I try to teach my children not to judge people. You don’t know what anyone’s life is like until you walk in their shoes, or at least take a moment to consider what might be going on in their life. As cheesy as it sounds, I try to live that way in hopes that by doing so, my kids learn empathy and kindness.
It’s possible my whole “cutting some slack” thing is a little self-serving. After all, I’m a far cry from perfect. I’m always late. My car’s a mess. I’d rather cuddle on the couch than play Barbie. I yell way too much. Sometimes I squeeze my kids’ arms a little too hard – and I really hope no one is judging me.
But I have to confess, I’ve judged my neighbor. I think she’s a horrible mother.
I know this announcement is mother-on-mother sacrilege. Judging a fellow mom’s parenting is like taking the holy grail of motherhood and lighting it on fire, along with all of your child’s most beloved stuffed animals. You just shouldn’t do it. But I can’t help it.
I’m convinced she’s a horrible mother because she’s killing her children. And all I can do is silently watch her.
No, she is not beating them. She’s not starving them. In fact, I’ve never even heard her raise her voice at her well-behaved, adorable kids, who I’m guessing are around five and two. I’ve never asked because I can barely look her in the eye.
While she creates elaborate jungles with rainbow chalk on the sidewalk in front of her house, she is killing her children. She’s killing her children as she teaches them to play hopscotch. She is killing her children while she wheels them around the block in their red-wagon. She is killing her children as they plant purple flowers by their gate. She is killing her children as she sets up a tent in their front yard and camps out on a warm Chicago summer night.
How is she killing her children? Because during all of these activities she is smoking cigarettes. In fact, I’ve never seen her without one. And the smoke blows right in those innocent faces. I can’t get past it.
According to the CDC, secondhand smoke causes children’s lungs to grow less than children who do not breathe secondhand smoke. This means they they may have severe life-threatening asthma attacks. They contract more bronchitis and pneumonia. They wheeze and cough more than other children.
Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke inhale many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons as smokers. This is even worse for children. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “Because their bodies are developing, infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the poisons in secondhand smoke.”
See what I mean? She is a horrible mother.
The empathetic part of me tries to understand. Maybe she has a really stressful life. Maybe smoking cigarettes is her answer to an even worse addiction. Maybe a gun-wielding monster holds her hostage in her home and orders her to slowly kill her children or he will kill them all instantly. Honestly…the last one is the only excuse I’d consider worthwhile, and my instincts are telling me that’s not what’s happening here.
It’s not the fact that she smokes that bothers me. I could care less if she lit up on her front porch every single night while her children were in bed. After all, she’s an adult in charge of her own body. It’s her choice. But inhaling secondhand smoke is not her children’s choice. She is making it for them.
I’d like to know how a mother who clearly adores and cherishes her kids can be so selfish, and put them in so much avoidable danger? I’d ask her, but since I don’t even know her kid’s names, it seems a little personal.
What I’d like to say is this: “If quitting is not in the cards for you, then why don’t you try other alternatives? Like nicotine gum, or a patch, or even e-cigarettes, which don’t create any secondhand smoke?” I may even admit to her that I know I’m being judgey, but aren’t there options? They may not be as satisfying, but think of the kids!
Empathy fails me here. And I can’t help but feel like I’m failing as a neighbor, too. Maybe I should get to know her better. Maybe if I could get past the smoke, I’d really like her. She is soft-spoken and kind, and creative. But I’m torn, because how can I like someone who is killing her children?