Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. (from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee)
Have you ever seen something ugly in someone else only to realize you have a whole huge dose of that same ugliness in yourself? That’s what happened to me today.
I have this horrible, ugly tendency to be judgmental. Motherhood has cured a lot of this as I’ve been humbled over and over again to do the things I swore I would never do. But some of it still remains. A lot of it, to tell the truth. Today I was surprised and saddened to realize how much I still need to work on myself in this area. Before I was a mom, I used to shamelessly judge women who were mothers–in the grocery store, at the school where I worked, and so forth. I have come a long way since then. I’ve learned to look on other mothers with compassion because it is, as we like to say in Texas, dang hard. It’s dang hard to raise kids whether you’re bottle feeding or breastfeeding, co-sleeping or scheduling, working or staying home. One of the greatest gifts of motherhood to me is the increase in empathy and compassion it has afforded me.
I am a member of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and a part of the leadership team of my local group. MOPS is really big on reaching out to moms of all kinds to make sure that no woman has to do this hard job without the support of friends. It has encouraged me to get to know women who are drastically different from me to see what we have in common–our insane, out of this world love for our kids. And I’ve come to realize that almost every mom is just doing the very best she can with the resources she has. I want to learn from and help these women.
The ugly I saw today was on facebook. Several mothers (not MOPS moms, though!) were grumbling about having seen a pregnant woman smoking a cigarette. I know. It’s an awful thing for her to do. But my growth in empathy and compassion for mothers allows me to look beyond the obvious mothering sin of smoking while pregnant and see the humanity of the woman who was doing it. I can think of a hundred possibilities. Maybe she’s been addicted since birth herself. Maybe she has so much extra stress in her life she cannot take on one more thing, such as the gargantuan task of quitting a lifelong habit as much as she may wish to. Maybe she honestly doesn’t know any better. Maybe the man in her life is horrible. I just think maybe she’s in a situation where it would have been easier for her to choose not to give life to this baby, but instead she decided to do the hard thing. To have the baby. Maybe she’s doing that hard thing alone. I know you probably think I’m horrible for even defending her, stranger though she may be, but I just wish I could give her a hug and invite her to MOPS. Maybe she has never had the resources to help her do the best thing for herself or for her baby. I mean, it was easy for me not to smoke while I was pregnant because I’ve never been a smoker. And I’ve known women who quit smoking because they were pregnant and it was hard, but they did it because they knew it was best. But they admit it was hard. And in the exhaustion and stress of new motherhood, a lot of them returned to the habit. These are women who have emotional, spiritual, and physical resources to help them and they still found it difficult. Imagine if you had none of those resources. How hard would it be?
I was moved with compassion for this unknown woman and others like her, wanting to give her the support and resources to help her do the very best for her baby and for herself. I know that when she comes face to face with that child she will be overcome by an unimaginable love. I also know that she will be faced with an unimaginable burden of responsibility. I hope she finds some kindness and some help along the way. I hope every other woman she meets doesn’t just look on her with anger and judgment, unable to see past the cigarette in her hand.
And yet, in all my compassion for this woman, I was brought to the painful realization that I very recently passed just so harsh a judgment on several people at a bluegrass festival. I am actually pretty sensitive to cigarette smoke and it gives me a powerful headache, sometimes resulting in not the most pleasant of moods. I got so irritated at the people smoking right in front of me and I kept making comments about it to my husband and my friend. I know I said that I couldn’t think of a more inconsiderate people as a whole than smokers. It pains me to even recall that I said that, but I did. And it was truly very recent–just this past May. My friend, a physician in residency, has had the opportunity to meet and work with lots of different people. When she saw these smokers, she felt compassion for them and saw their physical ailments made worse by the addictions they would be hard-pressed to lay off. I just saw how they made me uncomfortable. Shame on me.
I hated to see my friends on facebook judging another mama but I hated even more to realize how quick I am to judge anyone who makes me uncomfortable. I hope I can grow more and more in compassion and decrease my tendency to judge others harshly. I hope I can do like Atticus Finch suggests and walk around in someone else’s skin long enough to realize, as Scout did, that there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.