The last 3.5 years of parenting have taught me a lot. More than I could ever imagine. My daughter has simultaneously relied on me and led me since the day she was conceived. Parenthood is an intense journey. All your best intentions are never seen through to fruition because what you fail to consider, time and again, is that children are autonomous beings. And that autonomy usually means that even if you know something is best, your child may not agree with you.
That’s a really hard thing to come to terms with as a parent, and something I struggle with every day.
What I’ve also learned is that the most self-righteous, ignorant and childish people are the most vocal over what is right for children. Not my child specifically, because they rarely give her the individuality she deserves, but “child” as an overall concept. They believe every child should behave according to a set of constraints, and that every child is capable of doing so at all times, assuming their parents are useful members of society. Usually these child rearing geniuses have no children of their own, which somehow doesn’t impact their level of expertise on the matter.
It’s a very helpful type of people that spread this kind of intolerance around. They provide society with just what it needs – more judgement and harsher criticisms for doing your best. I for one applaud them.
Like the man I saw in Starbucks last week. He was in a hurry; his luxury car illegally parked in a handicap spot because he’s more important than the masses. While he impatiently waited for his triple grande soy milk latte heated to exactly 176 degrees, a child behind him squealed. Mostly, she squealed in delight as she chomped the head of Sophie the Giraffe. Her young mother looked frazzled and sweaty, as so many of us do. Moments later, Sophie hit the ground and the child cried. As mom frantically wiped the floor off the toy, the child cried more. Thankfully, the man was there to remind the mother she should “take that child somewhere else; this isn’t a daycare and no one wants to listen to your loud child!” (and the barrista responded by refusing to serve him).
What a service he did that day, reminding that mother than no one wants her child around and threatening her with his voice. Not only did the child stop crying, the mother was relaxed and the coffee flowed faster…
….Wait no, that’s not at all what happened. The child screamed more, the mother welled up and the man, well he never got his coffee. That exchange was hard to watch, but it’s nothing new. I felt for the mother because she was in a public place paying money to patronize the establishment like everyone else. And now, every time she’s out and the kid is crying, she will not only be stressed about her child’s needs, but about the judgement she’s facing. She wasn’t in the wrong; she hadn’t taken her child somewhere inappropriate and neglected her. She was just getting coffee.
This is all too common lately. And here is the thing, I don’t want to listen to my kid or anyone else’s kid cries either. It’s noisy, it makes me uncomfortable, and I vacillate between wanting to hug the child and wanting to hug that parent. But, it’s life, and kids cry.
My kid is pretty good but there are times she will disagrees with how things are going, and being completely driven by emotion and lacking an ability to feel shame (which I LOVE) she will cry. And I’m always embarrassed. Not because she’s a bad kid, and not because I’m doing anything wrong, but because someone is judging us. In their minds they are thinking ill of my sweet little girl, while blaming my parenting skills.
Reality is, some parents aren’t awesome and some kids do bad things, but I find this generally isn’t the norm. However, society is so quick to judge and so desperate to control, some people simply cannot see beyond their own frame of reference; a frame of reference which often does not include any actual real life children. Something built upon ideals but completely not based in reality.
It’s a shame really. I’m a confident person who feels like a decent parent. My child is happy, healthy and hilarious. She is smart, well behaved and generally agreeable. For the most part, we get along just fine out there in the real world, but every time we don’t, I resort to a shell of myself. I get flustered and embarrassed as I feel the judgemental eyes bore into me. I apologize for my child being herself, and then I chastise myself for that. I struggle to remain confident that I should do right by her, even if it inconveniences someone else.
I’m not one of those free spirited parents who believes her child is a special snowflake who can do no wrong. I’m not advocating a completely hands off approach, allowing your child to grow feral and act as their impulsive minds would dictate in all situations. I’m a strong believer in choice and consequence, and in making everything I can into a lesson. However, sometimes that lesson is just as much for me as it is for her. Sometimes, we all have to go through discomfort to come out the other side improved. Sometimes, no matter what I think my child will sit in the middle of Walmart and take off her boots because her sock is hurting, even when you’re trying to reach your cereal.
I completely understand and respect people who don’t want to have children. I even understand how hard it can be to empathize with a parent if you’re not one yourself. What I don’t understand is where all these people believe they came from? Everyone was a child once, and everyone misbehaved – it’s how we learn. Maybe some of their parents used violence to solve that, but I’m not willing to use force to exercise control.
So then I wonder, guy in Starbucks or woman in the grocery store “tsk tsk tsking’ me as my kid whines how she WANTS THOSE COOKIES and I continually remind her she won’t be getting them acting that way, if you think you were ever children? Did your mother teach you that whining would not get you cookies by not buying you cookies, or by belittling and embarrassing you to the point you turned in and refused to emote any longer? Did you always agree that it was time to leave the park, and pack up and start walking without any protest? Did you always know what to do with all of your emotions when you lacked a fully formed rational side capable of assessing situations and reacting accordingly?
I have my doubts but your righteous judgement makes me wonder if I’m wrong. Do you really know the secret to living harmoniously with a tiny dictator who runs entirely on instant gratification and emotion? Is there something more to raising empathetic happy children than accepting their right to express themselves, even when it’s inconvenient? If so, I’m all ears, because this process of trial and error, this attempt I make to balance allowing my child to be herself, without allowing her to act inappropriately, can sometimes be hard. There are often tears, from both of us, and from where you’re sitting, that means I’m doing this all wrong. So please, enlighten me. Help me understand how to raise a judgemental child who shows no sympathy to others, because I think that’s what we need more of in this world.
Tolerance is so passé these days, maybe the noisy children should just stay home, right?