Nine years ago, while following my two and three year-old boys around the park, I was shocked by the complete lack of manners of a group of young children who just joined us on the slide.
At least my children knew their please’s and thank you’s I thought, congratulating myself on a mothering job done well.
Jump forward two years and it dawned on me those children were not rude, but part of a special needs preschool class that visited the park on a regular basis—the same class that my youngest son ended up attending. Talk about payback.
Looking back, I probably could have figured out that these kids were special, but I was too busy boosting my insecurities as a mother to realize that something else might be going on. I now know, after years of chasing my autistic son when he grabs someone’s drink or steals a toy, you can’t judge a situation until you really know what’s going on.
The truth is we’re all doing the best we can each and every day. And no matter what we do, chances are one or more of our kids will end up on a therapist’s couch. There’s no manual on being a good parent. Sure, there are plenty of books about toddler tantrums, teaching kids self-esteem, learning how to talk so kids will listen, etc.
The best parenting advice I ever got was from my oldest son’s teacher (herself a mother with older children). She said, “Just tell them you love them every single day.” And forget about what every other parent is doing. Most of all, never ask the question, “What’s wrong with those parents?”
I certainly am no angel when it comes to judging others. Sometimes I do it to excuse my own bad decisions. Other times I do it to cover for letting my kids watch inappropriate movies and play video games for hours on end. And then there are days when I’m just feeling sorry for myself for having a special needs son (who, despite not talking, has given me this gift of wisdom).
So I’d like to propose a truce. No more judging. Instead let’s pay it forward. Smile at the parents whose kid keeps kicking your seat on the plane. Hold a door for the mother wrestling with her toddler. Call your friend and offer support when her son gets suspended. Trade gossip for empathy. And never wait for Mother’s Day to tell your mom and friends, “Job well done, no matter what.”