I was at a park in the US pushing my two children (who were 13 mos. and 3 yrs at the time) on swings, when I noticed a little girl who looked about 2 years old with dirty blonde hair which looked like it hadn’t been combed in days. Her clothes were filthy and stained with probably whatever she last ate. Her mother was sitting on a bench across the park and the little girl went over to her and started eating Cheetohs (an artificially flavored and bright orange colored cheese chip) right from a bag her mother held open for her. I remember thinking, “I would NEVER EVER let my child look like that or eat Cheetohs!! Doesn’t that mother care about her child?”
Fast forward a few months and my family moved to Lagos, Nigeria. I cannot tell you the “culture shock” I experienced moving there. One of the things which stood out to me most was the child rearing practices I would see along the streets from the windows of my car. There were small children in their school uniforms riding on the back of okadas (small motorcycles). There were children walking to school with no shoes. There were mothers selling their goods from large trays on their heads along with their young children helping them. Shouldn’t those children be riding in a car with car seats?? Shouldn’t those children have shoes on their feet? Shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t????
What kind of place was this??? Didn’t these people care about their children??? My head was spinning!
When I started going out to the beach school with a charity I helped with, I remember walking into the small structure with its modest roof and open windows next to sky high coconut trees and seeing the children sitting on benches like sardines and repeating over and over what the teacher had written on the chalk board. As a teacher, I was floored that there was still teaching happening as if it was coming from the 1800’s. Shouldn’t they know better? Shouldn’t they be sitting in cooperative learning groups?
I walked around with the missionary who started the school and she talked to me in her Yoruba- English about supplies they needed. I was ready for her to tell me they needed paper, pencils, manipulatives. Instead she told us they needed bleach ( to sanitize the water from the well for drinking), a new boat because that was the only way many of the children could get to school in this fishing community, life jackets because many of the children cannot swim even though they lived on the Atlantic Ocean. I remember being floored! The missionary was so happy that we came out to help that she gave every one of us on the committee coconuts to take home with us as payment because she had no money to give us. One of the ways the village made money was to sell the coconuts, and when I realized that, my heart was forever touched in a way I will never forget.
It struck me that I had spent all the previous months living in Lagos judging people in a life I had no way of ever truly understanding. The children riding on the backs of okadas were using the only affordable method of getting to school. The parents of the children walking without shoes were probably working to sell their goods and just didn’t have enough money to pay for new shoes. The missionary at the beach school was providing an education to the students in her school the only way she knew how, and she was preparing them for the life they would be leading. Not the life I thought they should lead.
I realized that living in the US I had been living in a sort of bubble. I never knew how blessed in education, always having food to eat and parents to take care of me I really was until I moved to Nigeria. I have gained a new appreciation and a new perspective on mothering. Judgment is everywhere and I have been/am definitely a culprit of it . Too many times, I think we, as mothers, rush to snap decisions about other mothers without understanding the entire story. People are not meant to be judged by a one word answer but more like an essay question. Read the whole essay, and then try to understand the situation.
I am American and I grew up in the “land of the free”. With that freedom comes the freedom of having your own thoughts but also remembering that other people can have their own thoughts about things as well. Accepting something does not mean you condone it, but it does show tolerance and compassion for others which is something I hope both my children were able to see while living in Nigeria. I know my eyes are wide open now.
When and where do you find yourself judging others? How will you teach your children not to judge others?
This is an original post by Meredith for World Mom’s Blog. Meredith has since moved to Houston, Texas, but you can check out Meredith’s life in Nigeria on her blog We Found Happiness.
Photo credit to the author.