Judgment is that little pill I pop to help me feel better about myself. A few years back I took my then 8-year-old daughter to her soccer practice. I was setting up my soccer-mom chair and she was sitting next to me putting on her soccer shoes. And then it happened. I turned to see a dad screaming in his daughter’s face. “You are driving me CRAZY! You are not listening to anything I say! I don’t know why I do anything for you! You are IMPOSSIBLE! Get your stuff. We are not staying for practice!” There was not one person on the team or at the park for that matter who had not heard the eruption and who did not see what followed, a sobbing little girl and a dad the color of a tomato breathing like he had just run a marathon. And then in the next moment, everyone looked away like it had not happened. My daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, will you kick the soccer ball with me?” I said yes, I walked with her a few steps and we began kicking the ball.
As I kicked the ball my thoughts went something like this, “Wow! I can’t believe he just did that! What is the matter with him? That poor little girl! What a bummer to have a dad like that” I had just popped my judgment pill. In that moment I felt good about myself because I was not a “bad” parent like him. But as quickly as the pill went down it came right back up. If I was going to be really honest, I was him. I had yelled at my children in frustration, so why was I judging him? I was judging him because in that one moment, I wasn’t the yelling parent. In that one moment, everything was okay in my parenting world. In that one moment I felt good about myself. And that is why we judge.
I am not perfect, nor should I be. I am trying my best and so is everyone else. When I judge I am only seeing part of their story; I am only seeing one chapter, one sentence, one word, when in reality there is a lifetime of many stories that I don’t see. When I judge a parent I don’t know that she woke up to a crying child who was scared to go to school because of bullying. I don’t know that he is working three jobs to pay the bills. I don’t know that she struggles everyday to look in the mirror because she feels ugly and overweight. I don’t know that she is emotionally drained from a marriage that is barely surviving, I don’t know that he is suffering from depression and is doing everything in his power to make it through the day and I don’t know that she simply has had an incredibly stressful day. And then in a fragile moment, this parent yells at their child in front of everyone and becomes the target of judgment. The ironic part is I am judging these parents not because of their stories, but because of mine. If I feel like a bad parent, if I feel ugly or stupid, if my child is struggling, if I feel insecure for any reason, it is much easier to judge somebody else’s mishaps than my own. It is a psychological high at the expense of another and while it might feel good in the moment, it doesn’t feel good for long.
I began to realize that it goes both ways. If instead of judging the man at the park I had given him the look of, “Hang in there. This parenting thing can be really challenging at times! I know because I have been where you are.” I would have given myself permission to be empathetic when I was making a poor choice, when I was feeling ugly or stupid or when I was insecure for any reason. And so I began to walk down the road of awareness.
I watched my reactions when I saw others parent and I watched my reactions when I parented and slowly I traded in my prescription of judgment for empathy. Now don’t get me wrong, I might completely disagree with what I am seeing, I might be frustrated and angry, but I can still be empathetic. I can put myself in their shoes because while my moments might look different and my stories are not the same, I have experienced the glare of a bad choice, the whispers of judgment and that feeling inside when I am not having a good day. If I can be more accepting of others, I can be more accepting of myself and if I am more accepting of myself, I can be more accepting of others. And this psychological high feels good for a very long time.