Thursday, June 9, 2011

Another's Moccasins

Don’t judge someone until you walk a mile in his moccasins.

Many of us have heard some version of this Native American proverb. I recently read on someone’s blog about an incident that is familiar to most of us. Have you ever been annoyed in a store or restaurant or on a plane by a child misbehaving? What was your reaction? We might think that the child is a brat, that the mother is a bad mother, that kids these days are not taught good manners, that the civilized world is going down the toilet.

More times than not, when my son James was growing up, I was the mother with the misbehaving child. James was a beautiful little boy (everyone said so!). When you looked at him, you could not tell that he was autistic. But his behavior often left something to be desired. He would not look you in the eye. He liked to make animal noises. He had a low tolerance for certain stimuli, such as an amplified voice, crowds, being touched. He did not like a change in plans, or a disappointed expectation. Of course, many kids and even adults share some of these traits. But for James, something he did not like could cause a total meltdown, with screaming and crying. Once his anxiety began to escalate, it was very difficult to avoid a tantrum, and once triggered, the tantrum wrecked the rest of the day.

Taking him anywhere was always stressful. I had to think about where we were going and what might happen there. I had to be careful about what I told him, so that I didn’t set up an expectation that might get disappointed. I was his minesweeper, going before him to discover and avoid places and scenarios that I knew would cause an explosion.

Trying to engage in normal activities, like going to the grocery store, often left me drained and in despair. More times than I can remember, as James began to whine and ramp up, I could see eyes darting my way, lips pursing, eyebrows frowning, heads shaking. I wanted to scream, “He’s autistic! I’m doing the best I can. I just need to get something for dinner.”

Once I took him to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. After he ate, he wanted to play in the plastic ball pit. He got in and started jumping around. He was having a great time. Then a little girl got in, too. James was ignoring her, but he was making his animal sounds and the little girl got nervous. (Who could blame her?) I was trying to coax James back to the entrance to leave, but he was at the far side. The little girl’s dad looked quizzically at James and then began to scowl. “Your son should not be in there if you can’t control him.” I went home and cried.

I am not denying that there are bratty kids out there, or bad moms. And I’m not denying that James had his bratty moments, or that I had my bad mom moments (more than I care to remember). My point is that we don’t always know what is going on in someone else’s life. Perhaps the mother who appears to be ignoring her misbehaving child is overwhelmed. Perhaps the child has OCD or autism or something else that affects her behavior.

Rushing to judgment blocks our ability to feel and express compassion. When I was in a position to explain what was going on with James, I found people to be universally kind and supportive. Now that James is grown, his disability is immediately apparent and people are quick to be friendly. When we have information, we often put our best foot forward. When we don’t have information, perhaps we could put that same foot in the other person’s moccasin.


  1. I felt so judged as a parent-by doctors, and teachers, and social workers, and crossing guards...none of those people even noticed my other 2 children, who were amazing and quiet....

    Now my "problem" kiddo is doing so well and some of those horrible situations have turned out to provide her with strength in her new endeavors.

    My child asked embarrassing questions in public too - such as "Where does Dad put his ____ when he is riding his bike?" or announced that the story was boring at controls...The psychiatrist wrote on his report that "the Mother is in denial about her child's mental state"

    Then at age 16 a brain scan showed the lesion in the brain and we started working with her as though she had had a stroke - life started coming together to her success...

    I think though all that stress is tied up in my weight issues and being unable to let go and get healthy - I am still exhausted much of the time....and keep wondering - Why would folks not believe me and what I was describing about the experience? I am still hurt

  2. Galen that would be trying and I can't even imagine the hurts and frustrations you endured. The way I view life is that God never gives us more than we can handle, God trusts you with this child and that is an immense gift.

    Personally I used to buy into the expectations of society, I lived in a fearful place. I was afraid of being judged, talked about or not being good enough. Today I've let all of that go and what a beautiful life I lead. I am respectful of others and others feelings, I do not go out of my way to make anybody's life miserable and I treat others the way I expect to be treated. I judge others, yes I'm guilty of that, I can't stop it, there's not an off switch when the thought or judgment just pops into my mind. It's what I choose to do with the judgement is what makes all the difference in my world. I know in the bible is says something like judge and be not judged, but I believe I was preconditioned to be the way I am. I also believe we all are and to try to stop judgments from entering your mind, even for that split second, well it's plain out hard to do. I keep practicing though because I believe the world would be a much better place if none of us judged one another and walked a mile in the others moccasins.

    Have a wonderful day!

