You’re in the grocery store, headed down the snack aisle to grab some goldfish, trying to hurry and trying to remember the rest of your list, when you see her.
She is visibly upset with her toddler. Her voice grows louder as you approach the goldfish.
“I TOLD you to please STOP!” she says, spanking the little girl. And then she sees you.
The awkwardness is tangible.
We’ve all been there. In situations like this, it’s easy to look down on the mother whose angry voice loudly echoed through aisles upon aisles, the mother who couldn’t get her daughter to cooperate and whose patience snapped right in front of you, leaving you wondering how often this type of thing happens.
It’s easy to feel sorry for the little girl, to shuffle away from the goldfish empty-handed, to wish you hadn’t heard what you heard or seen what you saw.
In motherhood, especially, when we feel very strongly about the best way to raise our children, when our beliefs are fierce about the best way to discipline, nourish, educate and provide — it’s easy to judge others when they fall short.
How can you fall short on something that’s so important, we think to ourselves.
But recently, something Brene Brown said stopped me in my tracks. I’m a huge fan of hers, and in her book “Rising Strong,” she told a story about a time where she went to a speaking event and had to share a room with another speaker.
She wasn’t thrilled. But she tried to go into it with an open mind, and a prayer in her heart.
Within the first 15 minutes of their introduction, her roommate had wiped her frosting-covered fingers all over the couch, and then lit up a cigarette in their non-smoking hotel room.
Frustration and judgement set in right away.
But, she says, “even as I was standing there, knee deep in judgement, I was curious about what was happening and I knew that I wanted to get out from underneath the weight of all of the negativity I was experiencing.”
After the conference, Brene made an appointment with her therapist to explore her experience, and her therapist asked, “Do you think it’s possible that your roommate was doing the best she could that weekend?”
This question hit me like a ton of bricks. Do I think people are generally doing the best they can? Am I doing the best I can?
Being the recovering perfectionist that I am, a part of me wants to say, “of course not.” People can always do better. I can always do better.
But what about the story we don’t see in people?
What about their inadequacies and fears, their struggles and their dreams, might make a difference in the way we see their actions?
What if I told you that woman spanking her daughter in the store was me?
Let me tell you—I felt awful and ashamed.
On that day, I felt totally, completely, lost and inadequate as a mother. My daughter wasn’t listening at all, and because I was so worried about what people would think about my little girl running all over, in a moment of terrible judgement and anger, I grabbed the child and spanked her, right there in the middle of the store.
I’m not sharing this story to start a debate about spanking, but I do know it’s not a good or effective method of discipline for my daughter, and I knew it in that fateful moment too.
But in a moment of weakness, my patience snapped: I did something that I regret. I wanted to be a good mom, I was trying to teach and love and care for my little girl. I was doing the best I could, and yet there I was. Nobody wants to be caught at their worst moments in parenthood.
But the reality is, we all make mistakes, we all do things we regret. And especially in motherhood, we do this. We learn as we go, we try things, we abandon them — and I think deep down we all know that we can’t possibly do things perfectly all the time.
But it’s when we let go of perfection and give ourselves grace that we can grow and reach our full potential.
So in those moments when I’m not what I want to be, I try to give myself grace. If I’m trying, if I’m doing the best I can, that’s when I really can’t be so hard on myself.
We all have good days and tough days.
And when I’m with people who aren’t living up to what I wish they would be, I try to give them grace, too.
As mothers, and as human beings, we just have to do the best that we can with the tools we’ve been given, and leave the judgement to God.
Sometimes it can be hard, especially when we’re trying to extend grace to ourselves or the people who are closest to us, but when I do this, there is so much joy and peace and love. My heart expands.
So when I’m scrolling through social media, at the store or even at home with my family, and people are less than they ought to be, I always try and remember that they, like me, may just be doing the best they can.
I offer an encouraging word or smile and remember we’ve all been there and will likely be there again.
When we extend charity and grace towards others, I find that it always comes back to us multiplied — and it makes it easier to give ourselves grace too.