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3 Things We Can All Do to Create Stronger, Happier Relationships

“Love is the absence of judgment.” ~Dalai Lama

I used to be one of those moms.

Let me explain.

I was a single mom for literally my daughter’s entire childhood. That’s okay—I was a control freak, so it really suited me. I got to make all the decisions. Perfect!

And it was… for me. Not so much for my daughter, but then in those days I was only focused on getting through the day and paying the bills.

We coped. I made the rules, set the boundaries, and expected her to tow the line.

Which she mostly did, although sometimes begrudgingly. But then, that’s normal behavior for kids, isn’t it?

Well, I thought so.

It’ll come as no great shock, then, I’m sure, when I tell you that she was very eager to escape the clutches of my control-freak-ness and be independent.

And so post-studies she eagerly shifted into her new role of a young adult seeking employment. This was a milestone. The start of her new career—woohoo!

The job market was tough, but we remained cautiously optimistic.

Something would come up. Wouldn’t it? Eventually?

And then she dyed her hair purple.

Yup. Purple.

Being one of “those moms,” my reaction was, with hindsight, completely predictable.

“HOW WILL YOU FIND A JOB WITH PURPLE HAIR?!” I shrieked, as we moms do.

She calmly looked me in the eye and said, “This is me expressing who I am, and if any potential employer has a problem with that, then I don’t want to work for them!”

What could I say. She had a point

And in fact, she went on to get the very first job that she interviewed for.

At one of the oldest and most respected academic institutions in our country.

In one of the most conservative departments.

After being interviewed by a panel of five academics.

With her purple hair.

Now, I’m not too big to admit that I learned a lot from this particular event. Maybe not immediately, but it was one of those times (and there were many) when the parent/child role most definitely reversed.

And I couldn’t be more grateful.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Recognize and identify your filters.

We view life through the filters we’ve accrued from our life experience. Sadly, this often dulls or taints our experience of life.

In this case, I saw my daughter as a child, someone incapable of knowing what was best for her. Viewed through this filter, she needed my guidance and opinion, as I believed all children did. After all, as the wise and experienced parent, don’t we always know better?

Apparently not.

We see what we want to see, what we’re used to seeing, what we choose to see, not necessarily what is actually in front of us.

I currently live in a country where there’s a large third world element. And with that comes a lot of roadside hawkers. And I mean a lot!

Growing up, I was cautioned to avoid them, told they were dangerous, made to look the other way.

They were pushy, loud, and not to be trusted. So I was told.

Who was I to argue? Surely my parents knew better.

And so, for a long time, I avoided them, labeled them as bad, and pretended they weren’t there.

As I grew older (and wiser), I started to notice them in a different way.

These people are excited about their wares, enthusiastically trying to entice passers-by, and happy to negotiate very vociferously!

They are energetic and eager. Friendly and interesting.

And mostly, they were simply fellow humans trying to make a living.

A different perspective. A different filter.

2. Stop judging. Find freedom in being neutral.

It’s human nature to charge every event in our lives as positive or negative.

Something is always right or wrong, isn’t it?

So surely having purple hair when your seeking employment in a tight marketplace is wrong, then. Right?

Have you ever tried to observe an event as simply neutral? It’s as easy as acknowledging that it simply is what it is—no judgment needed.

No emotional attachment. No expectation.

And you get to appreciate the value of the event.

Being neutral allows you to find how the event can work for you. It allows us to see a bigger perspective. And opportunity.

I often wonder how different my daughter and my relationship would have been in her younger years if I’d had the awareness then that I have now.

I remember once in her teenage years when she wanted to share some frustration she felt about a specific teacher with me. I listened with my “mom/adult” filter firmly in place, then decided she was wrong (naturally) and proceeded to deliver my (assumed) much needed opinion on the topic. That’s what she wanted, wasn’t it?

No, it wasn’t, not at all.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t share much with me after that.

She wasn’t looking for judgment. Or my opinion. She was simply looking for someone to hear her.

If I’d listened with neutrality I could have been that someone.

3. Get curious about others.

What’s right for me may be wrong for you. That’s a fact and its part of being human.

I had a specific idea of what my daughter’s life should be—how it should unfold, where her path should lead—entirely from my perspective.

I had never really been curious about what she liked, enjoyed, or found interesting.

