Once when riding a train in Japan with my husband, 15 month old daughter and my 6 month pregnant belly, I was on the receiving end of that delightful thing called judgement. My daughter was exhausted, and while we had a little pram for her, she had been in it for most of the day, so we let her out of it while we were on the train. She was really tired and despite our best efforts, she was inconsolable. So Paul was trying to calm her down by holding her, rocking her, whatever he could do. I would normally have done this for a while too, but it had been a long day, and my body was tired. There were two non English speakers (clearly not Japanese people either) sitting across from us on the train, and while I couldn’t understand all they said, I did catch some Japanese words that they used. More importantly though, I caught the glances, the hushed whispers and the darting looks of judgement across the train. They offered me some food (a small packet of small crunchy things!) for Heidi, which I refused up to 4 times before giving in, and smiling politely, received it from them. Very reluctantly I let Heidi have some. Let me say, we did have food for her, but knew she wasn’t hungry, but just exceptionally tired. After an initial interest, Heidi then spat it all out. As horrible as it sounds, I did a little internal jig! We may have only been sitting across from them for 15 minutes, but the way they were suggesting to one another, “Why doesn’t she do this? Why is the Father holding her? Surely the Mother should comfort the baby?”, I was quietly seething with rage. And let me just say, I don’t anger too easily. I often have to think for quite some time to remember the last time I was angry. So for me this was big. Let’s just say that when we got off the train, Paul was concerned that he had done something really wrong. I’m pretty sure he sighed with relief when he learned my anger was directed elsewhere.
Somehow parenting has become one of the most keenly debated topics of society today. Dummies, bottles, ‘breast is best’, slings, prams, cloth vs disposable, sleeping through, control crying – the list goes on! There are many contentious issues regarding parenting that it can be hard to find your way and when books contradict one another, different parents experience different things, and everyone else seems to know what is right, unfortunately judgement is rife. Add in cross cultural differences, generation gaps and linguistic barriers, and it’s any wonder those ladies on the train in Japan had something to say to my apparently horrendous parenting skills!
In some ways judgement is understandable. If parents are making informed, considered decisions on the way they raise their children, many times parents have chosen one option over another. And let’s face it, as human beings, our default position is that our choice is the right choice. Of course I think it’s right to (insert parenting issue here), otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen it! But does my ‘right’ choice mean that your choice is, in fact, ‘wrong’? Why has parenting become a matter of right and wrong? Of course, there are some things which should have no grey areas. Child abuse, be it physical, emotional or sexual, is always wrong. But for the most part, parents judging other parents is not about a huge concern for a child (although that can happen) but is primarily about feeling better about your own parenting decisions! Judging others can lead to an ego boost – “Look how poorly they are doing” translates as “Wow, I must really have it together!”
Like most sin, judging others is easy to justify, explain and permit. It makes us feel good while making others feel bad. It lifts ourselves up, while dragging others down (even if just in our own minds). Judgement on others and how they parent is not living by the fruit of the Spirit. Yes, discernment of our own parenting styles is important. Yes, we will be different to others. And yes, we should be concerned about the welfare of others. But as Philippians chapter 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Christ has shown us the ultimate example of humility, and it is that kind of humility that we are to imitate. False humility is no good. I can’t pretend to think others are better than me, that’s just plain old patronising. We are to truly consider others better than ourselves. It’s not easy, and I by no means do this as I should. But it is what we must strive for. Judgement is also damaging because most of the time we don’t have the full picture. We’ve all done things in moments of pain or desperation that we would never normally do. But if that’s the only snippet that someone sees of you, what kind of judgement might be made? We don’t know of sicknesses, extended family worries, marriage struggles, work issues, LIFE issues – there is so much going on for everyone and often we can assume all is well when people are doing it tough. Instead of offering a listening ear and an understanding heart, we make a quick judgement based on an external thing like clothes or appearance or whether the child has a dummy or is eating a hot chip. It’s just not right.
Parenting is an ever changing, constantly evolving thing. Just as you think you have things figured out ‘for now’, everything changes again. None of us have it worked out completely. And we are all human and don’t know everything, all the time. But we can collaborate with one another, as parents, and share with each other, encourage one another and really understand one another. We are simply trying to do our best in a big, busy world where thankfully we have an even bigger, much more capable God who we can trust on and look to for help. Instead of judging one another, let’s remind one another of the humility and sacrifice of Christ, and of the work He has done. Let’s try and follow his example, and give sacrificially to those around us – humility and love are a great place to start as we discuss parenting in a godly way
Next time someone shares with me the struggles they are having with their children sleeping, instead of offering unsolicited advice, I might just offer to look after said bub while Mum has a sleep herself.
I love to hear from those of you who read my blog, so if you have a moment, please feel free to comment and share some ideas of how we could encourage (and practically help) one another in this difficult parenting game? Or perhaps you have experienced judgement in regards to your parenting: If so, what is something helpful that the ‘judger’ could have done instead? Thanks again to everyone who reads my posts – it’s very encouraging to me and I love being able to share some thoughts with you all!