A couple of things have happened lately. Those kind of awkward goings on in public. When you parent respectfully, and your children are used to having a voice and expressing emotion and being heard, you can find yourself in situations where you stand out. Sometimes, it can feel hard to stay true to your values. The thing is, that a lot of these pressures come from situations that are fabricated in our minds. Maybe you think you caught a disapproving stare. Maybe you are being triggered by a situation because you were taught that certain normal responses were inappropriate as a child. Maybe you are reading too much into a passing comment. When we sense this judgement, what we are actually sensing is our own discomfort. It is internal work, not changing our approach, that needs to be done.
I was reading through a few things I wrote before I felt confident enough to start sharing more widely. I came across this story that I had completely forgotten about, but it really resonated with some feelings I have had lately. I wanted to share. After we left South America, we were fortunate enough to have an extended time traveling through Central America before making our way to Canada. This story is from last September when we were in Honduras.
It had been a rough eighteen hours.
I had a lovely hour wandering around the town near where we were staying while my husband took the kids to the pool. I got back, so calm and content, to find some sour looks among the ranks. Things hadn’t gone well.
The kids were tired. We were tired. Our daughter was crowing each morning at first light and our days had been packed with activity. Our seven year old directed all of this exhaustion in a torrent of high pitched whines and angry accusations as his Dad, in front of a pool full of retirees, long since past the whims of early childhood. My husband had that broken look, my son, a steely resolve, unable to see past the weariness clouding his judgment. My husband was calm and empathetic in his response, but he was feeling the weight of embarrassment that the entire episode had an audience.
You know the feeling. You are so confident in your amazing family and the connection you have, and then crippled by the realization that the only insight into this world you have given a group of strangers is one of your members at their lowest point.
We had dinner in our room. More big emotions bounced off the walls and surfaced again with the sun. Through breaths, patience and reassurance we made it to breakfast, eyes heavy from a night of musical beds.
I wondered who these mystery diners were, convinced they were looking with judgemental eyes. My daughter ate two butter pats straight out of the packet with her fingers and then washed her hands in her orange juice before I had noticed and redirected her to her napkin. She is two, navigating the world of food and how to consume it. It should have been no big deal, but in the moment, I started trying to look at us through the lens of others. A dangerous and pointless thing to do, because in truth you are just looking at yourself through the lens of your own insecurity. This lens confirmed that indeed, I was failing. All that negative self talk.
An older couple approached our table. The lady looked at me and said, ‘we just wanted to say, that we are leaving today and we have been watching your family this week and you truly have a beautiful family and you and your husband are doing an amazing job.’
I felt the lump rise in my throat and a sting as I held back tears of gratitude.
You see, my daughter did cut her pancake on her seat and eat plain butter and accidentally splashed her juice. My six year old was carrying the burden of sleeplessness and crouched gloomily in his chair, refusing food. My seven year old had seemed to be standing on the abyss when we asked him if he would mind waiting until after we had eaten before heading for a swim so that we could enjoy breakfast as a family.
But her comment gave me fresh eyes. We had also sat there listening intently as the boys told us about their adventures of the day before, asking questions with genuine interest. We had laughed at stories and helped each other get the things we needed for breakfast. Despite internal tension and frustration, we had responded to each other’s needs with empathy and kindness. And I realised, from the outside, people were not seeing our family as a negative force passing through the channels of their holiday, they were seeing a family who loved each other. And even if that wasn’t true, did it matter? We are never going to please everyone and that isn’t and shouldn’t be the aim. The people I am trying to impress, are the four people I share my days with.
We left breakfast as we arrived. Holding hands, but standing a little taller.