“Some people have a thick skin and you don’t. Your heart is really open and that is going to cause pain, but that is an appropriate response to this world.”
— Anne Lamott
A few weeks ago I wrote, what I thought, was a fun, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek post about some of the unnecessary pressures that we put on ourselves as parents. Call it competitive parenting, or maybe comparative parenting, or just call it parenting. In any event, the gist of the article was a light-hearted summary of some of the ways that we compare or compete with other parents – and ourselves.
Last week, Scary Mommy published that post and, well, let’s just say it struck a chord.
Although the response was largely positive (it even lead to an interview on Headline News!), there was a fair amount of negativity as well. Some people called me judgmental and insecure, others said I was lazy and didn’t sound like I was all that fun to be around. And those were just the mild ones.
I would be lying if I said that the snarky comments, the rash judgments, and mean words didn’t affect me. Negativity is sticky goo that is hard to shake, that’s for sure.
Don’t read the comments, some people recommended. Just ignore them, others suggested. Don’t take is so personally, others advised.
Honestly, this advice is nothing I haven’t heard before. Truthfully, people have been telling me that I need to grow a thicker skin my entire life. I cry easily, brood too long, and internalize criticism.
But how exactly does one grow a thicker skin? Is there a special potion for that? Maybe a cold cream that I can put on at night? A pill that I could take? An herbal supplement? A protein shake?
I have wished for a thicker skin for so long. I have tried to immunize myself from the hurt, tried to shield myself from this sticky goo, and tried to numb myself to the harshness.
But in all my trips to Sephora I haven’t found a magic ointment and GNC doesn’t sell bottles of thicker-skin capsules. And in my desperate search for the antidote, in my quest to find the solution to my thin skin problem, a funny thing happened. I finally grew into my skin. And I am finding that my thin skin isn’t all that bad.
Because the thing is, even though the negative stuff finds its way in, so does the positive. Have I cried hot, angry tears when someone left a nasty comment to something that I wrote? Yes. But I have also wept quiet, tender tears when someone reached out with words of encouragement.
Has the cruelty of strangers made me bang my fists and scream out in frustration? Of course. But the kindness of strangers has also brought me to my knees in gratitude and humility.
Did the rude comments from last week’s article make me feel a icky and a little sick to my stomach? Without a doubt. But the sweet comments and the outpouring of support that I received filled my heart to overflowing again and again and again.
Am I confused and disgusted and absolutely dismayed by the cruelty, violence, and general nastiness that is going on in the world? You bet. But I am also pleased and delighted and positively overwhelmed by the kindness, compassion, and gentleness of so many people. PEOPLE ARE GOOD. PEOPLE ARE KIND. We are doing the best that we can.
So often I am reminded of one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes: “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”
I guess, like most things, you have to take the bad with the good. Fortunately, there is more good than bad. So much more good.
I would like to stay soft. I don’t want to be hard. I don’t want to become bitter. THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE INDEED.
So I think I’ll keep my thin skin.
As long as I’ve got a few special people who will hug me & stand up for me & pass me the Kleenxes & cry with me; people who will call me & text me & celebrate with me & jump up and down with me; people who don’t tell me to toughen up or grow a thicker skin.
You know, now that I think about it, maybe THAT’s the antidote right there. Maybe THAT is the magic potion, the special supplement to grow a thick skin: Softness, a box of Kleenex, and my people.