I have had the luxury of spending countless hours with mothers in the work that I do. What I discover time and again is that once the women get to know one another, they choose to be compassionate, inspirational and empowering with one another. This experience contrasts with what I see in our society and a sad truth in motherhood and parenting; we judge one another. The judgment takes different forms like books, advice columns/blogs, discipline styles, and moments at the park/school. The media like to call it “mommy wars.” My experience is that when we choose to be supportive and compassionate, we all benefit from the growth and the vulnerability of being human together. When we say what I believe are the two most powerful words in the English language, “me too”, everything changes and brings clarity to our moments as mothers.
Brene Brown, a researcher on shame, guilt and vulnerability writes in her books that shame is only neutralized by vulnerability. However, to maneuver vulnerability one must dare greatly, feel empathy, and practice compassion for the other. Brown writes, “Compassion is not a virtue – it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have – it’s something we choose to practice.” (Brown, 2007) Often as parents we choose not to have compassion for the other or for ourselves. We watch, judge, and wonder why this mother is letting her kid do x,y,z. We judge ourselves thinking, we are doing it all wrong, not spending enough time with our child, spending too much time with our child, not getting the homework right, nagging about the homework, sleeping with baby or sleep training baby, on and on. These thoughts, judgments, and self-degradation get us nowhere but stuck. Choosing compassion instead gives us room to breathe.
That said, judgment is an automatic response of our brain in making sense of our world. Brown and most neurologists understand that the brain tends to make lists and logic maps on our everyday choices and experiences. The brain is often thought of as obtaining information to help us learn, when the truth is that the brain obtains information to help us stay alive. Jump to being a parent and having to keep yourself and your offspring alive. Our children place us on overdrive when it comes to making lists and “getting it right.” The next time you catch yourself judging another parent remind yourself, “ I am comparing my parent list to their parent list.” Your brain is reminding you what you know thus far as a parent. Give yourself and the other parent a break and take a moment to speak to your brain by saying, “thanks for the reminder of how I have chosen to do things. I’m sure her brain has another list for her experience.” It is one tool in moving towards fostering compassion for yourself and the other.
I am grateful for the groups of mothers that share their truths with me and remind me that compassion and empowerment is always the answer when relating to myself, another parent, or my children. Paradoxically, it is simple and at the same time, extremely hard. Like most things that are worth obtaining, compassion is something that must be practiced before it is mastered. The parents at our center show me that it helps them grow. My children benefit when I can choose it in our daily lives. I hope most of you will choose compassion and empowerment when relating to another parent and yourself. I am certain it will shift your reality for the better.