We’re All Guilty When it Comes to Judging Other Parents

rockstarmom

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.

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Why I Don’t Feel Guilty for Being a Working Mom

IMG_0251I recall the exact moment I decided that something had to change.

I’d taken on a part-time position with a local museum which I’d taken specifically for the hours when my husband would be home with our three kids. And while I actually enjoyed the work, I also missed out on a lot – my daughter’s last year of competing at nationals for climbing as well as weekend camping trips, family suppers, and just hanging out in the back yard with the kids on a warm Saturday night.

But the moment that pushed me over the edge was when I arrived home at 3 AM on a Saturday night. I tried to open our garage door but met resistance. Pushing a little more firmly, I realized I was actually scooting my youngest son across the tile of our foyer. At some point after being tucked into bed, our youngest woke up. He did the only thing a little boy missing his mother knew to do – wait at the very spot he knew I’d return. And so he waited on the cold tile until he finally fell asleep.

I picked my son up and carried him back to his bad, pulling up the covers up and kissing his forehead. I sat at the edge of his bed for a few moments, tears welling up as his little hand gripped tightly around my finger. And in that moment I knew that no job was worth doing this to my son.

Within the month I’d resigned my position and metamorphosed from stay-at-home mom to founder of a tech company. Not that being an entrepreneur eradicated Mommy Guilt. It didn’t. But it did mean I decided what I was going to feel guilty about, because I was the one choosing the trade-offs of what I’d miss to give time to something else.

There are times now that I am definitely judged as being that mom – the one who ends up parenting her kid via cell phone while boarding a plane, who is rarely available to volunteer for anything during or after school, and the one who has more than once sent her kid off to school with a still-damp uniform after forgetting it was needed for a game after school. I’m the mom who celebrates my kid’s somewhat crappy-looking science fair entry while happily ignoring the silent condemnation of his classmates’ parents who see my hands-off approach as unsupportive. Truth is I have no desire to see if my participation in his project will earn him an A. It’s his learning experience, and if I’m judged as the mom who doesn’t help her kid with his projects, I’m ok with that. I’ve made peace with being that mom.

But I’m finished with feeling guilty. Or, at least, I’m finished letting anyone else decide what should make me feel guilty. If I blow off one of my kids or ignore them when they really need me, and I do it because I am far too immersed in my own thoughts to be present and listen, I should feel guilty about that. It is a poor choice that leaves me as inaccessible as if I wasn’t there. If I don’t parent by making my children accountable for immoral, inconsiderate, unkind, or dishonest behavior, if I don’t provide comfort and perspective when my children are wounded by life, or if I’m not accessible for the average, ordinary conversations that are actually the courage-building moments when one of my children might share one of those big issues that they’re carrying deep inside – if I am not available to be that parent, I should feel guilty.

But I’m finished feeling guilty for being gone on travel and not available at a moment’s notice to help one of my children get out of a momentary problem. Yes, I’m unavailable. But, no, it’s not the end of the world. And more often than not, it simply results in the learning moment where my kid discovers they have the inner resilience and resources to manage the issue for themselves.

I’m finished feeling guilty for not being there every morning to cook breakfast. Guess what? Cooking skills are empowering. When my teenage kid discovers he can forage in the pantry and make something to eat without setting the toaster on fire – that isn’t neglect – that’s fostering independence.

And I’m finished feeling guilty for not being invincible. There are days I’m barely treading water because of the overwhelming amount of responsibility that I have on my plate, and allowing my children to witness my own moments of weakness, vulnerability, and fear – that is a gift I am giving them. When they witness the same raw emotions coming from me which often hold the same power to derail their own pursuit of goals and dreams – and when they see me get beyond those momentary emotions to move forward – I am sharing with them the honesty of the journey, the reality of the pain and emotional toll that is taken from each of us if we are to grow to meet the challenges along the journey. I refuse to feel guilty for sharing that with my children.

