I was at a gathering one night where a group of women were discussing the concept of gentleness. Parenting was brought up and what gentleness looks like in that realm. One woman offered a story:
Two moms were going to the grocery store. One mom was soft-spoken and gentle with her children, and they remained quiet and obedient throughout the shopping trip. The other mom entered the store frazzled and yelling at her children as they dart every which way. The first mom embodied true gentleness, while the other just appears foolish to her fellow shoppers.
My eyes widened, and I’m sure my jaw must have dropped. I looked around the room expecting to see other faces mirroring mine, only to find that I was alone. Unfortunately, I’ve come to realize that I just have one of those faces—you know the kind. It’s the face that perfectly reflects the thoughts and emotions of the person without any censor. Oh, those darn faces! I’m certain that there were other women that night whom felt the same way as I, but I guess I was the only one whose face was outing her emotions to the room.
As a relatively new mom, I’m daily bombarded with blog posts, news reports, and journal articles telling me what I should be doing and how I should be feeling when it comes to parenting. Often times I walk away from these readings feeling defeated. The worst are the overly-spiritual parenting bloggers. They paint motherhood as a field of sunflowers that you frolic through, as you smile and admire your ever-delightful family frolicking next to you. To be honest, when I am changing my daughter’s diaper and she keeps trying to grab her poop and bring it to her mouth, it’s hard for me to imagine us running through a field of daisies together. All I can picture is feces.
My initial disgust with this story stemmed from the fact that I was a new mom, and I felt like the story was just another one of those readings telling me how I am not good enough. I am sure I’ve had times where I look presentable at the grocery store; times where my daughter does not make a peep, and onlookers smile at us as we quietly stroll about the aisles. But more often than not, I am the other mom. I’m quickly running to the store because I’ve forgotten a key ingredient to our dinner recipe, or we’ve run out of toilet paper and already I’m frantic. My daughter is, more than likely, yelling at me because I have ripped her away from her toys and am forcefully strapping her into her car-seat. We finally arrive at the store, and now I am on referee duty trying to keep my daughter from grabbing everything she sees while also trying to remember what was on my shopping list–which has inevitably gone into hiding. Frazzled would certainly be the ideal word to describe me, but foolish would not.
New moms, veteran moms, and somewhere-in-between moms, I am certain we’ve all had shopping trips like this. Shopping trips where things did not go according to plan and our children forgot to put their show-face on in public. At one time or another, we can all relate to the frazzled mom. And I’m certain that in our frazzled state, what we needed was not judgment on our failure to show gentleness, but rather for someone to be gentle with us.
Here’s a better story about gentleness:
A woman embarks on the treacherous journey of Christmas shopping. Minutes have turned into hours, and suddenly it feels like an entire week has been spent standing in the checkout line. At this moment, one child demands the nutritional snack of Gummi Worms. Upon hearing the word “no”, the child then throws herself on the floor screaming. This sparks a chain response with her other child. The line continues to move forward, and the mom is forced to drag her screaming children along with her. It becomes apparent that a crowd has gathered. Fear and astonishment mark the faces of the onlookers. Soon, the mom realizes that not only are these onlookers starring at her unruly children, they are also starring at her. The mom notices a man approaching them, and it is a police officer. Instead of addressing the mom’s inability to keep her family in line, the officer draws his attention to the children. He informs the two girls that their mother and all the other shoppers have the desire to shop in peace, which they are disrupting with their screams. The children fall silent. The officer then turns to the mom and says, “Being a parent. It’s a tough gig,” (Carry on Warrior 155-158).
When I think about gentleness, I can’t help but feel like we’ve missed the mark if we are looking down on those who aren’t depicting it. The problem with someone making a judgement of who embodies gentleness more, is that they themselves are not extending gentleness. Being gentle with one another goes beyond our circle of friends and family. If we are only gentle to those in our circle, for example mother to child, then that really isn’t anything to be admired or praised. The true gage gentleness is not through your interactions with your loved ones, but how you interact with those you do not know, including the frazzled mom with screaming children at the grocery store. The true embodiment of gentleness is the officer offering a word of encouragement to an obviously frazzled and overwhelmed mom.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.”