Build a Bridge, Not a Wall

As mothers, it’s so easy to want our children to reflect how well we are doing, or how healthy we are, or what a great job we are doing as parents. Our kids successes, how present they are, how they can look someone in the eye, shake a hand, seem compassionate or empathetic looks good on us, makes us feel good, makes us feel like we are doing a good job.

People saying wow your kids are amazing gives us validation that we are on the right path, or doing it right. I remember when my boys were little and sitting at a table and a woman remarked that my children were so well-behaved, and she noted that it was so rare to see children that well-behaved. I remember my back going up, prickling a bit. They were quiet and that worked for her, but quiet is not always good. Let us not equate quiet with good.

I remember running into a friend of mine when my first son was born and I was strolling through our neighborhood with my baby in a sling; she had her son with her who was 3 at the time. He was autistic and she looked at me and said, “People will tell you how great it is that your child is quiet. They’ll validate you about how good your child is.” She said, “I heard that all the time with my baby, and it ended up being a sign that things weren’t right.”  With tears in her eyes she said “Never equate being quiet with being good.”

I heard her. I took it in. Transmission from one mother to another.

Another story: I flew in an airplane once where a little girl was having a really hard time. She and her family had been traveling from Australia, and this last 5-hour flight was just too much for this toddler. As she thrashed about and everybody shook their heads and judged her, and as the mother (who was holding a very young baby was trying to get that baby down and the other one who wanted her mom was out of her mind), I felt so much compassion for her. We have all been there. Recognize that the other person is you. I wanted to get up and say to all the people on the plane that were shaking their heads, covering their ears, throwing dirty looks back at this family: Recognize the other person is you.

The older generation doesn’t understand why our kids are so loud, they think that they don’t have any manners. “They aren’t how we were,”  they think, or, “We wouldn’t let them get away with that.” I want to say to them: it’s different! It’s a different time, please stop judging. Look through the eyes of compassion or you will misunderstand the times. (Another sutra of the aquarian age). And then, on the airplane, as I was judging these people for judging the crying child, I had to do the same: I had to have compassion for them. And this cycle continually goes back and forth.  

I asked the parents if I could read a book to their child. My daughter and I were reading that incredible Dr. Seuss story about the goldfish that gets overfed. And when the little girl saw the picture in the book, she calmed down—it was a miracle. I felt so grateful to be able facilitate that for the parents. She sat on my lap, and in another miraculous moment, my own child (who was also only 3 at the time) made room for her. And then she fell asleep on me for the whole flight. I said to the dad, “If you’re comfortable with it, go to sleep. I’ll watch her, and if she needs you, i’ll wake you.” He said, “Are you sure?” and I said, “It’s a gift for me. Honestly, it’s a gift for me.”

On the return flight from that trip, my daughter was the one thrashing about, crying loudly, and I saw the judgement. I didn’t want to look at my child that way, I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable … I didn’t want that. I thought we were through this. But I softened. I softened and decided it didn’t matter what anybody thought of my child. It didn’t matter what anyone thought about my parenting. And we made it through.

Is it a bridge toward my child or is it a wall that I’m building? These are the words I say to myself day in and day out with my 7-year-old, my 11-year-old, my teenager. Am I creating a wall or am I building a bridge? Sometimes I’m building a wall because, hey,  I’m not perfect. Sometimes I get stuck in the story, or sometimes I get stuck in wishing it were another way. But thankfully I have the tools to soften; and then I remember. Sometimes i’m a day late, or an hour late, or a week late … but ultimately I find it. And with one soft piece at a time, I build that bridge.