It's parent-teacher conference day for my older daughter. (I guess it could be parent-teacher conference day for my younger daughter, too. I could have a nice conversation with myself.) For the past eight years, I've gone to parent-teacher conferences and listened to my daughters' teachers tell me nice things about my kids. I often leave my conferences thinking "were they talking about my kids?"
My girls are pretty good at behaving themselves in public. They do the right things and say the right things at school, at church, and at practice. No one would ever guess that at home we struggle with controlling our tempers, hanging onto our tongues, and obeying our parents.
Don't get me wrong, I love that my girls are capable of demonstrating self-control and respect when they are out of my sight, but I think it drives home the point that we often make assumptions about other people's lives based on what we see in public. And so often those assumptions are wrong. Those assumptions lead us to judge others based on the small glimpse we see of their lives.
That mom in with the tantrum-throwing toddler in the aisle of target? Maybe she's not a bad parent. Maybe her child got his shots that day and she just found out her mom is in the hospital.
That kid who disrupts your child's day at school by constantly speaking out in class? Maybe it's not that his parents aren't working with him on the behavior, maybe it's that he's a foster child who has just entered a new foster home.
That person who cut you off in the carpool line? Maybe it's not that they were trying to get there first. Maybe they're the grandparents who are picking up for the first time because mom and dad have gone on their first trip alone since they had kids.
It's easy to jump to snap judgments about other people. It's easy to make snap judgments about other people's kids. But until we've walked a mile in someone else's shoes, it's impossible to know the real story. Those people with "perfect" kids may be dealing with anger and anxiety issues at home. Those parents of the star athlete may have a marriage that's crumbling behind closed doors.
Assumptions are dangerous things. When we judge (whether good or bad), we automatically take ourselves out of a place where we can minister to others and put ourselves in a place that looks down on others. We become unable to see the hurts behind the behavior because we're so busy judging the behavior. And our kids are learning from us.
When our child comes home hurt by the words or actions of another child, what's our first reaction? Do we verbally pass judgment on the other child's behavior or do we remind our kids that while the behavior was wrong, there's usually more going on than meets the eye? Are we teaching our kids to judge or are we teaching them to look for the hurting person underneath?
Matthew 7:1-2 says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." God doesn't want us to judge others. He doesn't want us to teach our kids to judge others. He wants us to love each other, to look on each other with a measure of compassion. He wants us to remember that we never really know what's going on behind closed doors.
So, the next time you're tempted to pass judgment on another parent or another child, remember that things are not always what they seem, and a little grace and compassion goes a long, long way.