Several months ago, I found myself on an elevator with someone I know (albeit peripherally) through my job. In between floors, we exchanged pleasantries, and established that she liked my boots and I loved her handbag. As the elevator approached ground level, we repositioned ourselves to make room for a woman with a stroller to turn around. My acquaintance turned sideways, and peeking out above the chic scarf knotted at her neck were a chain of bruises. They appeared to be in several stages of healing, with swelling visible from below her ear right up under her chin.
The elevator doors opened, she waved goodbye, and I felt a wave of nausea. What could have caused those bruises, except something or someone grabbing her neck? She had kids, were they and was she safe at home? I jogged down the hall after her, catching up just outside the automatic door at the front of the building. “Listen,” I said, as I scribbled my address and phone number on the back of an envelope, “It’s none of my business, but I just wanted to tell you that if you and your kids ever need a place to go, my door is always open.” Her expression changed from curious to what looked like confused. And then… amused?
“Oh honey,” she said, laughing. “Nobody’s trying to kill me. I got Kybella.”
I wasn’t sure what Kybella was, but as I retreated back into the building, I Googled it: “An FDA-approved treatment that destroys fat cells under the chin.” What I thought was domestic abuse was actually the side effect of a trip to the cosmetic dermatologist. Oopsie.
The reason for this story of self-embarrassment is not necessarily to entertain anyone. Instead, I am trying to illustrate that even with a good heart and the best of intentions, sometimes it is best not to assume anything. This is not to say that I think it’s wrong to offer help if someone might be in danger at home – quite the opposite. The point I’m making is that assuming we know what is going on with someone else can make for more than just an awkward moment. When the subject is something sensitive, we often have an emotional or visceral reaction. Which, while human, can be quite hurtful. The arena where I see this phenomenon most often is parenting.
Part of being an actively-involved parent is assessing where our kids are developmentally and behaviorally. And, in many cases including my own, agonizing about what constitutes “normal.” Do all tween girls equate making their bed with torture, or am I an asshole parent? Do some littles experience severe separation anxiety at 3 years old instead of 1-2? It’s hard to know sometimes, so many of us moms turn to each other for a sounding board. It’s a slippery slope, though, because while all moms’ groups have supportive, like-minded folk, they are also rife with judgment. I’ve seen threads where asking what to use on a 2nd degree burn suddenly turns into hostile accusations of negligence, or a simple question about which Minute Clinic is offering flu shots turn into a raging fight against each other’s choices regarding vaccinations.
Recently, I posted to ask what Ipad apps are good for a child with a speech delay, which prompted speculation about whether or not my toddler’s speech delay is from being allowed to use an Ipad in the first place. Whoa. Slow down, ladies. At the time I asked about the Ipad apps, we were planning for our first plane ride, and I figured that if an Ipad was a viable way to keep our youngest entertained for an hour or two, we should try to use the time as an opportunity to work on his speech development. In asking for input, I opened myself up to all kinds of assumptions about and finger-pointing at my parenting style and skills.
We should not have to defend ourselves to each other. We are free (and encouraged!) to make our own decisions, to be inadequately, incorrectly, or even overly informed. We are allowed to ask questions, of ourselves and of each other – but we should not be so quick to judge, especially when we do not have complete information (something we’re not necessarily entitled to). I am clearly as guilty of this as the next person, so I will document here my intention to maintain an open heart and mind, especially when it comes to hot-button subjects.