Time to drop the self-judgment
I’m usually uncomfortable walking into a big social situation but I was determined not to make this night about me. My husband, David, and four other sailors were being honored for making it through the initiation process and this night was to celebrate them ~ the newest Chiefs in the US Navy.
Truth be told, I actually enjoyed getting ready that evening. I chose one of my favorite dresses ~ purple with white polka dots. Although it was my favorite, I rarely wore it because it was a little fancy for church, and there were buttons all down the front and my young children liked to play with them while we sat in the pew at church. Constantly checking to make sure I was buttoned up so as not to mortify myself by walking around unknowingly exposed took away from the joy of wearing this dress, so it usually just hung in my closet. But not that night. The boys would be at home with a babysitter so my buttons were safe! Plus, this was a night to dress up, and I felt beautiful as I left home with my husband, in my favorite dress, with pearls around my neck, and heels on my feet.
We were among the first to arrive at the venue for the celebration. As I watched other people walk in I began to notice an interesting trend. Of course, every sailor donned his or her military dress uniform ~ that was to be expected. But all the other women had on black dresses. Everyone except me. I made a comment to the female chief I had gotten to know during the initiation process that it seemed like I missed the memo that “black” was the color of the evening. “Why, yes,” she said, “Didn’t Dave tell you?” Um… nope.
There I stood, the only color in a sea of black ~ and in polka dots, nonetheless! I wanted to be angry with my husband, but I knew he didn’t just leave out that tidbit of information on purpose. I wanted to shrink and disappear, but I didn’t want to ruin the night. So I pretended to just laugh it off and continued on with a smile. But inside I was dying.
Most of that evening I felt judged by everyone in the room because, obviously, I didn’t belong there. I mean, really ~ I should have known that this celebration called for a black dress. And now everyone could see how I messed up… all night long. In a room full of people, I felt very alone.
I have thought about that night several times over the last 15 years and have come to realize that the odds are very good that hardly anyone spent that evening thinking much about me and my dress… except for me. And because I was consumed with my faux pas I was distracted from the celebration, I distanced myself from everyone else because I didn’t feel good enough to really be included, and I suffered needlessly.
Do you ever find yourself, because of your “obvious parenting failures,” feeling disconnected from everyone around you? Maybe you don’t reach out to your friends because their older children seem to have everything figured out, not like yours, who is struggling. Maybe you keep quiet at Church because there’s no way you have anything valid to add to the discussion because your son isn’t living the religion he was raised in. Or maybe you don’t even think you deserve to enjoy any parts of your life because your son’s life is spinning out of control.
It’s so easy to second-guess every decision you made through the years, as if that will somehow make things different. It’s so easy to be angry with yourself for not doing this parenting thing “right” (because surely there’s a manual of instructions for raising your son that you just neglected to pay attention to). It’s so easy to isolate yourself when life isn’t going the way you planned, when your son isn’t living the way you want him to, and because you’re embarrassed and frustrated.
Yes, these things are easy to do but they won’t change what’s already happened. But more importantly, second-guessing, anger, and isolation will keep you from being the kind of mom you want to be, right now, today. Beating yourself up also prevents you from taking care of yourself.
It is time to embrace your polka-dot experience (a.k.a., your imperfect life) and drop all the self-criticism. How would your parenting experience be different right now if, for the rest of today, you dropped all the time you spend second-guessing yourself?
Giving up your self-judgment will open up some space for compassion ~ for yourself and for others. And that feels so much better even when you are the purple polka dots in a sea of black.