I’ve become a stereotype – the single mother of a troubled kid. It’s an uncomfortable role. Every time I’m in a situation where strangers are interacting with me in this capacity I want to say, “wait! You don’t understand… This kid was troubled back when I was married, not widowed, and there were two functioning parents and positive role models.” I feel the need to bring along family members or friends to things like meetings with school officials – just to show that I’m not in this completely alone. The funny thing is, I really haven’t had anyone try to blame my child’s actions on me being single. Everyone has been so willing to see beyond the surface, to take seriously my experiences over his lifetime as his mom. So my uncomfortable feelings are really mostly in my own head.
The older I get the more I realize that we take the easy way out when we look at the surface of things and figure we know the whole story. We love to look at someone’s difficulties and tell ourselves that would never happen to us because we would make better choices. Maybe it makes us feel safer if we think that misfortune only happens to the foolish. But the truth is, there are a lot of people out there like me – what you see on the surface is only a small part of the story. And how much better it is when we look at each other with compassion and a willingness to listen rather than condemn. Every time someone offers me understanding it brings me to tears – in a good way. Not like when that guy was berating my sister for her three year old who was walking over his landscaped rocks while she corralled a five year old and had a baby in a carrier on her arm. That was bad tears and a perfect example of how destructive our surface judgements can be towards the strangers we meet every day.