Non-Judgment Day

We’ve all been there a thousand times: we start chatting with another mom while we’re waiting for the kids to come out of school.

The conversations always center on our families. We compare notes on schools, teachers, and activities. Those subjects would seem harmless enough ““ after all we’re not discussing General Petraeus’ report on the war in Iraq ““ our topics are more along the lines of how to keep the swarms of yellow jackets from making off with the kids’ lunches.

So I was having one of these parking lot conversations recently with a mom when I asked about how her older daughter was doing at the junior high. She relayed the story about how her daughter was bored in seventh grade math so she didn’t do the homework. Because of that, the teacher didn’t want to place her in the higher level eighth grade math class. This mom believes her daughter is an exceptional math student so she raised a fuss with the school administration until they relented and let her in the more advanced class.

Throughout the conversation I nodded sympathetically, but inside I was thinking that this mom had given her daughter an unintended lesson: “You can skip doing the work and I’ll step in to bail you out. The rules don’t apply. You’re special.”

Would there have been any value in saying that to her?

For one thing, I’m sure it would have come out sounding very judgmental. It’s difficult for me to find a way to state something I feel strongly about without sounding harsh. If I made a comment such as, “I think you really made a mistake doing that,” I could be sure that would be last conversation I would ever have with her.

Also, what qualifies me as the Dr. Phil of our elementary school, telling other parents how to raise their kids? I could be totally off-base. Maybe it would not have been in the daughter’s best interest to let her suffer the consequences of slacking in seventh grade. Perhaps the end of the story is that because she was placed in the advanced class with more motivated students, she also becomes more motivated. And when she goes on to become the most famous mathematician next to Euclid, she can look back and attribute it to her mother and thank her for fighting for her to be in Algebra 1.

And one last point, this mom wasn’t asking for advice; she was just responding to my inquiry.

So I’m wondering, is this one of those instances like when you’re in a group of people of differing political views and rather than risk being confrontational or making someone uncomfortable, you just let the differences in philosophy pass by without comment? Can I express my point of view on something I feel strongly about without sounding like a jerk?

When I talked this over with Steve, he suggested asking the mom, “Do you think what you did might be giving her the wrong message?” I liked that, it wasn’t loaded with condemnation.

As I sort through this, that’s what I want to do, the next time I have an opinion about something someone says to me. I’m not going to ignore what I’m thinking, but I’m not going to make a statement. I’m going to ask a question. I don’t think anyone ever minds someone trying to understand them better.

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