I was pulling weeds out of the rocks lining my driveway. My head was down and I was deep in thought when I heard a car door. I looked up to see my neighbor walking toward me. We shared a little small talk, and then she sat down and started pulling weeds with me. She began to tell me about her son. I knew him: a kid with movie-star looks and a cool swagger. She needed to vent, and she needed encouragement. He had not been an easy kid to raise, and he had made some poor choices. It’s a story that many families experience. She’d been using tough love, but she wondered if she should she kick him out. Should she give up? What might he do next? I listened. It is easy to say what someone else should do when we don’t have to live with the consequences. It’s easy to judge when we are watching from afar, but we will never know if we truly could have handled it better.

When I was a young mother, I was proud of how considerate and kind my children were to others. At the time, I was confident that they would not falter, staying true to the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you’d want done to you.” My kids memorized Scriptures and the books of the Bible. Then one day I got a call from one of their elementary school teachers, informing me of a horrible mouthful that had been expressed by one of my little darlings. Again, as an attentive parent, I had been confident that my children would avoid experimenting with alcohol. I’d talked openly about the pitfalls and consequences of drinking. I was a stay-at-home mom that volunteered at school, worked with the church youth group, and talked and prayed with my kids every night before bed. Yet one night during the junior high years, I got a call and had to go pick up one of my angels from a birthday party that had gone bad. My child had made a poor choice. Humiliating? Yes. Devastating? No.

These are teachable moments that can impact our kids. How we handle challenging moments can make a positive or negative impact, and sometimes they may have to learn the hard way. We all learn somewhat differently because we’re individuals, and our children are no different. What works for one doesn’t often work for another, even if they are from the same household. Some kids are passive, while others test our very last nerve. Some are quiet, others obnoxious; some are creative while others seem to attract trouble; some are fearful, and others are daredevils. It’s what makes the world interesting!

I sat in a restaurant and overheard a woman share with her friends the frustrations she was having with her daughter. She was spent emotionally. She spilled her heart and then took a restroom break. While she was away from the table, the two remaining friends dove into a conversation of “how they would have handled that child.” Their words were demeaning and arrogant. Judgmental and self-righteous attitudes are so easy to assume when we see others struggling to parent a child. We may think we could handle it better, but could we? Are we really that full of ourselves? It would be ignorant to think that there’s a specific recipe for raising children.

Before words of advice leave our lips, and before we comment on the parenting mistakes others are making, let’s pause and listen. Most of the time, when friends are sharing their frustrations they aren’t asking for advice, they just need a friend to listen without judgment. Our opinions are cheap, but a friend that can listen is a treasure.