I noticed her immediately and I understood her better than I thought I ever could a complete stranger.

She had an almost blank expression on her face. Beyond tired. Beyond frustrated. Beyond annoyed.

By all appearances, she loathed her children. Possibly even despised them. Her tone was either harsh or angry. Never less than. Her words were biting. Her threats weak.

Defeat. Lack of hope. Lack of joy.

Her children appeared to be around the age of 7 or 8, a boy and a girl. Possibly twins. If not twins then only a year apart. Thankfully they seemed quite cheerful, not really taking notice of their mother’s furrowed brow, annoyed tone, tired body.

She spoke of not feeling well, using that as a reason the children should try to better behave themselves. There were occasional moments of acting out or not listening. But overall, considering it was a public pool on one of the first truly warm days of summer, they were happy.

In 45 minutes I never heard a kind word or gentle tone come out of her mouth. Her mannerisms were either completely passive or completely aggressive.

The daughter wore a lifejacket and that was how the mother was able to put her in place, using her lifejacket rather than holding her hand and guiding her to the seat. A forceful tug of the swimsuit as she stripped her down in front of the few of us who were also using the pool. I noticed the daughter trying to cover herself up, even at a somewhat young age.

My heart ached for all of them, most especially the mother. I know it was only a tiny window in that day. Yet if I had been at that pool before motherhood, I most likely would never have even noticed the family, let alone observed them with a mothering eye and a compassionate heart.

I’ve been that mother. I recognized all too well that harshness. I’ve given those looks. I’ve had the furrowed brow, the angry tone. I’ve used the biting words.

In no way am I passing judgment on the mother. Seeing her today opened my eyes in a new way of the need for encouragement. Not just to my children. But to the mom’s in my midst.

It was another reminder that we all need each other. We weren’t meant to do life alone.

Tonight, I am praying for that mother. And I am praying that I would remember to encourage, to laugh, to love.