When I said that I was running a conference and getting ready to go on stage and couldn’t get to the school before school let out for the day, the assistant high school principal told me that maybe it was time I made my son my priority.
She has no idea.
She has no idea about the changes I made in my life to be more available for my youngest, who is twice exceptional and has had a very difficult time navigating the innane structure we call public school. She has no idea how difficult it was for me to make the decision to go to work after being a stay-at-home mom for well over a decade. She has no idea the number of hours I volunteered when my older kids were in school, or how many of those hours were spent volunteering my own time answering phones in the very office where she now sits every day. She has no idea of my own heartbreak when I would arrive home from my part-time job at 3 AM on a Sunday morning to find my youngest asleep, curled up in a ball on cold tile near the garage door, where he would wait for me until he fell asleep. She doesn’t know that it was his inability to cope with my job that motivated me to launch my own company where I could be the boss and decide my hours. She has no idea how hard it was to have to fly out of state that first time I left him at home with his dad and his older brother — or the growth in confidence I saw in my son because of my travel. She has no clue about the number of times I have walked out of meetings in New York City, San Francisco, and everywhere in between to help him talk out his frustration and walk through his options to make a better choice in a difficult situation. She has no idea — none at all — about my life, my commitment to my family, or my own personal struggles in making all of the different demands on my time and my life work on a daily basis.
She has absolutely no idea.
But, all the same, she made my life — and my son’s life — incredibly hard that day, if for no other reason than to teach me a lesson because I wasn’t the mom she decided I should be.
Let’s don’t do that to each other.
Life is hard enough, and we’re all just trying to figure it out. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve worked part-time from home. And I’ve worked as an entrepreneur where I basically work ALL the hours in a day when I am not taking care of my family.
None of these roles is easy or perfect. And none of us gets to decide what works for someone else.
So the next time you start to tsk-tsk and judge some other mother or father, remind yourself: YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
In fact, all you have is a wrong attitude.
And that, at least in my book, means you have even more to work on than whomever you are judging.
That woman who judged me? She works as an administrator at a school. That is a full time position with many evening hours required. I can bet that I am often at home more hours in a day with my son that she is with her kids (if she has any). But she judged me in that moment, because I am a CEO who travels to other cities and who runs conferences and has obligations that sometimes mean I simply cannot drop everything to drive to school to sign a piece of paper that says that I understand my kid had his phone out in a class when he wasn’t supposed to. I sent an email — while standing backstage. I spoke to someone by phone (while my cofounder took the stage in my place). But when I couldn’t make it to school by 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, she made a decision to refuse to release the phone at the end of the day to my son. She made that decision after I begged her not to — not because I didn’t want my son held accountable but because it created a risk for my family. She was well aware of the consequences of what she was doing — leaving my son without a phone to call 911 in an emergency. She chose to send a kid home without his cell phone, knowing he had no home phone. I think the most astounding comments from her and her colleagues were that I was the one who decided to get rid of our house phone (really — what about every kid out there without a house or a phone?) and the suggestion that I could just go buy a burner phone (um, maybe the part about me not being able to leave didn’t quite sink in — and, besides — really? Do you know more than a handful of parents in your school that have money to blow when an administrator makes an arbitrary decision to keep personal property overnight which also serves as a child’s sole access to a phone line? How did administrators become so elitist that this is a valid response in their mind?).
So I’m left to wonder who cared less about the kid in question. The one begging the administrator to find another way to punish a kid other than leave him without a way to call 911 or the one who decided his phone could stay locked up overnight after being made aware of the consequences of her decision.
Well, that’s a lie. I don’t wonder. I know. And I believe that any school district that doesn’t think about the consequences of withholding phones overnight when many children no longer have home phones — and many don’t even have homes — and that if school boards and administrators are not considering the liability of lawsuits generated from such a policy, they should be. It will happen, and it won’t be pretty. And for the family that suffers the tragedy that results from that policy? They will never recover the loss that some school personnel decided was a negligible risk and worth the possible lawsuit.
I’ve been guilty of judging other parents myself, so I’m including myself in this admonition: Let’s do better. Let’s support each other. Let’s make life a little better, a littler easier, a little less lonely for the rest of the parents who are trying to do their best, the same as you or me.
Put yourself in the shoes of the parent you are judging. Could you live with their stress, with their obligations and responsibilities? Probably. Most of us rise to whatever we have to face. But why do we feel ok about ourselves, even self-righteous, about tearing someone else down whose parenting and lifestyle looks different than our own?
It’s a tough gig, this parenting thing. So is teaching. Maybe instead of assuming we’re at odds, we ought to find ways to support each other and make it work better for everyone.
That’s the world I want to live in, no matter how many hours a day it takes to make that happen.