Stop.Parent.Shaming.

Do you ever have days where you just hate the internet with the fire of a thousand suns??

I get it. We all have perspective. We all have the right to sound off about what we want whenever it suits us. ‘Cause ‘Merica.

Even though I consider myself a blogger and bloggers are synonymous with sharing their opinions and offering commentary about whatever, I personally try to stay out of the fray. I don’t mind discussing one thing or another with the people in my day to day life, but it’s a whole other thing to comment about something on social media.

Even if you are like me and you’re pretty much a nobody, addressing something “publicly” adds our voices to the collective conversation in an entirely different capacity. And we humans don’t always think things through when we do.

We all know what happened at the Cincinnati zoo. We know that a beautiful and magnificent member of an endangered species died. And it’s horribly tragic. I love animals. LOVE them. And the thought of such a wonderful creature dying violently is heart-breaking. I cannot imagine what his caretakers who had to make that decision must be thinking. So yes, let’s take a moment to pause and mourn this beautiful creature. 

But I’m not here to talk about Harambe.

I’m here to talk to you about a mother. A parent. A person. On a trip to the zoo with her children. Who woke up on a Saturday and assumed that the day ahead with her children would be the same as almost any other day she spends with them.

Little did she know that her dire and awful mistake would garner her world wide attention. Scratch that. Not just world wide attention. But world wide scrutiny. And shame. And bitterness.

And hate. Because believe me, a great deal of the reaction to this news story is rooted firmly in hate.

All because she screwed up for a few minutes. I mean, yeah, she royally screwed up. And she will now spend a good chunk of the rest of her days living under the scrutiny of the public at large who doesn’t even know her, but sees itself fit to call for her to be prosecuted, punished and shamed without remorse for her child’s mistake. 

Unfortunately though, this is what we have signed up for as parents.

We have signed up not just for a 24/7 job, but also for the lifestyle and responsibilities of being a parent. We have signed up to be culpable for the actions of our children for pretty much the rest of our lives. Because we all know that whenever someone screws up, whether they are four or thirty-four, the rest of us are looking at the parents and wondering how they could ever raise such an imperfect person.

I’m choosing to speak up now because I have been this mother. Just maybe you have never heard of me because my children never ended up in the gorilla pen at a large zoo. At times my actions as a mom may have proven inadequate, but hey, at least my shortcomings have never made headlines or trended on Twitter.

Let me tell you a story that a thousand other mothers could tell you.

When my oldest child was not quite four, we were leaving our local Target store. My sons behavior had taken a downhill turn, and he was being difficult – as three year olds are wont to do on occasion I’m told. Shocking.

I even had another adult with me to aid in my ventures. We were approaching our van in the parking lot when his mood was deteriorated further. I let go of his hand for just a moment as I fished out the carkeys from my purse, and guided the shopping cart containing my toddler to a stop. 

I let go for a moment and let my thoughts travel to the next thing on my to do list.

Meanwhile, my son decided that he had finally had enough.

He started screaming as he about-faced and started running full speed away from me. In a busy and crowded parking lot. Red-faced and not paying attention to his surroundings at all. 

Let me tell you something about my son. Even now, his bad moods are few and far between. He has always been a very reasonable person ever since he was born. This was incredibly unlike him. This was totally out of character and unexpected. 

But in that moment, it didn’t matter. 

I screamed and ran after him, catching up to him maybe ten seconds later, so this whole thing was over in barely the blink of an eye. But a car backing out of a parking space or rounding the corner in our lane and crushing my son would have taken far less than that. 

I wanted to vomit when I caught him. People looked at me, trying to distinguish what was going on, wondering why a child was screaming bloody murder in a parking lot.

Some I’m sure clucked their tongue at me, dismissing me as yet one more parent who couldn’t keep their child under control. How dare I?

I knew I had dropped the ball. Why would I EVER let go of his hand in a parking lot?? Why didn’t I think, and have my adult companion hold his hand? Why didn’t I help him calm down before we loaded up into the car? Why why WHY!!? 

That’s all that I could think about for the rest of the day, an even on occasion now. I think about how differently that situation could have turned out. 

My husband and I are very hands on parents. We have rules. We have boundaries. We monitor or children in potentially unsafe situations. We might even check a lot of the boxes for what people say make a parent “good.” But if you had seen what unfolded in that parking lot for fifteen seconds on a Thursday afternoon, you would probably never know that.

And if you had watched, would you have given me the benefit of the doubt that I’m a good mother?

