Don’t Judge Others Before Walking in Their Shoes

My dear father-in-law once told me the story of when he hosed down his youngest son out of frustration during a potty-training session gone awry.

Amid everyone’s amusement at what has now become a comical family memory, I recall being a bit flabbergasted at hearing this, since an action of this nature in no way reflects the demeanor of this kind and gentle man whom I had grown to love.  Even though the episode occurred years ago – my brother-in-law is now grown, happily married and a successful engineer – I couldn’t help thinking to myself that never in a million years would I do such a thing to my own kids. After all, I mused, I will have much more patience than that when I become a parent.

Fast forward to the present day. I am now privileged to be the mommy to two young boys, ages 7 and 3. As of this writing, I am also facing my own potty-training battles trials and tantrums tribulations. Our three-year-old son, Luke, who I could inhale in one breath that’s how much I love him, absolutely refuses to have anything to do with the potty. In fact, if he had his way, he would be quite content, at this juncture, to staying in diapers for the rest of his life.

My husband and I have tried everything – stickers, endless praise, candy, toys, books, video games, ice cream, etc. – to entice this spirited preschooler to sit his bare bottom on the potty and do his business. We’ve had stops and starts, triumphs and failures, and plenty of tears. And honestly, it’s really starting to wear all of us thin.

So the other day, during a particularly heated potty wrangling, I could feel the frustration swelling in me. Without warning or momentary recourse, I suddenly had the strong urge to take him outside, strip him clear down to his bum and water log him with the garden hose.

As fast as the thought entered my mind, I quickly dispelled it, but not without thinking first of my father-in-law. Here I was, walking in his same shoes, steeped knee high in frustration and nearly driven to the point of doing something that I might regret. For a while, I felt ashamed … ashamed that I had jumped so quickly into judging my father-in-law’s actions, before I really understood the challenges of being a parent myself.

I use this potty-training example to demonstrate an important point: We often are quick to judge others without first considering how it might feel to walk in their shoes. In my novel, LITTLE 15, the protagonist – 15-year-old Lauren Muchmore – takes us through her affair with her high school basketball coach – 35-year-old Daniel Krum – disclosing every horrifying detail that eventually leads to what she terms as her “fall from grace.” Without giving away too much of the plot, the affair results in a pregnancy, placing Lauren in the same desolate situation as a former classmate. Please, if you will, an excerpt:

The fictional Lauren Muchmore.

We sat in silence for a long time on the cold stone floor of her bathroom, numb to a circumstance neither of us knew how to handle. Here I was 15 years old and pregnant, without a clue as to what in God’s name I was going to do next. For the life of me I didn’t know when the baby would be born or how long I’d be pregnant or even when the right time would be to go see a doctor. Plus, I wasn’t even sure how the baby would come out of me, how big it would get or worse, being so young if I’d even survive the birth.

But June didn’t give me much time to ponder these questions that day. Instead she reminded me of a girl named Felicity at Pope Pius who had gotten herself pregnant during her senior year. Felicity and her boyfriend, who also attended the school, chose to disclose the pregnancy to their parents and school officials. Because of their voluntary “confession,” the school decided against expulsion and instead pledged to graduate them as planned. So their sin was forgiven in a sense, but certainly not forgotten—at least not where Felicity was concerned. Over the next few months, Felicity continued to attend classes as her belly swelled, forcing her to trade her uniform skirt for maternity clothes and her life for one of constant ridicule.

“Don’t you remember how we made fun of her?” asked June as I stared blankly at the wall unable to function. “Don’t you remember how someone wrote ‘whore’ in permanent marker on her locker?”

And I did remember, because I was among those who would stare at her in the halls when she passed or whisper secrets behind her back. I, along with the rest of the school, slowly crucified her each day, making sure she paid for her mistake … her unspeakable, dirty sin.

Truth be told, we were no better than Felicity. I was no better, now that I found myself staring in disbelief at a dipstick and reeling in the same dimension of shock that had befallen her. In fact, I was much worse—worse for judging her without considering how it felt to be in her shoes. And certainly now, as I contemplated my next move, I found myself walking in them, surprised by how easily they fit.

Although this is a fictional example, one can easily relate this to the real world – a world that we often fill with harsh judgment and scorn. Take, for instance, the full-time parent who berates the working parent, or the working parent who feels an air of superiority over the full-time parent; the believer who carries condemnation for the non-believer; the rich man who blames the poor man for his lack of ambition; and – dare I say it – the pro-lifer who chastises the woman for seeking help from Planned Parenthood.

Let me be clear. I’m all for having opinions. In fact, this post is purely my opinion – one that you, my dear reader, might not share. And that’s OK. But in my mind, what’s not OK is putting unfounded judgment on another human being. Because really, I don’t know how it feels to walk in yours shoes any more than you know what it’s like to walk in mine.

And now for the important stuff … does anyone out there have some really good potty-training advice? I’m in need of some – STAT!

Stephanie Saye is the author of LITTLE 15 – a novel about a high school basketball star, her coach and their torrid affair. Her Catholic upbringing, coupled with an eye for controversy and an affinity for dark, psychological drama, inspires much of her research and storytelling. A seasoned corporate communicator, Stephanie lives in Texas with her husband and two sons. 

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