Beneath Surface Appearances
We like to think we know our family and dearest friends, down to the deepest detail. Without telepathy, though, we can never truly know what itâ€™s like to walk in their shoes.
Take one of my good friends, who gave birth to her son around the same time I had my daughter. We had eerily similar birth experiences: the first few hours of labor went okay, but the babyâ€™s heartbeat began to drop so we had emergency C-sections. We hold the same values on parenting, so we exchange advice on breast feeding and sleep training. We both gave up full-time jobs to become full-time mothers. Our situations are so similar that I didnâ€™t know how to respond when she asked me last week, â€œWhy is being a mother so easy for you?â€
Iâ€™ve had my fair share of struggles becoming a new mom. I had a pretty hard case of the baby blues after birth, believing for a week that my husband and I would never love each other again. My feet swelled up so badly from the IVs at the hospital that I developed painful ingrown toenails Iâ€™m still trying to resolve. Around Christmas, my daughter was waking up every 2 hours during the night, and I honestly didnâ€™t know how I would survive to her first birthday. Donâ€™t get me wrong: I love being a parent more than anything else Iâ€™ve ever done. Period. But I would never call it â€œeasy.â€
Confused, I asked my friend why she asked me such a bizarre question. She replied, â€œBecause youâ€™re so rational and calm about the whole mom thing.â€
Delving Beneath the Surface
A personâ€™s outward demeanor does not necessarily reflect the true nature of whatâ€™s happening inside. We know this instinctively about ourselves, but sometimes itâ€™s hard to see that in others. Even though my friend and I discuss intimate details about our lives, she never gets to see the real me: the mother-in-action. My friend doesnâ€™t see me when I cry because Iâ€™m tired and overwhelmed. She doesnâ€™t see me when I have to call the doctorâ€™s office in a panic because my daughter develops an angry rash (which turns out to be very common and not the major medical emergency I made it out to be). My friend only gets to see the play-date mommy, reflecting on babyhood like a professor might analyze a philosophical question.
Thatâ€™s not to say that I understood her situation perfectly either. I knew that her baby had colic and sheâ€™d struggled for several months with breast feeding, but it wasnâ€™t until this particular conversation that I found out sheâ€™d been getting help for postpartum depression. Looking back, she had given me all the clues in our various conversations, but I never added them up in my head. When she told me about the diagnosis, she was ashamed, hinting that she must be a bad mother. I hope I convinced her this couldnâ€™t be further from the truth â€“getting help is the best thing a mother can do for her child.
Getting Past Appearances
No matter how close you are to someone, you will never be able to understand their situation completely. Every person has thoughts and emotions they donâ€™t share with others. Itâ€™s natural to have this separation.
This doesnâ€™t mean that you canâ€™t work on delving beneath the surface to try and understand them better. First, you can learn more about your friends by being there. Talk to them when you can. Make it a point to meet up in person if possible, at least call regularly if you canâ€™t. Trust your instincts if you feel something is wrong and be more available during those times. Some people are more open about their problems and will tell you when they need you.
For any problems you canâ€™t possibly know or uncover, you can always give the benefit of the doubt. Donâ€™t assume that you know everything about their lives. Especially if your friend is going through a transition (i.e. marriage, break-up, job loss, new child, death in the family), you can bet there are feelings and emotions lingering beneath the surface that you can only imagine. Itâ€™s human nature to fill in the blanks, but the less assumptions you make about the life you canâ€™t see, the more supportive you will be.
On one hand, itâ€™s sad to know that we can never fully understand what itâ€™s like to be another person. On the other hand, if you can be a good friend, it doesnâ€™t really matter. Sometimes just walking beside them, instead of in their shoes, is all they really need.
Photo by Joe Fakih Gomez Photography
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