    I have a suggestion for you Patricia, there's self help groups and OA is one of them. I personally have done the 12 step program and am still an active member of a 12 step group and it's the best thing I've ever done for myself. I believe in forgiveness and letting go, forgiveness of myself first and foremost so that I can forgive others and let go of the resentments I once carried. I believe everything starts with us, if we want to be loved, we must first love ourselves, if we want respect, we must first respect ourselves and the best way I find to feel good is to help others in any way possible, help them without enabling them. I wish you well on your life's journey and I hope you can come to a place of peace in your life.

  3. Oh Galen....these posts you are doing are such eye openers.

    Hugs sweet lady,


  4. (@darlin ---
    Please pardon my off-topic reaction. This is an important philosophical question for me, whether or not God is in control, or if we have complete free will to choose to do good and evil.

    If God is passing out everyone's circumstances within their ability to handle them, why are there suicides, drug ODs, wars, genocide etc.? Surely you aren't suggesting it's the victims' fault for not being able to handle their circumstances? How is a child supposed to handle being beaten to death by its parent? It happens.

    To me, people undertake both unwise and evil actions all by themselves. God won't stop it, because the allowance of unfettered evil is the cost of free will. We have to fix it ourselves as best we can, just as you acted to solve whatever kept you enslaved, through a 12-step program.

    I do seek God as a source of strength, but I believe I did wrong to myself and others, and they did it unto me, without God's involvement or participation. And sometimes we just fall in a pothole because we didn't happen to see it.)

    I think your perseverance is so admirable, Galen. You couldn't "control" James because his own brain-machine works differently from most people's, but also because control itself is an illusion. We do run out of steam, miss developing crises and make wrong choices, and must forgive ourselves for our well-intentioned imperfection.

    Sometimes even the most placid kids will act out, or just do something ordinary that happens to trip someone else's trigger. I'm sorry you had to endure that other parent's insensitivity. I'm glad James is viewed with more understanding now, courtesy of his having survived with your help.

  5. I really believe there are kid people out there. My wife and I are two of them. We have been places where people have said, "Thank God. That bratty kid is finally gone," and we replied, "What kid"?

  6. Thanks to all for your comments. This seems to have touched a nerve for some, raised questions for others, reminded some of lessons already learned. I am so pleased that this has also sparked some comments in response to other comments. So thank you for the time you took to read and consider, and to share your thoughts with me and with each other.

  7. "Rushing to judgment" seems to be the new normal. It could be deciding someone's child is misbehaving, a friend who appears to have let us down, a government leader with whom we disagree, or a spouse who did something counter to our wishes.

    We immediately assume the other person is deliberately choosing to irritate or bother us, or is somehow irresponsible. Seen only through the filter of our own perception, we can become quite short-sighted and mean-spirited. Only later, is it apparent that we misread the situation and acted badly. But, by then it is too late.

  8. Thanks for following...following back....awesome sure to link up to my new hop...thanks..

  9. Galen, this is so well stated. A real eye opener, really. I'm ashamed to admit that I am among the people in the first paragraph, of "why don't these bad parents control that bratty kid." I've never known any parents of autistic kids and I'd never heard the word when my kids were growing up. I joke about my living in my mushroom cave but honestly, sometimes I think I do. Thank you, so much, for writing this post and sharing the difficult moments. You have taught me sooo very much and I will begin to place my feet in anothers moccasins. Thank you again.

  10. Bob--You are so right about rushing to judgment being the new normal. We see it in politics, religion, and our private lives. Thank you for an insightful comment.

    Inspired--Thanks for stopping by and following.

    Manzanita--You are not alone. I sometimes find myself in that first paragraph, too, I'm sorry to say. So maybe together we can try to pause and recognize that we might not always have an accurate picture. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Hi Galen,

    Wow, bringing James up has made you a master planner! You certainly have a fair amount of foresight if you have to keep on thinking ahead out of necessity. I am sure this trait has served you well in many areas of your life but there is always a need to keep it under control.

    That said, it is always easier to judge others than to step into their moccasins. As an INFJ, I always make it a point to see things from the other person's point of view or to at least hear their side of the story before I pass as judgement. In the event that this is not possible, I just shrug it off if it does not affect me adversely in anyway.

    As for bratty kids and all that, I am hardly bothered. It is true that they are noisy and all, but they will not be able to express themselves so freely or openly before life catches up with them and beats them down. Why would I begrudge them their moments if it doesn't inconvenience me? True calm and composure exists even in the eye of the storm. If I allow external influences to unsettle me, the fault is partly mine as well.

    Thank you for sharing this thought provoking article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

    PS: And you are a great mom no matter what people say. Let them try to bring up an autistic child before they cast the first stone.

  12. Irving--I can always count on you to say just what I need to hear! Thank you so much for your unfailing support and kind words.


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