Throughout my life, I’ve relied on hard work to overcome whatever challenges came my way. So, when I became a stay-at-home mom, I stuck to my formula of “hard work equals desired results” in hoping to master full-time parenting of my two toddlers.
While my parenting confidence grew with each child-rearing book I studied, one issue I encountered proved harder to tackle: the loneliness that at-home parenting can bring. Determined to overcome this loneliness like I did any other challenge, I scoured the internet for toddler playgroups in my area and excitedly joined them with my daughters.
We dove right in. Our first playgroup was at a park where the kids played and the moms stood off to the side. I could feel the tension between the moms from the start. Mere minutes into the playdate, I overheard one mom criticize another for her “inadequate” stroller selection, while I unintentionally drew ire for the box of bagels (or “unnecessary carbs”) I had brought for the moms to enjoy.
Undeterred, I walked over to another cluster of moms and tried to strike up a conversation. I was ignored. Instead, I listened as those ladies reduced another mom practically to tears because she, apparently, had given her first son, but not her second, a middle name. They went on to imply that the second son was “doomed to think his mom loves his brother more than him.”
Are we in the Twilight Zone? I thought, confused by the baseless bashing. As a believer in women supporting women, I bristled at putting my daughters in any setting where women targeted other women. I was offended by the behavior of that group of ladies, and I promptly signed us up for a different playgroup.
Before long, I saw similar mom-to-mom condemnation in our new group. I changed playgroups again. I soon grew resentful of being the only woman to speak out against this behavior. I generally strive to live by the Golden Rule to love thy neighbor as thyself. However, a year of trying to find new moms to befriend only to endure verbal takedowns shredded my faith in connecting with other moms. Animosity for those women took root in its place.
I withdrew myself and my daughters from all playgroups — and was grateful when my daughters didn’t seem to miss them. I turned to God in prayer and laid bare my yearning to meet empathetic women with whom I could share the journey of motherhood.
I mulled over my fruitless attempts to bond with the women who had shunned my efforts. Like a sad song stuck on repeat, I mentally replayed all the times my earnest attempts to set up playdates got turned down. I had all but villainized the women I met in those playgroups when a chance encounter led me to have a different perspective.
One day, I happened to be walking behind two of the ladies who had given me a hard time in a prior playgroup. They were walking with their husbands when I overheard one of the men loudly berate his wife for forgetting to put a box of tissues in the car. Then the other man chastised his wife for forgetting to fill the gas tank. The excessive scolding went on without regard for the numerous people within earshot. The women remained silent during this public display of disrespect.
I could see the humiliation on the women’s faces, and as I walked past them, sympathy washed over me, diluting the bitterness I held toward them. I reminded myself that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). I wondered if their hearts were so full of pain from the criticism they endured at home that, in turn, they released that hurt by criticizing others. Eventually, I grew to view these moms in a new and softer light, and I silently forgave them for the hurt they had caused me.
Recasting my memories of those women through the lens of forgiveness — even though they didn’t realize it — helped me to shed the emotional burden of feeling slighted by them. Choosing to forgive reestablished my confidence in other choices, such as the choice my husband and I make daily to teach (and show) our children how to respect others, and the choice I made to walk away from antagonistic relationships despite the loneliness I would face.
Eventually, my children and I did meet a friendlier family. One afternoon at the park, a new mom walked over with her two little ones in tow and struck up a conversation with us. That connection flourished and led to friendships with other local families. Now, my husband, children, and I count them among our closest friends.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, especially when people who hurt us don’t own up to the pain they’ve caused. Yet, forgiveness moves us forward by empowering us to let go of the things that wound us. When we choose to forgive, we redefine ourselves by stepping out of the role of victim. Most importantly, forgiveness enables us to walk more confidently toward God, as Jesus himself taught us that God will “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”