When I said that I was getting ready to go on stage at a conference I was running and couldn't get to school before it let out for the day, the assistant high school principal on the other end of the line told me that maybe it was time I made my son my priority.
She has no idea.
She has no idea about the changes I've made in my life to be more available for my youngest, who is twice exceptional and has had a very difficult time navigating the rigid structure we call public school.
She can't know how difficult it was for me a few years ago to make the decision to go to work after being a stay-at-home mom for almost two decades. She doesn't know about the number of hours I volunteered when my older kids were in school -- or how many of those hours were spent answering phones in the very office where she now sits every day.
She has no idea of the repeated heartbreak I felt upon arriving home from my part-time job at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning to find my youngest son asleep on the hard tile floor, curled up in a ball where he fell asleep waiting for his mom to come home. She doesn't know that it was my son's inability to cope with the hours and uncertainty of my inflexible part-time job that motivated me to launch my own company where I could be the boss and decide my hours.
She will never know how hard it was to have to fly out of state that first time when I left him at home with his dad and his older brother -- or the growth in confidence and coping skills I witnessed in my son because of my travel. She can't know the number of times I have walked out of conferences or meetings to listen as my son talked out his frustration and walked through his options -- and then made a better choice because of his phone call with me.
She has no idea -- none at all -- about my life, my commitment to my family, or my own personal struggles to cope with all of the demands on my life on a daily basis. But, all the same, she made my life -- and my son's life -- incredibly hard that day, if for no other reason than to teach me a lesson because I wasn't the mom she decided I should be.
Let's don't do that to each other.
Life is hard enough, and we're all just trying to figure it out. I've been a stay-at-home mom. I've worked part-time. And I've been an entrepreneur. None of these roles is easy or perfect. And, most importantly, none of us gets to decide what works for someone else.
So the next time you start to tsk-tsk and judge some other mother or father, remind yourself:
YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
In fact, all you have is a wrong attitude. And that, at least in my book, means you have even more to work on than whomever you are judging.
Because I couldn't make her arbitrary deadline (yes, arbitrary -- the district informed me later that despite what the assistant principal stated to me on the phone as I pleaded for her to make an exception and find a different punishment for my son, the district does not require that phones be held overnight when they are confiscated in a classroom, but that each school has the ability to make that decision on a case by case basis) -- because I couldn't meet her arbitrary deadline, she knowingly sent a kid home for the night to a home where, should he have had an asthma attack or emergency, he would have had no way to call 911. Why? Because I could not get to the school by 3 p.m. to sign a piece of paper acknowledging what I'd already acknowledged by phone call and email.
- "That's not our fault that you don't have a home phone. Some of us are more conventional (yeah, no dig there on my "unconventional" female role of CEO) and still have our house phone."
As I consider my interaction with my son's school last week, I'm left to wonder who cared less about my kid. The person begging administrators to find another way to punish a kid other than leave him without a way to call 911 or the school personnel who all decided a student's phone could stay locked up overnight after being made aware of the risks that it would create for that student.
Well, that's a lie. I don't wonder. I know.
And I believe that any school district that doesn't think about the consequences of withholding phones overnight when many children no longer have home phones -- much less permanent homes -- and that if school boards and administrators are not considering the liability of lawsuits generated from such a policy, they should be. It will happen, and it won't be pretty. And for the family that suffers some horrible tragedy as a result of this kind of policy? That family will never recover from the loss that some school board or administrator decided was a negligible risk and worth the possible lawsuit in order to teach students to properly use technology like cell phones in a class room.
I admit -- and am quite ashamed -- that I've been guilty of judging other parents myself. When I was a stay-at home mom, I judged working moms for not making it work on one income. When I was a part-time mom, I judged moms who didn't help their spouses enough financially or didn't work less to have more family time. And now that I am an entrepreneur, well, now I don't judge anyone. I simply stand in awe of parents who are figuring out how to raise children, nurture a family and a relationship with a spouse, and create a career that is fulfilling and contributes in the way that they need it to for their family's income.
But I have definitely judged others, so I'm including myself in this admonition: Let's do better. Let's support each other. Let's make life a little better, a littler easier, a little less lonely for the rest of the parents who are trying to do their best, the same as you or me.
Put yourself in the shoes of the parent you are judging. Could you live with their stress, with their obligations and responsibilities? Maybe. Most of us rise to whatever we have to face, even when we don't think we can. But why do we feel ok about ourselves, even self-righteous, about tearing someone else down whose parenting and lifestyle looks different than our own?
It's a tough gig, this parenting thing. So is teaching. Maybe instead of assuming we're at odds, we ought to find ways to support each other and make it work better for everyone.
That's the world I want to live in, no matter how many hours a day it takes to make that happen.