Yesterday, a friend posted a link to a story in the Huffington Post, which was about the writer having judged parents she knew, before she herself had kids. Now that she has children, she realizes that all of her ideals, formed from lots of reading, just don’t happen all the time in the real lives of parents. She realizes that she doesn’t know what else is going on in the Mom’s day when she gives a seemingly harsh response to her child, or lets her young child watch t.v., or feeds her child chicken nuggets and fries. She is seeing a snapshot and was making judgements based on just that.
That got me thinking about how easy that is to do and how I have been on both sides of this. I sometimes judge others without knowing the full story and I have also felt judged by people around me, who didn’t know me or the events that were occurring at the time. This reminded me of the countless conversations I’ve had recently with my girls. During various experiences lately (movies, twirling events, walking around town, in restaurants, etc), we have observed the actions of others (either on the screen or in real life) and the girls have asked me if a particular person is mean. My answer is always very similar to the last time. What the person did seemed to be not very nice, but we do not know what else is going on with that person, how he/she normally is, or what he/she was feeling at the time of the action. Even nice people do not-so-nice things sometimes. So, we can’t really say whether the person is mean or not, unless we really know him/her.
With characters in shows or movies, it’s a little easier to discuss the motives of the action and to determine where the character’s response was coming from. It’s also often a little more clear-cut. Some movie/show characters are mean, because dramas have to have a villain of some sort. Others are just normal people responding to their situation, maybe not in the best way. Others make great decisions (but of course, my girls don’t ask if those people are mean; we do try to discuss those, too).
Watching shows and movies with my girls gives me the opportunity to not only spend quality time with them, but to discuss issues of behavior and good decisions with them at a time when it’s not their behavior in question. It gives us the chance to talk about options and better ways to handle things. It also gives us the chance to talk about how others feel. Gray areas are so hard to teach, but these discussions have been a good way for us to try to do just that.
Of course, there are some absolutes in behavior and we talk about that, too. There are no excuses for abusing anyone. Other behaviors also fall into this category. And there are times that one needs to intervene (at least by calling for help).
But we cannot determine whether or not a person is mean simply from the fact that she raised her voice when her child whined. This kid may have been screaming for the last three hours. This mom may have just had a fight with her husband. Her car may have broken down this morning. She may have just lost her job. We don’t know. We just know that her response seemed like it maybe wasn’t the best one. Haven’t we all been there?
It’s hard being a parent, with all the juggling we do and with all the things we have to teach our kids, by example and through discussion. Perhaps, teaching our kids not to pass judgement too quickly, harshly, or unfairly, but also to know when a behavior is unacceptable, is one of the hardest.