I feel stares when I’m at the store on a normal day. Any parent probably does. 

The way we speak to our children. The way they behave. The way we as parents handle their bad behavior. We know people are watching.

It’s people who have no issue with staring us down while our child is throwing groceries from the cart or fussing at a restaurant, or people who are careful to watch the madness unfold peripherally while they purse their lips and roll their eyes in displeasure. 

Dear Peanut Gallery of the World, we parents know that you are watching us.

We know you’re judging. And maybe it’s time that you understood that no parent is perfect. Maybe it’s time you understood that children are at times highly unpredictable, but capable people.

And maybe it’s time you minded your own business.

Every parent has majorly dropped the ball at one point or another in their parenting journey. It’s just that minor screw ups don’t make it into the news.

Once, I let my youngest child fuss and cry from her bed while she was supposed to be napping because I just wanted her to give up and go to sleep. Because I was over it. Turns out she had a bee in her room that she was both hypnotized by and afraid of. 

I once let another child fuss in their bed until they drifted back off to sleep, only to find in the morning that they had puked in their bed and slept with it for the night. 

Another time, the back storm door in our kitchen wasn’t latched and my not quite two year old let himself out and went on a stroll…toward the street in front of our house.

I have snapped at my children needlessly. Been grouchy and impatient with them in public. I have punished them when I was angry. I have told them that I didn’t want to play with them and sent them away in a bid for two minutes of sane child-free time spent on my iPhone 

But I’m a mother who is literally trying her very best every single day. 

At times, my life could make for a series of convenient headlines if only something worse had happened. But headlines don’t tell you about the people who are trying to do their best by their children.  Blurbs on Twitter or Facebook don’t tell you the entire story. And they sure as hell don’t trumpet the accomplishments of the parents who get it right every.single.day. 

We make excuses for so much in this world. We tell people that they don’t have the right to judge another’s religion, sexuality, gender identity or life choices. We tell people to frequently mind their own business when it comes to matters that don’t involve them directly.

Maybe it’s time that we realized that the decisions that parents make are nobody’s business but theirs. Maybe it’s time that we realized that a fifteen minute or fifteen second snap shot in the day of a life of a parent doesn’t tell the whole story.

Maybe it’s time that we reaffirm the people who are trying really, really hard to raise up responsible, loving, aware and helpful people that we really, really appreciate them. 

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Dear Parents: Your kids just want YOU

My daughter’s lip quivered.

She stomped a foot. She pointed. Her lip puckered. She tensed up. I could see it coming: the meltdown. Hide yo wife, hide yo kids, cus my daughter is about to have a meltdown over a $3.00 toy at Target.

I let go of the cart with one hand, and bent down and stroked her hair with the other.

We can’t always get what we want,” I said. Words spoken like a woman who heard them on more than one occasion when she was growing up, and who now eats those words every instance she has to mutter them to her children because she knows her own mother was, in fact, correct. 

She relaxed her arms and quietly followed me out of the aisle.

Just kidding.

She folded her arms tightly across her chest. Then the tears came. The red face. Her tiny, quivering voice. People stopped and looked, but I gently took her hand and pushed the cart along.

She followed me, quite reluctantly, still with tears running down her face. She did inform me, quietly, that she didn’t like me very much in that moment. I told her that was okay.

I am a tough as nails momma, who doesn’t bat an eyelash when she has to let the hammer drop, so what did I care?

Just. Kidding.

It was hard to say no to her, actually. I really wanted to go back and let her pick out a small toy. I was LOOKING for a reason for her to “earn” a toy, because I didn’t want to say no. Her “please, mommy” made me die just a bit on the inside. I felt like a joy thief.

When we made it to the car and were all buckled in, I finally was able to talk to her a bit more about what had just happened. And I realized that this was perhaps the first time that it really clicked for her that things -anything- cost us something, even a tiny toy.

More than that, the business of reality is that we just don’t always get what we want simply because we want it. This was so profound for her. It was the beginning a new world of responsibility and maturity. 

She’s entering a new stage of life. She’s not babyish at all anymore. She’s trying to grow up into a little kid every time I turn my back. This little girl whose wavy, dark blonde hair and green eyes I get so taken with isn’t my baby anymore. There is actually a legit baby living in our house now. She is officially the middle child. I grew up a middle child. I realized then just how tricky things get when you’re in the middle.

For the first time during a discipline session, my daughter had questions.

