This month the group of bloggers that make up 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion is concentrating on connection and reconciliation. The prompt reminded me of Hattie, a woman who taught me a valuable lesson about compassion and connection.

Hattie and I have children that are approximately the same age and were frequently thrust together at school and sports functions. She had two sons that she claimed were the most handsome, most talented, most successful boys in town, and she wanted to tell me all about how they were going to take over the world. She threw herself into her children’s lives. Hattie ran booster clubs, officiated sporting events, and organized parties.  For a few years, it seemed that everywhere I turned, there was Hattie bullying a coach about how her child deserved special treatment or bragging about her children. She was bombastic and boorish. I quickly realized that although people appreciated her willingness to organize school and sports activities, no one liked Hattie. They let her do all the work, then dismissed her.

It was hard to connect with Hattie. She was a bully and had a way of making me feel defensive about the way I parented my children. Then, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that Hattie and I were both just trying to do our best for our children. This insight made me see Hattie in a new light. When she pontificated about how her son was going to go to the best school on a football scholarship, I heard that she was worried about him getting a good education. When she bragged about all the girls that chased after her boys, I heard that she wanted them to find love. When she yelled at the coaches, I heard that she wanted her son to be recognized for his gifts. I learned to see Hattie as fearful for her children, which allowed me to simply listen to her without judgment.

My interactions with Hattie also made me reevaluate the way I talked about my children. I became more mindful about boasting about my children’s accomplishments. I also became more mindful about cheering on other kids. Every child deserves to have someone on the sidelines celebrating their small successes. Not every kid has that. I attended all of my daughters’ games, so I made a point of knowing all the kids on the team and loudly acknowledging each of their accomplishments. When it came time for my children to apply to colleges, I made a point of sharing information with the other parents so we could all benefit from the bits and pieces of wisdom we’d gathered. Hattie had taught me that parenting is not a competitive sport.

Listening to Hattie made me a better parent, but the most satisfying result was that I got to know Hattie. Under all the bombast was a vulnerable woman in desperate need of a friend. Hattie carried a burden of pain and fear (the details of which I can’t share) that fueled her bad behavior. Once I started actively listening to her, she opened up to me and shared some of that pain with me. It seemed to help. Hattie seemed softer, more genuine whenever we saw each other. Other people noticed it as well and commented on how she seemed calmer around me. I hope that was the case. Eventually, our children graduated from high school and I no longer saw Hattie on a regular basis. Last I heard, neither of her children has taken the world by storm, but I’m sure she’s proud of them.