Requested: The Benefit of the Doubt

If I told you a story, would you judge me? What if you didn’t know me…and you just read about it on Facebook?

Let me set the stage. It was 12 years ago. I was a stay at home mom with 2 babies. One was a newborn…just a few months old. This child had already charmed her world with her bright blue eyes and her ready smiles. Dimples…one on each cheek…and pudgy little feet, soft as satin, kicking at the air. She had a sister, too…lucky girl that she was. A two year old girl…sweet and quiet. A watcher…absorbing everything around her like a sponge. Full of hugs and kisses and snuggles. A lover of drawing and animals and quiet reading times. This one loved her people fiercely, but she did not warm to strangers as quickly and sometimes…sometimes the world was overwhelming for this sister. Sometimes the lights were too bright, the noises too loud. Sometimes she craved quiet. And always…always she was watching. Listening. Wanting to please those people she loved so deeply. Wanting to be good.

That day, I put the 2 year old down for a nap. And then I nursed the baby and laid her down too. I had been looking forward to this hour all day long. As I lay the baby down, the toddler started to yell. She woke her sister, who started to wail. There are a couple of things I could’ve done at this point. Better things. What I did do was to march into that toddler’s room. I picked her up and marched her down the hall with my angriest march. I sat her down on my dresser and said…with all of my anger bubbling out around my mouth and covering my words with sharpness…”You will be QUIET. It is time for RESTING.” And I looked at my child…this sensitive soul with her sweet blonde pigtails and her pink cheeks and her green eyes…and I saw fear. And she was quiet. Too quiet.

If you had looked in through my bedroom window at that moment, you probably would’ve decided I was a lousy mother. And in that moment, you would’ve been right. But here’s the part you couldn’t see: You couldn’t know that my mom had died a few weeks before. You couldn’t know how she raised me by herself all those years…and how we spoke every day, sometimes several times a day…and how absolutely gutted I was by her death. How exhausted I was by grief. You couldn’t have seen how quickly, after those words spilled out of my mouth, I was engulfed by shame. How horrible I felt. How desperately I wanted to take back..not so much my words…but my TONE.  How badly I wanted to stuff my anger back in. You couldn’t have known that I had spent the last few weeks trying not to cry in front of my babies – because it made them so sad – and had instead had allowed my grief to explode in this new, caustic way.

The thing is…I’m actually not a crappy mother. In the parenting spectrum…I’m ok. But that moment, taken by itself, would’ve given you a very different idea.

I think most of us have probably had moments like that. The worst moments. The moments when you know that you’ve failed. Not completely, no. But in that moment? Yes. We all fail. If we’re lucky, those moments stay private and can be viewed with the perspective of the whole situation. If we’re not…if those moments are public and taken out of context…? We hope that our stories will be met with grace.

In my house, we talk a lot about giving people “the benefit of the doubt.” I try to tell my children that, when someone does something hurtful or ugly, let’s assume there’s more to the story. We don’t know everything. Their behavior is often not “about you” as much as you would think. I ask my kids to try to do this for 2 reasons. The first is that there’s really no benefit that I can see to assuming the worst in people. It’s a colossal waste of energy and there’s a very real risk, too…that it turns out you were wrong and you have to eat crow. The second is this: I have needed to be given the benefit of the doubt many, many times throughout my life. There have been so many times when I have done the wrong thing…not because I wanted to or meant to…but because I was too distracted and wrapped up in my own stuff to do any better that day.  If you had looked in the window that day, I hope you would’ve given me the benefit of the doubt. I hope that, instead of thinking “she is a terrible mother!”…you would’ve thought, “whoa! That mama needs a break!”. And then maybe you could’ve swung down to Dunkin’ for some coffee and sat on the porch with me for a bit. I hope that you would’ve given me the grace that I so desperately needed that day.  I hope that you wouldn’t have ranted about it on Twitter or posted about it on Facebook. That, instead, you would’ve met my awfulness that day with compassion.

There have been other moments since that I have not been proud of. Moments when I should’ve given more. Moments when I should’ve been quiet and let things work themselves out. As a parent, I am so far from perfect that I can’t even see perfect from where I’m standing. But the thing is…I do my best. I promise that every single day, whether it was a day full of hugs and kisses or a day full of bickering and “who took my…”, I have done my best.

I bet I’m not alone. This job is hard and, as it turns out, we are all actual people dealing with our own stuff as we try to raise these kids. We all need grace. We all need to be given the benefit of the doubt.  The kids. The moms. The dads. All the people. I don’t know about you, but Lord knows I’ve needed it often enough…and crow isn’t the tastiest dish.




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