Somewhere, deep in my mom's photo drawer, there is an old photo my sister and me. My sister is sweetly smiling at the camera. I am looking at her with literal open-mouthed rage. My little five year old brow is blackly furrowed and my mom calls my expression "I have never been so insulted in all my life!" The honest portrayal of an apparent bruised emotion leaps right out of the photograph. I laugh every time I see it.
I don't remember what upset me so badly that day, but I can guarantee it was something that felt life shattering at the time. Offenses feel like that. Irrepairably devastating.
I think about that photo today after talking to a friend about hurt feelings and treating one another well and figuring out the balance in living authentically while dealing gently with the people around us.
My mom always taught us to take no offense where none was meant. It's a good rule of thumb, something that makes good logical sense there on the page. But life doesn't always feel logical. Emotions don't follow rules of conduct. If I'm hurt, it hurts. If someone accidentally knocks you off your bike, it still hurts -even if it wasn't meant to.
It's a good reminder for me. I'm not the sensitive type, generally speaking. I put my foot in my own mouth often enough to know that accidents happen, spoken and unspoken. I tend to hold my mom's exhortation up as an excuse for myself. I don't mean to be objectionable, so people should just get over it. But that doesn't address the reality of hurt. That pain is pain, knowingly inflicted or accidentally fumbled.
In the mama world, offenses are rampant, both intended and accidental. Someone posts an article we don't agree with and suddenly we wonder if that mom is secretly judging us. Someone else chooses a different path, or doesn't take our advice, and it can be too easy to feel slighted, rejected or found wanting.
Sometimes we make assumptions which are just as damaging. "She home schools so she must think I'm evil for sending kids to school." "She works so she must think I'm lazy because I don't." Instead of investing in an actual relationship, we wall ourselves in with defenses.
Mothering is so personal, so tied up in our self worth that we can get a little crazy with the defensiveness. I know. I've done it.
The answer isn't a blanket statement of "take no offense where none was meant!" It's not "don't have an opinion because it could hurt someone's feelings!" The answer, for all moms, for all women, and dare I say for all people is simply this:
Be kind. Understand that your perspective may not be the only one, or the only right one. Be gentle. Treat each other the way you'd like to be treated. Ever make a mistake? Me, too. Let's give each other grace, yes? Don't be afraid to apologize and always, always forgive. It's alright to sit with the pain of a slight, but know that harboring those feelings long term only breeds further discord. Take your time, but move toward letting it go.
The world is a more gentle and peaceful place when we can live together as beautifully varied people and learn to love the differences. Even if I'm pretty sure I'm mostly right. At least some of the time.