A few of my Twitter followers asked that I elucidate on ten lists I’d turned out recently. Here goes with the first list: “Things That Make Parenting Easier”, based off my ten-plus years being a devoted and hard-working parent. I hope you find it helpful. That is the only point of this post. To help those who could use it.
Each post will have a picture from my life, my day, when I wrote the post. So from today: here’s my daughter Phoenix. She’s going to grow up to be a Furry, I think. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That. #LOL
#1. Stop judging other parents; stop being self-critical. Both are self-obsessed behaviors.
“Stop judging” usually runs into one of two quagmires right off the bat. The first is, “What do you mean don’t judge, we all make judgments, I have the right to decide what’s best for myself/my family/my kids,” blah blah blah.
So about choices. Just this week I’ve chosen many times over, at any given moment, whether to clean my house, play with my kids, work volunteer hours, cook homemade fare, build my garden, pet or walk my dog, exercise, have a date with my husband, visit friends, sew, write, rest. Et cetera. Each time I chose one thing I couldn’t very well do the others. This is life. It happens.
So let’s drop the pretense. We all discren and we all make choices. We’re all doing the best we can on any given day, and we all make mistakes. No one is free from making mistakes, from having wrong perceptions, from being driven by fear and anger. We can only demonstrate our will, our uniqueness, or what Viktor Frankl called “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” in how we respond to our anger, fear, our mistakes. Some of us have a sense of humor, humility, and openness about these things; some of us, less so. I’m hoping this post restores or imparts humility, humor, and courage. These are all traits accessible to every single human being.
There’s a second speedbump in mainstream culture when we talk about unlearning judgment. For those of us brought up Nice White Lady (*raises hand*), we interpret the pop-culture mag articles about not-judging to mean merely the outward appearance of civility. In other words, “keep your opinions but keep them quiet, merely dropping hints in public, and finding those who’ll share in your hatred and judgment when you want to be more open about it all. OUT LOUD judgment or judgment voiced in the wrong company is Mean & Nasty, a social gaffe.”
Just: No. Keeping nasty comments to yourself is a start; but it’s the inner voices that will hurt you and then necessarily, hurt others. Those perceptions and judgments will construct pitfalls for other parents, for children, and for yourself. You will fall on the sword you install. Every time. And P.S., you aren’t making things easier for others when you live this way. This didn’t used to occur to me. It matters to me, today.
My experience informs me that judging other people (and finding them inferior, worthless, “bad”, et cetera) is our Ego’s response to Fear. That’s it. It’s that basic. I don’t like formula-feeding moms because I’m upset to think of babies who aren’t getting the best upbringing/nurture/nutrition etc. I hate pro-lifers because they oppress women and their hate frightens me. I can’t stand Christians because I was hurt by my family/the church and they’ve made me feel inferior! While I relate, I understand, and I’ve been there, for me a Fear-driven way of life is not a quality way of life.
Our strategies need never be informed by Hate and Fear; they are more intelligent and skillful when they are not. It’s kind of sad that when it comes down to it, many of us are trying to save our own skin, or telling the world, “I can’t deal with the suffering of others, so everyone needs to behave.” Once I recognize these drives within myself the whole thing falls apart and I can proceed with a great deal more intelligence, compassion, kindness, strength, and courage. To be honest, when I realize this is where I come from, I usually have a laugh about it and talk it over with someone.
I don’t have an antidote to Fear to impart here. Personally, I had to have a spiritual, moral, mental, and emotional breakdown, and be built back up brick-by-brick, which is where I found faith – I discovered the possibility to live a spiritual life. That’s just me, though. It actually wasn’t as bad as it sounds. OK, it was pretty rough. But I’m here today and today I have Faith. Faith has enabled me to participate in the world, to change the world for the better when I can. I no longer need to put myself in a box, to not be friends with so-and-so because she does this Naughty thing, to stay up late being Right on the internet, to Other other people. Et cetera.
If you don’t like the concept of Faith or spirituality, by all means substitute ethics or principles or values. Do not allow my experience and the rituals that help me, be an unnecessary impediment to your life.
One thing helps me here is fluidity. When I see a father scolding and yanking his son’s arm, I don’t think “What a monster” today. I know that man is all out of better ideas. It hurts him to hurt his son but he has no better option. I’ve been that harsh and hurtful parent. I can walk up to that man and say, “Can I help you?” I can let him know I see him hurting someone and I won’t let it continue, but I see him hurting too. I don’t have Fear like I used to.
I have a dear friend who found the St. Francis Prayer very effective. She told me it kept her from practicing all her bad habits and allowed her to supplant them with better ones. The prayer reads:
- Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
- Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
- Where there is injury, pardon.
- Where there is doubt, faith.
- Where there is despair, hope.
- Where there is darkness, light.
- Where there is sadness, joy.
- O Divine Master,
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
- to be understood, as to understand;
- to be loved, as to love.
- For it is in giving that we receive.
- It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
- and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
It is very brave to live this way. Many cannot bring themselves to do it. I am not a Catholic, but I find this prayer to be a wonderful reflection. These principles help me to minister to others, instead of building up my Ego and my sense of righteous indignation. When I see something that makes me angry (in other words, that frightens me), I am less likely to go on the offensive with MY way of seeing things, MY practices, MY life. Today I know I am not helping others when I clobber them with my judgment, words, and actions, and when I put the nail in the coffin of being Right. These new strategies (relatively new to me, anyway) have helped me a great deal. I can ministrate with kindness in public, and feel compassion and experience Presence. When I am troubled by something, I can respond with more clarity. If I need to, I can talk with an understanding friend who has less Ego at stake than the so-called offending party (or the person, edifice, or principle that disturbed me). Egos shouting at one another, well, we all know what that looks like.
I didn’t change quickly, or all that happily. It cost me a great deal to live the way I used to. Ultimately I found resentment, judgment and fear made me too sick. Just: very, very ill. They make me ill today if I rehearse them.
I hope you’ve come to see that judging others and self-criticism go hand and hand. It is not possible to live with one but not the other. Both are steeped in arrogance. Both only seek to grow the Ego, the Self, the personality. They do nothing to reduce our anxiety, increase our usefulness. If nothing else, know a thought like, “I’d never be caught out like that,” “I wouldn’t tolerate that from MY kid”, “what shitty parents”, et cetera is going to hurt you later. There is no if, and or but about it. It’s going to hurt you later, and it hurts you today, even if you don’t know it. It hurts other people too.
It really is okay to say, “This scares me, and it hurts me.” It works wonderfully to say this, to know this, instead.
Tomorrow: Tip #2, Do what feels right but is scary. A mistake here & there is better than a stifled life.