One day over the summer I took the girls with me on a marathon of errands. It was not an ideal situation, but on that particular day I had no other choice. One of our stops was school supply shopping at Wal Mart. Charlotte’s behavior in the store had not be great and while I was loading my bags from the cart into the back of my mini van, I was talking to both girls about making sure they were good listeners at our future stops in order to earn their reward of protein-style burgers at In-n-Out.
During my lecturing and unloading multi-tasking, I noticed a man clearly eavesdropping as he slowly parked his cart in the cart corral next to our car. My mommy instincts kept me close to my car as he approached me and said he couldn’t help but overhearing the conversation I was having with my daughters. He continued to say that he was a parent and grandparent and that he had great success with this particular parenting book.
I heaved a sigh of relief and thanked him politely. As I quickly got in the car, buckled myself and drove away, I took a deep breath a felt a flood of emotions and feelings–Violated and Defensive. Shocked and Angry. I was upset that I hadn’t defended myself and my actions. I replayed the scene in my head where I retorted in anger that “My kids are my kids and mind your own business.” I was overwhelmed and stressed at having to continue the rest of my errands under this blanket of negative feelings.
I posted my experience on my personal Facebook page and received many warm messages of support. Many of them encouraging me to just let it go, and I did, for the most part. But the encounter got me thinking a lot about parenting and judgment.
As a parent and grandparent, the man in the parking lot felt that our shared experience as parents and his status as an elder or more experienced parent granted him the right to share a resource that had helped him achieve success in parenting. I can certainly understand the logic in that.
But what I have come to understand is that any of us who witness parenting in action on any given day have a choice to make. We can observe the interaction between the parent and the child and leave it at that. It’s like taking a picture–it’s a moment in time when the child needs the help of the parent to control impulses, stay safe, learn appropriate responses, etc. The same situation may look different tomorrow or even an hour from now, based on the temprement of the child, the patience level of the parent, or even the time of day.
Judgment comes in when we take our experiences and project them into the situation. Whether helpful or not, our personal parenting successes, fears, and triumphs can be whisked into the interaction we are witnessing and sometimes create a false and unncecessary need to help the arguably struggling parent.
What I realized about the encounter in the Wal Mart parking lot is that I have become uniquley adapted to handling judgment. I once naively believed that a child’s behavior was directly tied to how well they were parented and even how much they were loved. This theory was tested when Charlotte, at age 2, began sensory meltdowns and temper tantrums everywhere we went. I felt out of control and helpless and also judged by others and myself.
It has been years of therapy and hard work, but I have learned to silence the harmful thoughts of judgment in my own head. Charlotte’s behavior is not a direct reflection of my parenting or love. I have come to see any behavior as a moment in time when she is calling out for help or letting us know she’s feeling comfortable in her environment.
Last week I picked Charlotte up from school and had our first “rough day” report of the school year. While anxiety, fear and self judgment wanted to bang on the door and take me down, I was pleased to ultimately feel numb and disconnected from any judgment. I used the opportunity to begin a back and forth journal with her school staff, sharing information about what helps Charlotte at home. I included notes from our recent success–using key words like “warning” help her set boundaries and know that a consequence is coming if she continues he behavior. I let the staff know we were comfortable with reports of Charlotte’s poor behavior and its consequences.
The next week I spoke to Charlotte’s Occupational Therapist about a disinterest and resistance in certain activities. Again, I let the numbness and lack of my own judgment take hold of my thoughts. As we continued our conversation I was reminded of how she had recently behaved similarly at her summer ballet class. I spoke with Chad about it over the weekend and we began to put some big pieces of information together about Charlotte’s behavior when there’s a lack of stimulation or challenge.
After the yogurt experience earlier this month, I can clearly say that eating Paleo has improved her health in such a way that these patterns of behavior can be monitored and adjusted with our parenting. Had we not been eating a Paleo diet, the sensory issues, behavior issues, and sleep issues would be unsolvable mysteries, wearing down our energies and fueling more self doubt and judgment. We can now proudly say that own parenting triumphs include using Paleo as a tool to help our child, allowing fixable patterns of behavior to emerge. The success and rewards we see and feel everyday in the smiles and laughter of our children.
The experience in the parking lot sat deeply with me for a lot of reasons. I got so comfortable with not judging myself that I dropped my guard and let myself be judged by someone else. It stung to think that the man with the cart thought that I needed support or help in parenting my kids. Maybe my tone was too harsh or maybe my words not encouraging enough for his parenting style and his experience with his own children.
If I were to have that encounter again, I would have taken a step back from the harsh and shocking feelings of being judged and explained what I would write in my own parenting book. Parenting is a deeply personal experience. The way we care, love, and discipline our kids is uniquely ours. Please give me the freedom to find my own success and triumphs.