"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
When my kids were little, part of the reason I liked being outdoors was because it felt safe. If your child has a tantrum in the forest, and no one is around to judge, do you still feel the piercing sting of shame? No.
I have always been someone that cares a little bit too much about what other people think of me. It’s gotten better over the past few years, but that is only because I ran out of emotional energy to maintain the habit (I’ve also had a few really great counselors).
Avoiding judgment was a legitimate strategy for me when I was a young mom. Collectively speaking, we are not a group of quiet, calm people. I bring a hefty dose of chaos to almost every situation. We are a lot for most people to handle.
Despite my deep longing for approval, I also have a fiery edge. When I would feel hot stares or hear snarky remarks, I wanted to say - “Hi my name is Liz and these are my kids, it’s very nice to meet you. We are in the middle of a “project” right now. It’s going to take us a little while to work out all the kinks (like eighteen years). Your judgement and unnecessary commentary, is making it really difficult for us to focus.”
Being in the woods, far away from civilized people, was better for us. In hindsight, we probably should have built a tree house and gone off the grid for a few years. I think I would have enjoyed those early years a lot more, if I wasn’t so focused on the criticism of disgruntled strangers.
If you walk into our life on any given day, you will find us in the middle of a million different “projects”. We are working on big things like patience, kindness, grace, discipline, hospitality, responsibility, empathy, creativity, compassion, honesty, curiosity, trust, etc. There is a lot going on and much of time, it isn’t pretty. I am not a calm, quiet, mother. I lose my temper and have to apologize almost as often as my kids.
Figuring out how to raise thoughtful, functional human beings is a pretty laborious process. If you are overly concerned with what other people think, it will add a layer of complexity that may cloud your judgment. Most of the time you know what your kids need. Trust your judgement and avoid the people and places that distract you from your work.
If your goal as a parent is to make your kids suitable for every audience, then you will likely miss out on the most fulfilling component of your job - helping them figure out who they are in this world. Society is filled with all sorts of unreasonable expectations. We should set goals, based on our values, rather than the critiques of judgmental onlookers.
There is something genuinely refreshing about enjoying people for who they are. When I need to hit the reset button and start loving my kids for who they are - we retreat to the wilderness. I have found it to be the most hospitable environment for growth. Take a walk with your kids and enjoy them exactly the way they are.