It’s Easy Until It Happens To You

Each of us goes into this with opinions–so many opinions. Not just about parenting but about other parents. Parents who let their kids have lots of screentime. Parents of kids with “ADHD.” Divorced parents. Parents who ply their kids with soda and sugary cereals to get them to behave. Because we think we know better, or at least we’re confident that we know “the right way” to do things.

But perfect parenting is a dream, a fantasy. How it really goes is more like that old Mike Tyson expression: everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. Parenting is an exercise in taking punches from all corners, from forces that are largely out of your control. No parent’s plan for their child survives contact with the enemy, as military strategists might put it. Which means your opinion about their plan is even more worthless.

In her book, Mary Laura Philpott tells the story of an article she’d written years before she had children, that reviewed a book about kids who were picky eaters. Must be tough, she thought. But there was a part of her that didn’t really sympathize with the parents’ predicament, a part that suspected it was probably their fault. That perspective changed, she writes, when her kids developed their own medical issues (as we wrote about recently). “I had no experience,” she says, “with the panic that rises in the human heart when it’s your job to take care of someone, but despite your best efforts, they can’t or won’t respond to your care.”

Parenting is a process of being humbled. Of getting punched in the face, getting knocked down, and getting back up to do it all over again. It’s a process of having your own ignorant, arrogant opinions handed back to you as karma.  Knowing this, we should be a lot less judgmental about how other people parent their kids. We should be a lot less opinionated about things we have yet to experience. Because the very thing we judge so harshly may be the thing we have to deal with as we struggle through raising our children with patience and kindness and love.

Until you’ve been through it, you just don’t know. You don’t know how hard it’s going to be. And you have no idea how hard people are trying. But make no mistake, they are trying. You should try just as hard to withhold judgment and have some grace.

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