IMG_3102The truth is that I absolutely love what I do now. I love our company, our vision, the problems we are helping others solve because of what we’ve built. I love the dynamics, talent and energy of our team. And I love the opportunities that have arisen along the journey – the chance to build rewarding friendships, the opportunity to launch an organization with a dear friend which is focused on empowering other women, and the privilege of being inspired by others who are pursuing their own dreams. I also love being a mother, even if the mother I am today isn’t what I imagined. I’ve made peace with the messiness of it all, because it is the mess of it all, the ebb and flow of blending all of these roles together into one reality which has helped me finally feel at peace with who I am.

I Have Become “That Mom”

"Mom Making Breakfast" by Thomas Abeyta at age 4.

“Mom Making Breakfast” by Thomas Abeyta at age 4.

I have become that mom.

I’m the one who shows up over three hours late for school registration and endures the rolling eyes of parent volunteers who can’t imagine anything more important than standing in long lines to fill out identical information on eleven different forms – the same information, by the way, from the packet I sent back to school only a week late last year.

I used to be on the other side of the table, the one who watched the moms who showed up at school in their business suits, fresh lipstick and high heels. I used to sigh quietly, judging them just a bit for their choices, for not putting their kids first, for picking their career over family. I used to feel pretty smug about it, too, because I saw myself as making all the right choices.

Sure, I talked the right talk and said polite things in public. I’d say things like, “Oh, I admire working moms, because they have it so much harder than me. I don’t know how they get it all done. I could never do that.” Or sometimes when I was talking to a working mom, I’d tell her, “You know, it’s all about choices. As long as yours fit your values and your lifestyle, that’s all that matters.” But inside I had my own opinion about the kinds of values that a working mom must have to make the choices she did.

On the inside, I was judging. I was weighing her choices in the balance and believing that mine were far superior. I was so involved with my kids that I often lobbied for new PTA committees that I could run. I was the teacher’s right hand man. I was “in” with the school administration, and it felt really good.

And to be honest, I loved my life the way it was. It worked for me, and it was a privilege to get to stay home. I wouldn’t trade any other choice for the time I got to do that, because it made me happy and, thus, made my kids happy.

When my husband and I sat down five years ago and talked about the changes that would come if I did, indeed, launch my own company, APPCityLife, we talked about what it would mean for our home life. We made the choice together that it was worth it and that I should pursue this passion.

Let me just say I had absolutely no idea what I was in for. I knew I’d be busy and that my time wouldn’t be completely my own anymore. I knew that there would be events at school that I’d have to miss and that sometimes my youngest would have to let himself into an empty house. I figured that there would be a trip here and there that would mean that the older kids would have to step up and help out with things around the house and with watching their younger sibling. But I had absolutely no idea the extent of the demands that would be placed on me or how little of my time would actually be my own. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what was coming, because I might have missed out on one of the most challenging, exciting and rewarding experiences of my life.

And so now I’ve come full circle to being that mom – the one I used to judge. Now I miss some of my kid’s school events because of a meeting with a client. Supper is late almost every night, and it isn’t the gourmet version we enjoyed when I stayed home. Actually, far more often than I ever thought possible, supper is a carton of leftovers eaten cold at 9 PM when I finally make it home. I’ve had twenty-four hours on the ground between business trips in separate countries, and the bottom of the laundry basket hasn’t been spotted in months. The fold and delivery service I used to provide to my family has become more of a that-basket-of-laundry-is-clean-so-dig-around-and-find-what-you-need service. And I’ve even had to tag team a pediatrician appointment with my husband so we could get our sick kid to the doctor and still make our meetings. I’m sure that one raised eyebrows, but I was too busy rushing out of the examining room to get to city hall on time to even notice or care what anyone else thought.

So the next time you look at someone and judge her as being that mom – whichever side of the table you find yourself on – just remember that life might just give you the opportunity to walk in her shoes, and you may find you like it.

If you relate, you might want to join our I am That Mom Group on Facebook

This blog was also published on Huffington Post.