Tears ran down her little cheeks. Arms outstretched towards her tired mama walking 6 steps ahead of the crying two and a half year old. There was so much sadness in that little girls face. I was about to swipe my credit card to complete my transaction and it stopped me. I felt it in my chest.
I felt the neediness of the child. The longing to be cared for and picked up and nurtured and tended to. It was a painful unmet need. I know that feeling of the mother too. That “I’m so tired! Please stop crying! Let’s just get through this and get home” feeling.
It all made me feel so uncomfortable, I lashed out in judgment.
“AWWWW – somebody is sad! She wants to be picked up!” I said within earshot of the mother hoping to save and rescue the sad, tired child like some superhero good citizen. But really, I was hoping to save myself from feeling that shame trigger.
Instead the mother gave me a side glance and my kids sneered at me “Maaawwwwm!”
I’ve been around lots of fussy babies I couldn’t console before. I’ve sat behind them on long flights. I’ve had dinner near them in restaurants. I’ve heard them crying in stores.
So why did this one trigger me so deeply?
Because this past spring has been particularly busy for me. I’ve been traveling, speaking and presenting all over the country. I’ve been away from my own 2 children a lot more than normal. When I’m home, I’ve been preoccupied getting ready for the next event, retreat or presentation and consequently, I’ve felt like a part of me has been unavailable to them. Like they are 6 steps behind me, reaching out to be loved, nurtured and cared for. And I’m the tired mom walking ahead saying “let’s just get through this!”
When is judgement present? It shows up where we feel most susceptible to shame ourselves.
It triggers us where we feel vulnerable and inadequate.
When we feel like we’re not sure we’re doing something good enough, it triggers shame in us. So what do we do? We look around and try to find someone else doing it worse and highlight it through judgment to artificially alleviate our own sense of inadequacy.
This is why parenting is a hot-bed for judgement. Because we all feel a little bit uncertain that we’re doing it well enough or that we’re doing it right.
But judgement flares up in lots of other areas too – around body image, financial status, marital happiness – you name it!
So pay attention to judgement. Pay attention to yourself and others. You don’t have to join it. When it arises, be gentle with yourself. Pay attention to what’s coming up and be the compassionate witness here.
Judgment is a warning shot.
It’s a red flag that you’re being triggered by something that causes you to feel shame. It comes from a raw, painful place deep within yourself that ironically requires us to suspend our own inner critic to heal it.
After that judge-y comment I made to the mother, my kids and I finished our transaction and quietly walked to the car. My son said “mom, that was judgmental of you to say that. I wonder why you did it?” Because he was able to reflect this to me out of love and understanding, I didn’t spiral further into shame. I sat with it and tried to reflect on why it hit me and why I reacted that way.
I told them both that I felt badly that I’ve been so busy for the past couple months. That in that crying babies face, I had the perception of a painful unmet need from mother to child and it triggered me to feel guilt and shame. By judging that mother out loud, I subconsciously felt like I was renouncing this and righteously saying to the world and to myself “I would NEVER let this happen and you should do something about this!” When inside, it’s a feeling I could all too well relate to.
I was able to forgive myself. It’s normal to feel shame and it’s normal to want to push against it. In my mind, I sent a little blessing out to that tired mama and crying baby to forgive me too.
We try desperately to escape shame. We will do a lot of bold things to avoid it. I invite you to tune in (non-judgmentally) next time you recognize this in yourself and pause long enough to assess whether or not your judgement is coming from a triggered shame story within. There are ways to heal this story through courage, compassion and a willingness to safely process what’s showing up.