As hard as I try to avoid making judgments of other parents, I must admit that I do.
I’m particularly hard on parents when I hear or read about children being put in dangerous situations as a result of, in my judgment, poor parenting.
So, in September, when I heard the national news talk about a young Florida toddler dying after being left in a hot car by his father, I immediately said, “That guy should be put in jail!”
How could any decent father do that, right?
I hadn’t thought about that tragedy until a note from my kids’ school came home. The flyer talked about a candlelight vigil being held in support of a local family experiencing an unthinkable tragedy. The green slip asked that participants come “free of judgment” for the impacted family’s circumstances.
The vigil, I learned, was being held for the family whose husband and father I had condemned to prison for leaving his son in a hot car not so long ago.
I felt immediately terrible.
I felt sick for their loss. I felt ashamed of having thrown a wet-blanket of parental judgment onto them. The fact that the family lived in my same community stopped me in my tracks – making the situation more personal and less black and white.
I still felt that the dad had to face lawful punishment, however, I stopped short of immediately dismissing him as a terrible parent who deserves to rot in jail.
When I gathered the context of this tragedy, I realized that this was an awful accident – a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of parenting on extreme auto-pilot. I learned that the father is a firefighter and, by all reports, a good man. My heart broke hearing that he tried to revive his lifeless son after realizing what had happened.
This context told me that serving jail time will pale in comparison to the self-imposed life sentence this father will, undoubtedly, place on himself.
I learned a valuable lesson: that context is important, especially in parenting. Without understanding the circumstances, there is no learning.
Tragedies don’t provide the only lessons.
Snap judgments are more pronounced when dealing with highly emotional situations, but are just as present in subtle, everyday interactions as well.
I can think of several, relatively minor, instances where I subconsciously judged fellow parents without context:
(1) I have judged the PTA-executive-super-mom as being a control-freak and poser. I should have, instead, respected her ability to juggle multiple priorities and volunteer commitments while raising great kids.
(2) Rather than being annoyed at the dad who energetically chases his kids around the park, I should ask him where he drums up such enthusiasm after a long day at work.
(3) If there are kids running wild in the produce aisle while a single parent hurriedly reaches for the bananas, I should resist the urge to lower my chin and head the other direction. I should offer to help rather than snicker at their lack of parental control.
Every parent is struggling with something – even if we’re smiling, even if our kids are happy.
We are all trying our best, so I’ll be quicker to comfort than to point.
I’m going to try to understand more and judge less.
After all, none of us are immune to being on the other side of such judgment.