BLOGS: Dear Judgy McJudgersons, I've got two words for you

Julie Maclellan

I’m not a person who swears much. But I have to confess, this week my internal monologue has contained a lot of words that can only be spelled in this family-friendly space as #$%& and !@%#.

I’m not sure what, exactly, pushed me over the edge.

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It was partly a letter to the editor right here in my very own newspaper about how parents these days are “sheltering human snowflakes.” Partly the uproar over a story about a three-year-old child left behind in a corn maze in Utah. Partly a ranty comment on social media about how rude and entitled kids these days are on Halloween. Mostly, if truth be told, it probably stems from the fact that I’ve just been tired and a little bit sick and a little bit grumpy all week.

For whatever reason, it all just hit me at once and I just couldn’t keep silent anymore.

For the record, I’m over it. Done. Finished. I am hereby absolutely, completely, totally and thoroughly past my tolerance for all of the Judgy McJudgersons out there. (And they are legion, it seems.)

I’ve been sitting here all week asking myself the same two questions:

When the heck did it start being OK for you to decide how other people should raise their children?

And, even more profoundly than that:

When did we, as a society, abandon compassion in favour of judgment?

I’m so sick of it. I’m sick of seeing comments on social media every single day about how this generation of parents is failing its children. Sick of being told that we’re all raising spoiled, entitled, narcissistic, fragile little beings who are incapable of functioning in the world.

I have two words for all the judgers (no, not those two).

Stop it.

Stop and think, for just one moment, before the next time you open your mouth to make a sweeping generalization about “kids these days” or tar all parents with a condescending, we-sure-knew-better-in-my-day brush.

Think about the fact that you have absolutely no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s life.

So you see a toddler tantruming in the grocery store. So you see a child who you think is “too old” being driven to school by a parent. So you see a kid melting down in a restaurant, or on an airplane, or on the SkyTrain, instead of sitting quietly and nicely. So you see a group of children racing around and shrieking at the top of their lungs. So you see a parent sitting on their iPhone while their kids tackle the climbing structure at the park. So you have a trick-or-treater come to your door who doesn’t say thank you.

So what? So what do any of those individual moments in time tell you about anyone?

Absolutely nothing, that’s what.

You don’t have any idea what kind of struggles or challenges anyone is facing in their life.

That tantruming toddler? You don’t have any idea whether she’s sick or had to miss nap today because Mom had a doctor’s appointment that she couldn’t skip and Grandma was supposed to babysit but couldn’t make it at the last minute, or maybe the toddler really wanted to see Dad that day but she couldn’t because Dad had to work a 12-hour shift just to pay his rent.

That “too-old” kid getting a ride to school? You have no idea whether she has a special need or a disability that may be invisible, or whether in fact Mom’s dropping her off because, well, Mom has to hurry to work and she’s already dropped the younger sibling at daycare and there’s barely enough time in Mom’s day to get everything done and still get to work on time. (And don’t tell Mom to just get up earlier. That’s just presumptuous and obnoxious. You have no idea what time she got up, and no idea what her day entails.)

That kid who’s melting down in public? You don’t have any idea what else he’s gone through today. Maybe this is actually the only bad three minutes of his day, or maybe he’s just had the day from hell because everything’s gone wrong and he’s just over his head with emotion. Or maybe he’s just being three.

Those shrieking kids? You have no idea why they’re shrieking, to begin with, and second of all, here’s the thing: Kids are loud. They were loud in the 1970s when I was a kid, and they were loud in the 1940s when my Mom was a kid, and I’m gonna venture a guess they were loud in whatever decade you were a kid. Kids yell and scream and let off steam. It’s good for them. Get over it.

That “inattentive” parent on the iPhone? You have no idea what she’s been doing with the rest of her day. Maybe she’s been on the go non-stop what with work, housework, volunteer commitments and sports team coaching and she’s just finally taking five minutes of respite. Maybe she’s checking her emails because she’s on call at work or expecting an important message about a sick family member or a friend’s new baby or maybe, just maybe, she hasn’t actually looked at her phone for three days because she hasn’t had a second to herself.

That kid who forgets to thank you for the Halloween treat? You have no idea if he has a special need, if he’s socially anxious, if he’s super-shy, if he’s overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of the night, if he’s said thank you at every single house and maybe just forgot this one time because, well, Halloween night is pretty damn exciting. Maybe he’s still working on please and thank you and he practises every day but sometimes he just forgets for a minute because that happens when you’re little.

Or maybe those kids really are spoiled little brats and their parents are inattentive, overprotective failures (how you can be inattentive and overprotective at the same time, I’d like to know, but it appears the Judgy McJudgersons think those are our two worst failings as modern parents, so I’ll go with it).

The point is: YOU. DO. NOT. KNOW. ANYTHING. ABOUT. THEM.

And even if you do, it’s not your place to judge. Unless you’re someone who has an actual professional interest in the life of said child – their teacher, or doctor, or daycare provider – then it’s really none of your concern.

Here’s my suggestion: Next time you see a child or a parent whose behaviour displeases you, how about meeting it with kindness?

Next time you see a tantruming kid, try not rolling your eyes. Try making eye contact with the mother and offering a sympathetic smile – or asking if you can help make her life easier in that moment.

Next time you see a kid getting dropped off at school, try not sighing about how you used to walk uphill both ways in the snow when you were only five and how kids these days are so spoiled and indulged. Try waving and smiling and thinking about how there’s a child with a committed parent who’s making sure they’re getting to school safely.

Next time you see a parent dragging a crying kid off the SkyTrain while struggling with a stroller and a bag of groceries, don’t just mutter about how kids used to be better behaved. Try offering to help – hold the door, carry the bag, distract the kid with a smile and a kind word.

You get the picture?

I promise, you’ll end up liking the world a whole helluva lot better if you accept that most parents – like all other people - are fundamentally good folks who are trying their best. Like you, they succeed sometimes and they fail sometimes. They have good days and bad days. They have moments they’re not proud of and moments they want to hold onto forever.

A little compassion goes a long way. Please remember, parents don’t have an easy ride. They’re facing all the same challenges you faced in your parenting days, if yours are behind you – or that you will face, if your parenting days are ahead of you. But now they’re facing it in a world where social media has enabled every single person to stand in constant judgment on everyone else’s life.

That mom over there whose behaviour displeases you? She spends day in, day out, being judged – on social media and in the world at large - for every decision she makes. She’s been judged for breastfeeding too much or not enough, or too long or not long enough. She’s been judged for letting her kids sleep too much or not enough. She’s been judged for deciding to go back to work or deciding to stay home with her kids. She’s been judged for overprogramming her kids’ lives with sports teams, dance classes and swim lessons, or for not giving her child enough stimulation and brain-enhancing activity. Every single solitary day when she leaves the house, she’s wondering which one of her decisions today is going to make some stranger judge her – and, worse yet, which one of her failures is going to be filmed by a bystander and posted on social media.

Trust me, that time you hold the door for her or carry a heavy bag for her or smile at her screaming kid? That could be the moment that makes all the difference in her day.

What’s more, it makes you an excellent role model for the next generation.

It takes a village to raise a child, as we’ve all heard countless times.

So come, be part of our village. Help us raise kids who are independent and responsible and committed citizens. And, even more, help us raise kids who are compassionate. Kind. Empathetic. Caring. Concerned about the world and the environment and the people around them.

Help us do that by being all of those things yourself – and by not standing up on your high horse looking down on us in judgment.

You’ll like us better. And we’ll like you better too.

Plus, the world will just be a lot more pleasant for all of us.

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