I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later, I was going to run into someone who would threaten to call the police on me for child endangerment.
I mean, the odds were not in my favor to raise four kids to adulthood without encountering someone who would take issue with the laissez-faire style of parenting we have chosen to embrace.
But that didn’t make it any easier to experience.
The details aren’t important, because the point is really what happened AFTER this woman said her piece, threw her hand in the air and refused to allow me to respond, and stormed off.
Predictably, I couldn’t sleep.
My hands shook for hours.
For three days, I questioned every single decision.
I became paranoid—not that some calamity would befall my children, but that someone would judge me and try to take them away because they didn’t like how I was raising them.
I could not enjoy the honor of having my manuscript make the finals of the WFWA Rising Star contest, because I was too busy questioning whether I was a Bad Mother for writing the book in the first place.
For three days, I couldn’t even talk about it with anyone except Christian, who happened to witness the whole thing, because I was terrified of being told I was wrong and I had to become That Parent. I cannot be That Parent, the one who freaks out about ev.er.y.thing. I do not have the emotional stamina for it. I know how I handle anxiety. Me being that parent would be good for no one, least of all my kids.
And the thing that has stuck with me, this whole week, was that this woman knew nothing at all about me. She gave herself permission to be accuser, judge, jury, and executioner, with no defense allowed. It was—like sarcasm—the antithesis of mercy.
I will admit it: I’m no paragon of virtue when it comes to giving other parents the benefit of the doubt. But being on the other side of things made me realize how damaging it is to a human being to act in this way. We don’t know what’s going on in the lives of the people we are judging.
Christian tells this story about a kid at church, who was way too big to be lying across the pew, standing on the pew, making loud noises/talking, completely out of control, and his parents not stepping in at all. He says that even though his first reaction was to judge, or to step in and say something himself, his experience with Julianna stopped him. Because through Julianna we’ve been exposed to kids who look like every other kid, but who are anything but neurotypical. Some of those kids can’t NOT act that way. It’s not the parents’ fault, and if we impose these snap judgments, and yell at the parents, all we do is isolate them, make them feel even more alone in their struggles than they already are. Drive them away from the communities they most need for the emotional support they need in order to be—gasp—good parents.
Even when the kids are out of line, or the parents are allowing something we think is inappropriate on some level or another, it’s so…cruel–immoral, even–to leap to the conclusion that they are unfit to be a parent. Some days, there was a thunderstorm at 4:30 a.m. and the night was cut short by comforting a terrified child. Some days, the kids have been fighting all day and a parent is too worn out and worn down to pick the particular battle you witness. Some days, there are deep stresses that have a mind preoccupied–stresses you have no idea of.
And even if you feel you can’t walk away from what you’re seeing, the response of mercy is not to swoop in brandishing a cell phone like a weapon, threatening to call the police. The response of mercy is to figure out what’s going on and see if there’s a reason this is happening. What if that parent is desperate for help, and you just pushed her over the edge? What if that parent has just lost her home and her job, and is standing there trying to figure out how she’s going to provide for her children?
I’m not saying anything new here. This entire calendar year, I’ve been coming back to the same idea again and again: that mercy is about an open heart and mind—about “entering into the chaos of others”. That to judge others is, in fact, to turn our backs on mercy altogether.
But there’s just something so crystal clear about it all, here on the wrong side of an encounter that was handled 100% without mercy.