“Some people just shouldn’t have children,” the elderly gentleman said as he looked around the table waiting for a response from everyone else in the meeting.
I felt my head automatically nod in agreement.
I’ve witnessed parents who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and fail to care for their children. I’ve observed self-absorbed parents who put their own desires above those of their children. And I’ve spent time with parents who, for whatever reason, can’t meet the basic needs of food, shelter and safety for their children.
And so, I nodded. At least, I started to nod.
I stopped when the gentleman called out another woman, “You’re a Catholic. You aren’t supposed to be agreeing with me.”
I was caught short not because he was questioning the woman’s faith but because I recognized the hypocrisy of my own reaction.
I was making a blanket judgement about people I don’t even know based on my own experiences and values.
I can’t stand when other people do that.
I said as much when driving back from the meeting with a co-worker who shared my discomfort.
“I was working in a group home for single mothers,” she said, “when I confronted a pregnant mom who was slapping and yelling at her toddler as a means of discipline. When I questioned her behavior, her reaction stunned me. She told me, ‘my mom used to beat me and I turned out o.k.’ She truly believed she’d turned out o.k. I wanted her to do a reality check based on her current circumstances, but in her mind, she was doing o.k.”
My co-worker and I didn’t talk for a few minutes as we both thought about the middle-class families with middle-class values in which we’d grown up.
Our parents were involved in our education and expected us to pursue college.
Our families encouraged us to improve our circumstances and set our goals high.
And our communities applauded our efforts to pursue dreams that may or may not have been realistic.
Some people might say we didn’t dream very hard. My co-worker and I chose career paths that don’t involve lots of money, moving in circles with high-powered individuals or traveling to exotic locations. We interact daily with individuals who can’t even imagine such a life. Our work mandates that we accept people where they are and help them decide if they want to take steps to move forward. We can’t make them change any more than other people can force us to change. But we can suggest, guide and educate.
The work is similar to that of a parent trying to help our children navigate an environment in which they interact daily with children whose parents have different values and standards.
But as parents, we do that anyway.
For those of us who had great role models, we can only hope we can pass on the wisdom that was instilled in us.
For those who have never had such great role models, we can only hope that we can provide empathy and understanding and appropriate guidance. We certainly can’t tell other parents they should never have had children or even agree with someone who makes such a blanket statement.
That’s because every time we nod in agreement with people who judge others, we are widening the distance between people. That doesn’t mean we believe everyone should be a parent. There are obviously people who just don’t have the interest or the capacity. But once they are parents, we certainly can’t turn our backs or point fingers.
We may not all see the world in the same way, but instead of only nodding along with those who think and act like us, we need to step toward, rather than away from, people who are different than we are. When we do that, the odds are much higher that we can together build a better world for the next generation