I had my first child on New Year’s Eve of 2013, and she is the light of my life. I was 31 years old when we conceived, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to have children until the day we decided to start trying for one. She has changed my life in so many ways that would have been unimaginable to the childless me.
One day last June my husband and I took her camping, not for the first time, but the first time since she had started pushing up and rolling around. We have a pop-up camper, and I was playing with her on one of the beds. I stood up, and for an instant my attention was stolen by a father across the campground berating his son, who was no older than 7, for trying to help fold up some part of their camping gear in the “wrong” way.
I was appalled by the way this man spoke to his son.
I was horrified by the way he forcefully yanked him away from the item.
I was heartbroken to see that when his son got smacked SO HARD on the back of the head that he didn’t even flinch – this was clearly not the first time.
I was… pulled back to my 6 month old daughter by the most heart-chilling THUD I’ve heard in my life.
She had rolled off the bed, a solid 3 feet at least, onto the hard floor of the camper. She very easily could have smacked her head on a wooden cabinet just to the left of where she rolled off. She was lying there, completely still, not moving, not making a sound. I was shaking so hard when I snatched her up that I’m surprised that I didn’t drop her.
I trembled for hours afterward.
It took about 5 seconds, which felt like a year, for her to start howling. It began as that horrible, heart-wrenching silent cry. She was fine, but it was official – in my moment stolen to judge another parent I had become the worst mother in the world.
I spent the next week replaying the moment over in my mind. Thinking of how the slightest difference in the way she had landed could have severed her spinal cord, rendering her unable to walk for the rest of her life. I spent the next week reading stories of random accidents that happened to children – so many of them unpreventable. I will spare you the details of those here. I became terrified about my inability to keep my beloved daughter safe.
I was lucky enough to have two friends with children close in age to mine. I have texted these two women at all hours of the day, every single day since I have given birth. It still took me almost a week to tell them both what happened, but I felt so much better afterward. As you can imagine, they both had similar stories to share with me.
Two important things I already knew were reinforced by this incident:
1. JUDGEMENT OF OTHERS NEVER LEADS TO ANYTHING GOOD
One of the most valuable things the practice of mindfulness has given me has been the gift of acceptance, both of myself and others. By releasing judgement of myself, I have overcome an eating disorder. By releasing judgement of others, I am better able to love them unconditionally. I have been able to recognize that the behavior of others has nothing to do with me. I have not been able to reach such zen that I can observe child abuse non-judgmentally, but this was a great lesson in how costly it can be to have my attention stolen from my present by my own judgement of others.
2. IF WE COULD ALL BE MORE OPEN AND AUTHENTIC, AND SHARE MORE OF THE BAD, WE WOULD BE ABLE TO SEE MORE OF THE GOOD IN OURSELVES
Since this incident, I have heard so many stories from other mothers of “almost” moments with their children. When you really think about it, it’s impossible not to have these, considering how many moments are in the days, months, and years of our children’s lives. We cannot save them from everything, and we cannot judge ourselves relentlessly! But the most important realization here is that WE ARE NOT ALONE. We are experiencing exactly what countless parents before us have experienced.
If we spent our the time thinking about all of the wonderful things we’ve done for our kids rather than the few moments that we’ve failed them, we would be so much happier. If we spent more time sharing our own parental slip-ups with others, without judgement, we would all be more connected and compassionate parents. I, for one, resolve to keep trying.
“I love camping! Well, most of the time…”
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