Why Mothers Judge One Another
Last week, I had the good fortune to spend time with my friend Jennifer Jao, whose story appears in The Missional Mom. She is a physician and a research fellow at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, and she was back in Chicagoland with her two girls while her husband Greg attended the Lausanne Congress gathering in Capetown, South Africa. We met at a nearby “Little Monkey Bizness,” a paradise for children with all manner of amusements such as a huge bouncy house and other indoor play equipment. At first, we were the only ones there, so our kids had the run of the place, and they were having a great time. While they played, we chatted about motherhood and about how easy it is to judge other moms, as well as judging ourselves when we fall short of the ideals we have in our minds about what it means to be the perfect mother.
Right after I said the words, “None of us can compare our experiences to that of another mom, so we have to give each other grace,” a group of two additional mothers and their kids came to the facility. It became apparent within one minute of the new children’s arrival that the dynamic amongst the kids was going to radically change. The two newcomers were both loud, rough boys, who proceeded to interact with our kids with unprovoked hitting and punching. We asked them not to do so; their mothers came and told them the same. But still the behavior continued.
Despite what I had just uttered minutes earlier, I found myself defaulting to blaming the parents in my mind. Why haven’t they taught their children that hitting isn’t appropriate behavior? Why aren’t their admonitions to their kids not taking any effect? Why don’t they do more than just walk away and leave their kids to continue the same actions? I’d just violated my own words about not judging other parents. And we moms tend to do this automatically, whether it’s seeing other children whose behavior we dislike for whatever reason, or seeing the lifestyles of other moms that we don’t personally agree with. It is so very easy to fall into the trap of saying “Why aren’t they parenting or mothering the way I am?”
True, there are parents who are negligent and who make poor or even harmful choices that have long-term effects on their children or others. But I’m thinking more about the typical Christian mom, who is striving to do her best and yet who is never perfect, because who amongst us is? Even in my best intentions, I know that I err in my parenting ALL the time. But sometimes I think we jump to judgment in our evaluation of other moms because somewhere deep down, doing so helps us to feel better about our own parenting and choices. We are constantly looking for ways to affirm ourselves that whatever choices and decisions we’ve made in our lives and in our mothering are the right ones.
Here is the principle I strive to embrace when it comes to the wide swath of questions that we face as women and mothers regarding our lifestyles and choices–we are each on our own unique journey, and we have to make our own unique decisions. Whether it’s about celebrating Halloween or not, working part- or full-time or not, disciplining children one way or not, homeschooling or not…the list goes on and on…our choices are made in the context of our own particular family and ultimately the only test that matters is whether we sense the Lord’s favor and affirmation for the choices we’ve made. Sometimes I need to remind myself of this principle when reality strikes!
After I rounded up the boys and we said our farewells to Jennifer and her girls, we headed home. The boys were chattering excitedly about how they were able to use their nascent karate skills to defend themselves against the other boys, and we used the incident to talk about what it means to “love your enemies.” Our kids decided that since we would likely never see the boys again, we could “love” them by praying for them, which they did. And as they said their childlike prayers of faith, I did the same for the mothers of those boys, that God would bestow a blessing on their families and help them to honor Him in all they did. I will never know what is occurring in the family that is causing their children to attack other kids. But, I am going to give those moms the benefit of the doubt, that they are doing the best they can, and that they could use all the heavenly help they can get, because I know that when I have parenting struggles, that’s how I feel. In the end, doing so felt much better than just trying to judge them.
Do you ever feel as though you either experience judgment or you default to judging other moms? I’d welcome your comments and stories.