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Feeling Judged?

By petra - Posted on 12 November 2012

Once upon a time, when my oldest kid was small, I took her to swimming lessons at the Crystal Pool. I was super young, though I didn't know it at the time.

All I knew was that there was another mum whose kid was in the same class who really didn't like me. And she made a point of demonstrating her dislike every way she could. Giving me the “you’re-a-young-parent-therefore-you-suck” look; making comments to the other mothers about my age and insinuations about my life (such as that I must be a single parent); and making sure I knew I was not welcome to sit with them while they watched their kids swim. At first I completely forgot about her between lessons. But every Thursday afternoon, there she was, ready to remind me that there was something wrong with me and my family because I was young. And after a while that started to sink in. I started to believe her. I mean she was an adult, with a minivan and three kids. She obviously had it way more together than me, so she must know, right?

I started to feel self-conscious and ashamed of myself and hyper-aware of everything I didn't have together: I didn't have a car, or a plan, or money, or a high school diploma, or a proper house, or even reliable heat in my house. I didn't know what I was going to feed my kid for dinner that night (but I did know I was going to feed her). I really let this woman get to me, until one day in the change room I saw her undressed. I didn't even know it was her at first, I just looked up from helping my kid out of her swim suit and~ it was like a train wreck~ I couldn't help it- for a whole timeless horrorstruck second I just stared at this misshapen middle-aged disaster of a body, trying to figure out what I was seeing. And then I saw it was her, and she saw that I saw, and she saw the horrified look on my face before I could recover and rearrange it into a more placid expression.

And after that, the spell was broken. She had all kinds of stuff together and all kinds of judgement about what she thought she knew about my life, but I knew she was a disaster without her clothes. Not very mature on my part, but hey, I was 18. And she was a bitch.

She left me alone after that.

The funny thing is, a couple babies and a couple decades later, I now possess a body very much like hers was then, and I sometimes see the same momentary alarm on the faces of the youngsters in the change room after yoga, but I just smile and think ' Yup! Here it is... and one day it'll happen to you!'

The difference between me now and me way back then is that now I'm not going to let anyone's judgments about me determine how I feel about myself. The shock on their faces doesn't make me feel self-conscious about my body. Just amused. It's not that I'm impervious to feedback. There's lots I still need to learn and much I can refine in myself, but the externals, like age & body? I know that people's judgments about those things reflect them, not me, and that's what I learned that day in the change room at the Crystal Pool long ago. I now know that the 'old mum' who wanted to suppress me simply because I was young was just miserable, and deserved my compassion. Rather than taking responsibility for her misery and for feeling threatened by me, she chose to spread her misery around and be threatening. And importantly, I let her do it.

The difference between her forty-something self (then) and my forty-something self (now) is that when I see a young parent taking her kid to swimming (or karate, or dance) lessons I'm thinking, Wow that's awe-inspiring; she's so committed to her kid! I'll know that chances are they took a bus (in the rain) to get there. That there are a million other things that young mum could be doing on a late autumn afternoon, but of everything she could be doing, she is devoting herself to her kid. Awesome. Amazing. Humbling. And just because I have a couple of decades of parenting experience on her, doesn't mean that I don't have a lot to learn. From her. From life. And from those you would judge me.