I want to be clear before I begin: I love our church. It’s not perfect but I don’t think such a thing can exist. Churches are run by people and destined to be flawed. But my church teaches directly from the Bible and does its best to support the community and spread the Word. That’s what I look for in a church body.
That said, one recent sermon really struck a chord with me…and not in a good way.
Actually, the sermon itself was fine. The pastor was talking about how God can help you realign your life and relationships. But the choice to do so is yours. A valuable topic, right? That wasn’t the problem. The anecdote he told in the middle of the sermon was the issue and it made me want to get up and leave.
Parenting in public
The story started with our pastor describing a man he met at Starbucks. This man walked up to him, introduced himself, told Pastor where he went to church, and talked about his 7 children. Seven. The next day, Pastor saw that same man in that same Starbucks with his son who was probably around 8. Here are the basics:
A man walked in with his son while he was on his phone. He laughed, talked and drank his coffee while his son sat, shoulders slumped, quietly. The man got off the phone and saw a friend in Starbucks and started talking to him. The boy was still sitting by himself with no one to talk to. The only words he spoke to his son were “let’s go” as they were leaving.
The point of this story was to highlight a situation where parents can and should make the choice to spend time with their kids. Which is totally fair. Every parent needs this reminder every once in a while. But Pastor’s takeaway was this:
Don’t call yourself a parent. And don’t you dare call yourself a Christian.
The parent is always the villain
Are we really supposed to believe that someone’s worth as a parent can be measured in a single 30-minute trip? And since when do we take away someone’s Christianity for one mistake?
Parenting is one of the few commonalities that spans generations, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and religion. But for as many parents as there are out there, there are that many ways to parent. And none of them are perfect.
In the time it took Pastor to tell that story, I came up with at 4 reasons why that dad could have been ignoring his kid. Given a little more time, I’m sure we could all come up with even more.
- The six other kids went to the indoor trampoline park with their mom right across the street from Starbucks but the 8 year old was acting like a brat so he had to sit out. Dad decided to use that time to treat himself while Boy pouted his way through his punishment.
- Everyone was getting cabin fever, including Dad, so he took Boy to Starbucks to take a break whether Boy liked it or not. And Boy did not like it.
- Dad got a call from a friend he hadn’t spoken to in a really long time and wanted to talk to him. And since he can’t talk on the phone while talking to his kid, Boy had to wait.
- Dad needed a break but couldn’t ditch Boy. So he took a mini-break with Boy.
Sure, it would have been great if the dad had spent more time talking to his son, regardless of the backstory. But that dad is a human. And there’s no reason why our kids need to be the center of attention all the time. If they are, it’s a problem.
It is okay for our children to be…
- Waiting on their parents
- Able to sit through adult interactions
The same people who criticize young parents for being overprotective and “raising snowflakes” are also the ones who are the fastest to assume the parent is the villain in a public situation. If we give in to a tantrum-ing child, we’re too soft and taken advantage of. If we don’t, we’re mean to our kids and disrespectful of other patrons. It’s a no-win.
The point I realized I shouldn’t care
It takes a lot of effort to not wonder what other people are thinking about you. It’s in our nature as social beings. But even though I want people to like me (and think I’m a good mom), worrying about it will drive you nuts.
I remember being in the checkout line at the grocery store with the whole family when I had my most absurd moment where my parenting was judged. The husband was paying and it was my job to entertain the 2 and 4 year old who wanted to “help pay.” They started reaching for the impulse buy candy and I pretended to karate chop their hands.
Let’s be clear: they were laughing hysterically and I never actually karate chopped them. To prove it, here is a recent picture showing all 4 hands in tact.
But I heard the lady behind me say “those poor kids” to her friend – and it was definitely about me.
I couldn’t help it. I turned to look at her and asked “poor kids?” She smiled and shrugged as any perfect Midwestern woman does after she insults you. We left it at that because I still had 2 kids to entertain and groceries to bag.
But, seriously, POOR KIDS? Did she think my kids needed sympathy because I’m so freaking funny? Are there medical concerns that come from laughing too much that I should be aware of?
It was at that moment I knew I would never win when I’m in public with my kids. If they’re crying, I’m negligent. If they’re happy, I’m not disciplining enough.
Your words matter
Whether you’re standing behind someone in the grocery line, talking to a friend, meeting another parent on the playground, or presenting to over 100 people in a worship center, your words matter.
Our children need to see us treat others with respect when we’re face-to-face but also speak kindly of others when we’re not. And they need to see us give other people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t be so quick to judge another person. It’s so easy to watch from the sidelines and pick apart every mistake they make. Just ask every sports fan ever. But everyone knows it’s easier to spectate than it is to be in the game. Before running through a list of all the things the stranger in front of you is doing wrong, empathize with them. We need to spend less time inflating our own egos and more time building each other up.
Simply put: don’t be a Judgey McJudgester.
Because that is what will make this world a better place.
11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
And since we can’t control what anyone else says or does, they need to see us be resilient. Take what others say and let it go.
I give you permission to enjoy a cup of coffee or a quick conversation with your friends. Even if it’s at the expense of your child’s 30 minutes. Because I know chances are you’re going to get back in your car and take them to the next thing that you scheduled, paid for, or did for them.