With the new school year gearing up, don't forget about compassion.
Earlier this year, a request by a school principal asked parents to not turn up in pajamas when dropping off or picking up their kids. While it seemed pretty reasonable, some might say it’s sad that the request, in the form of a letter, had to be sent at all. Can you imagine this happening when our own parents did the school run? The letter tactfully explained: “It is important for us all to set our children a good example about what is acceptable and appropriate in all aspects of life, not only from the point of view of their safety and general well-being, but also as preparation for their own adult life.”
No-Yell, No-Spank Discipline? Right!
On the surface this makes sense, but maybe we need to look a little deeper into why parents are turning up in nightwear. Could it be that they’ve been up all night with a sick child, or been nursing a new baby and then literally jumped into the car to make sure their third grader arrives on time? Or in the case of 33-year-old Angela Milnes, who wrote a letter in response to those criticizing, judging and labeling her as “lazy” for her unsuitable attire, maybe there’s a health issue at play that leaves the sufferer in pain or with great fatigue and the fact their child has arrived at school at all is an achievement in itself.
… I am very unwell. I have a number of health conditions that are not physically visible. In fact, I classify myself as someone who has an invisible illness. Some days I can barely walk; I wear pajamas in the home most of the time. Everything I do demands so much of my energy, and most days I choose to stay in pajamas to be comfortable and reserve energy for more essential tasks, like meeting my child’s needs or attending an appointment. … While some people may be healthy enough to get changed, they may struggle in the mornings to get their child to school dressed, fed and on time. …
She goes on to explain that we don’t know what other parents are going through at a particular time in their life, mentally, emotionally or physically, and said she finds it ignorant to “judge by appearance” and to label all parents who do this as “lazy” or “unfit.”
The fact that I may wear a set of pajamas to school at times does not determine who I am or what kind of person I am. … I am concerned other parents who may struggle with poor energy levels may now be stereotyped.
So before we cast a disapproving eye or pass judgment, remember that things are not always as they appear on the surface. Fr. Aquinas Gilbeau, a professor of moral theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC., says that standards are important, but compassion must always reign. “On the one hand, in a world where it seems increasingly acceptable to wear pajamas in public — see any American college campus — I’m happy there are still places where public displays of bed-wear cause a double take,” he says. “On the other hand, presuming the worst about someone because of their physical appearance is not good. The point, I guess, is that while some odd things should remain odd, we shouldn’t presume to know the circumstances of those who do odd things. Compassion, not presumption, should be our first instinct.”
So, rather than judge, let’s work to help build up the parents who may be struggling, which may include offering to do a school run for them if we can.