When I left my full-time job, it occurred to me it had become more than that. It was a career. I had cultivated expertise—people sought my advice on things because I was the resident “expert.” This flattered me a little, I suppose, but I hadn’t guessed how much I’d miss it.
Now I am an expert at exactly nothing. Still, there are a handful of issues near to my heart, on the tip of my tongue. I think many of us could probably narrow our passions down to identify The One Thing: The thing you do so well that, when you see it done poorly, it makes your blood boil. The thing you focus on at the expense of others. The thing you feel confident enough about to judge others on.
If I’m honest, my One Thing is probably food. Over the course of the last three or four years, I have made a series of changes—tiny steps—toward a real-food diet for our family. Some people probably think I receive royalties every time someone downloads the documentary, “Food, Inc.”
I try hard not to let the quest for real food interfere with really living—there are absolutely exceptions and compromises. But I have read and watched and researched and learned things I can’t unknow, and so I devote considerable time and a larger chunk of our weekly budget than I am comfortable with seeking, buying and cooking real food from scratch. This commitment frequently runs counter to convenience and modern life, which annoys me. It occurs to me that sometimes we are the weird family. But I’ve become okay with it, because I truly believe it’s the better way to be.
Sounds virtuous, right? If I left it at that, it would be. But I don’t.
On a weekly basis I find myself caring for other people’s children, feeding them snacks and lunches packed from home. And I have been appalled-- loudly, and to anyone who would listen-- about what some people are feeding their precious babies. I may express frustration about loved ones who just can’t or won’t or don’t feel compelled to make changes I know would radically improve their lives. I judge strangers and friends, aloud and internally, organic green smoothie in hand, from my comfortable perch of being right and good.
And it’s wrong.
I know fellow mothers whose One Thing might be extended breastfeeding, back sleeping, staying home with the kids, attachment parenting, eradicating circumcision, car seat safety, methods of discipline, learning styles, schooling (or unschooling), natural home birth, and a host of other issues. And, if we let ourselves go there, I could probably get into it with just about every one of my friends.
I fought every day and through many nights to nurse my second child for one year. My kids never slept on their backs or in my bed, I worked full-time for the first four years I was a mother; I wore them in a carrier, but would not consider myself an attachment parenting devotee. I’m on the fence about circumcision; as long as kids are in car seats I can’t manage to get passionate about the type or dither about its fastening. We do not spank our children, and if you weathered a meltdown at our house, you might click your tongue about how we dealt with it. We are reluctantly sending our oldest to public kindergarten next year, and while I aspire toward a natural birth if blessed with another opportunity, I can never imagine doing it at home.
And you know what? All of that is okay. And it’s okay for you to disagree with me. And it’s okay for you to lovingly feed your child whatever it is you’re feeding him, and it’s NOT okay for me to judge your character because of it.
A quick glance at my Facebook newsfeed tells me this phenomenon is not limited to motherhood or lifestyle choices. Maybe your One Thing is the Second Amendment, maybe it’s abortion, maybe it’s human trafficking. Maybe it’s theology or social justice or personal finances. Maybe it’s federal spending or welfare.
You know what? With all due respect, your one thing is just that—yours. It’s probably very worthy, and there is likely a reason it gets more of your attention than the other issues you may also be passionate about. But that doesn’t mean it falls in the same priority order in others’ lives, and that doesn’t mean they are wrong, and it doesn’t mean you’re better or smarter for choosing that One Thing.
I’d like to think the reason I judge others about food is because it’s just that important. But I don’t think that’s it. I think I judge them because maybe that’s the one thing I feel like I’m doing well. We all harbor insecurities—since I’ve become a mother mine have multiplied. There are so many areas I could be giving more attention, so many opportunities to improve. So if there’s one area I can feel good about, I’m going to embrace it, even if it means putting others down to make myself feel better.
But instead of doing that, what if I recognized the One Thing in others and, agree or disagree, listened and tried to learn from it? Maybe if more of us tried to do that, there would be fewer angry Facebook rants, fewer verbal standoffs. Maybe we’d realize most of us are just doing the best we can, and that there is less space between us than we think.