Surely if she just followed my lead, life would unfold easily for her. Wouldn’t it?

She’d shown interest in music, other cultures, and cooking. I noticed, but that’s not the same as being really curious.

Many moons ago I had a friend who cultivated medical marijuana oil for use with horses.

I know, I also had wide eyes when she told me, along with a whole lot of judgment. I mean, marijuana is illegal (in our country)! How could she?!

I somewhat reluctantly listened to her explanation/justification, full of judgment initially.

And then I noticed how passionately she spoke about her love of horses.

I noticed her conviction to helping them as naturally as possible.

Then I thought about the risk she was taking by cultivating this oil. There was no financial gain for her—it was simply an act of love.

It wasn’t for me to condone or criticize her actions. That’s not my business.

Yet by being curious, I now understand her actions and see the beauty in her passion and love for her horses, whatever that may lead to.

Embracing and respecting each other’s choices fosters tolerance and understanding.

Not only that, but if we really observe those around us with curiosity instead of scorn, we expand our own experience. And isn’t that what life is really about?

My daughter is now a few years into her career at the same institution.

And she’s evolved. Her hair is now a medley of colors. (My own rainbow child!)

And it’s beautiful.

She’s happy. I’m happy.

We understand each other. And respect each other. I listen to her with immense curiosity regarding her opinions, even though mine often differ.

We don’t need to be right. We need to be happy.

When we drop our resistance, our happiness emerges.

It’s always there. No exceptions.

About Jacky Exton

Jacky believes that ANYONE can feel good! Without exception. Through coaching, she teaches frustrated and overwhelmed people that happiness is not conditional. Ever. Better feelings are always within reach, even in the nastiest conditions. When she’s not coaching or running in the mountains, Jacky is also a mom, author, and blogger. Connect for some free introductory coaching here or enjoy more of her musings at www.jackyexton.com.

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  • Carole

    What a beautiful article and reading this I feel so proud myself of your daughter (and you). Being a parent (and a single one too), I know how much we try to protect our children by using our own filters and in a way we live their lives for them through our own emotions. We think we are doing what’s best for them, but that’s not always the case. I was exactly like you and it has taken me a long time to realise that some of my filters have been faulty and I so wish that I had not passed these onto my children. Now I step back when I feel a wave of anxiety over something my children are doing that I am not easy with and realise that they will find their own way. I want them to enjoy the world alot more than I did at their age. I think your article will hit home with alot of people. I am so glad your daughter has found her individuality – I just keep sitting here thinking how beautiful that is and what a wonderful mum you are for accepting her for who she is.

  • Thanks for these reflections Jacky. Love may be the absence of judgement, but it is not the absence of discernment. You make important points about recognizing our filters, but your story also shows the importance of living from your experience.

    I will have to take your word for it that you may have been a control freak, but I wonder if concerns expressed about purple hair were about experience — that is, your knowledge of how the world may judge us — and you acted upon that experience.

    Okay, maybe you shrieked, but what you recognized from experience of the world is that whether we like it or not, we are judged by our looks and presentation, especially in interviews, and often no matter how impressive our credentials are. Given the academic institutions in which I have taught I would say that your daughter was and is remarkably lucky — unless she is teaching in an art department or graphic design or an MFA program where unusual individual expression is prized.

    And after all, we express who we are in every moment by our words, the tone of our voices, our actions, our gestures, our expressions, no matter what our hair color is.

    So you are spot on — to observe with curiosity and not with scorn is enlightening. But your experience of the world is also valuable. Your daughter has found her own way, partly due to luck and in no small part because of who you have been and who you have become — a mother who is capable of the kinds of reflections you make here and share with others.

    It’s great that it turned out so well for your daughter. But the concerns you expressed at the time were based in your experience of the world. They may not have reflected your filters as much as they reflected the filters, lack of curiosity, and lack of neutrality you knew she might encounter. She is lucky –to have the job she does and to have the mother she has. How wonderful that this experience of your daughter’s hair brought you to all of these deep reflections and that you are both happy.

  • Thank you for this post Jacky! As a divorced single parent of two preteens, I try to be reasonable but firm in my parenting style, but still open to my children’s opinions and perspectives. It’s tough, but adapting some neutrality would help a lot.