being a terrible mom. I was not worried about him being abducted or getting lost. All I could think was, “what if someone I know sees him?” I was more concerned about being judged than the safety of my child. Something is wrong with that.
I realize part of this is my issue, but don’t you think we as moms need to BACK OFF?! Seriously. We can have our opinions, share them, differ…and still not judge. I can offer encouragement and a fresh perspective without making another mama feel like she has screwed up the next seven generations. I have been thinking about some things we can do differently as moms though.
How do we stop the judgments?
- Only offer advice when asked- There are just some things that are not crucial enough to make your business. Most of the time, we do not need to step in, unless we are asked. Is your mini-van better than hers? Or your brand of organic baby food superior? Or your ob/gyn the best on the planet? Maybe. But just wait until you are asked. There is no quicker way to make someone feel judged than having her choices scrutinized. And, if/ when you are asked, know that is is ok to say, “I don’t know.” Being honest is so important in every relationship.
- Speak from a place of experience- Let’s be honest, no one likes a know-it-all. The thing about one of those, is usually, they don’t know-it-all. A good, non-judgmental friend speaks only what she knows. Maybe you have a child with autism, or you have dealt with postpartum depression. Maybe you have a great birthday party idea, or you are in the process of scoping out assisted living facilities for an ailing parent. Whatever the case, share YOUR story and where you’ve been on YOUR journey.
- Be a learner- We, as women, need to listen better. Every one of us has a story. We do not walk through our lives without gaining knowledge to share with others. We need to be the “other” that hears and learns from each story. If we are busy “having it all figured out,” not only do we miss out, but that other woman’s moment goes unnoticed. And we judge. If we do not take a moment to sit with another, right where she is, judgment creeps in and drives a wedge.
- Know when to step in- One of the worst feelings is, “I saw she was struggling and didn’t say anything.” We have all had situations when we have kept our mouths shut for fear of saying the wrong thing. I have four friends that I affectionately call “my bridesmaids.” They are great listeners and learners. But they know exactly when enough is enough. These girls know when it is time for them to talk or question my choices. Or even question my state-of-mind. I feel quite sure, for better or worse, nothing will be left off the table with these ladies. And if I ever feel judged, it’s my fault. Everything that we speak to one another is out of love.
- Have enough relational collateral- Part of why it all works so well with “my bridesmaids” is that we have put in the time with one another. We have walked through death and birth, celebrations and tears. The more investment you have in a person’s life, the deeper the well you have to draw from. In other words, you can say harder, and more direct, things the more involved you have been in each other’s lives. Don’t try to coach a random woman at McDonald’s about breastfeeding. That, my friend, is judgement.
- Love in spite of the decision- Oh, how hard it can be to have a long-lasting relationship… been asked your opinion…spent hours and hours listening…and STILL have a friend make a choice you feel is not the best for them. Being able to love and accept the person, apart from their decision, comes from a place of maturity and self-confidence. We have to separate ourselves from the advice we give. (Wow! This is really hard to write in the midst of parental struggle. I am taking in my words right now.) This can even include loving the stranger in the grocery store line, as you check out what they have put in their basket. (Come on! You know you’ve done it!) You don’t know the whole story. We can appreciate them apart from 4 two-liters of soda and two bags of cookies.
Being a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, or a friend is hard enough. We need each other just to get through Wednesday, much less 83 years. What can we do to lighten someone’s load today? Maybe, just maybe, her eight-year-old has run away from home in a fit of manipulation and she needs encouragement, not a disapproving glance. Or her fourth round of IVF hasn’t worked and she needs a tissue, not advice. Or maybe, she gave her kids ice cream for dinner, just because, and she wants you to join in and not suggest a gourmet meal. Our words and our actions have the power of life and death. This year, let’s be life bringers.