What started off as a broken heart  turned into a beautiful session between daughter and mother. For one of the first times, it clicked for her that mommy was there actually trying to help her learn and not just to be mean and unfair.

I forget how dependent on me my children are because they seem so grown up at times. They have so many opinions for their young ages. Flashes of their personality express themselves in many ways. The differences between them are staggering.

I can see the next ten years toppling over like a line of dominos. I can see where this is all going. How quickly I forget about the here and now with them. I forget what needs to happen before all of that other stuff.

I forget how much they still don’t know. How there is so much that none of us knew when we were growing up until someone just showed us the way. That’s the key.

Parenting is a constant struggle between preparing your children for the future, while loving and cultivating a relationship with them, and learning to let them start to manage on their own in the moment.

Parenting is the one thing in my life that I have stressed over each and every day. I am always worried about whether or not I am getting it “right.” If there is some “better” way to do things. If they are going to end up in therapy one day because I did all the wrong things, or didn’t do enough of the right things. Or because I secretly throw away some of their art work when they aren’t around because I don’t need another coloring of Optimus Prime, thanks. 

I see these blog posts that rehash childhoods from thirty plus years ago by individuals who look at their youth rose-colored glasses. “My parents were good parents because they locked me out of the house for six hours straight, made me drink Kool Aid, didn’t give me a participation ribbon and let me ride my bike where ever I wanted, even down to the construction site with broken glass everywhere, all without knowing where I was.”

Then I see some of the opposite. “I’m feeding my children the very best organic food that money can buy, I let my oldest child co-sleep with me until they were eight, we don’t do timeout’s or spankings, just redirection, and I plan on breastfeeding the baby until he’s about five.”

I see both ends of the proverbial parenting spectrum. People singing the praises of being hands on or off.

I see so many things that we can get caught up in. We let our children’s hopes and childhoods hinge on whether or not we think we are doing enough for them. We let our confidence in how we are parenting hinge on whether or not we are giving them enough things.

The simple truth is this: a wonderful childhood is defined by our children knowing that someone cares about them.

Knowing that someone loves them. By knowing that they have you.

They need someone who likes them. They need someone who cares enough to care, and who acts on those feelings. 

Sometimes, that looks like saying no in the Target aisle over a cheap plastic toy. Sometimes, that looks like saying no to that co-ed sleepover that all of the other kids are going to. Sometimes, it means listening while other times it means letting go, just a little. Sometimes, that means making Jello when they’re sick or reading the same book for the fourth time in a row. Sometimes, that means letting go and letting them find their own way.

Successful parenting is letting your children have you, the best you that you can be, in that moment. 

 

Everything else is gravy on top.

 

6 Things to remember when you see an unruly child in public

I’m guilty of it.

I’m out in town, trying to accomplish my grocery shopping and laundry list of errands, meandering about in my own little world.

And then I see it.

Or worse. I hear it from several aisles over: a parent caught in the midst of their child’s meltdown. 

As a parent, you would probably assume I would be quick to show empath to a fellow mentally-drained mom in leggings. Because I should get it.

I have walked the same long, frustrating miles in their exhausted shoes. I have cried after a trip to the grocery store from utter embarrassment. I have been the woman with half a dozen people boring holes into her while her octopus armed children rearrange aisle seven. 

Instead, I am at times just as guilty as the next needlessly judgmental person.

I surreptitiously glance sideways to take in the unfolding situation. Worse, sometimes, I  try not to even look at all. It’s a dumpster fire I can’t take my eyes off of. 

Even though I am a mother, I still have to occasionally remind myself that a public meltdown or mishap is never as simple as a parent just needing to “get their child under control.” 

Here are a few things to consider and remember before you judge the parent who is just trying their best:

 

1.) There is always more than meets the eye.

Have you ever seen a frazzled parent out in public, being short-tempered with their child who only seems to be mildly misbehaving? Or a mom who appears heartless as she ignores the wailing, red-faced child in her cart?

Do you ever think that a parent is being way too hard on a kid that only seems to be…well, acting like a kid?

What you may not realize is that there are (always) ongoing discipline battles at home that spill over into public life. It’s kind of like we parents live in our own 24/7 soap operas. Plot twist! Your child has disappeared in the shoe department at Wal-Mart!! Plot twist! Your daughter is going to faint if you don’t let her buy one more Paw Patrol toy!

If mom or dad seem overbearing, it could come down to them simply reinforcing boundaries with their wee ones in an effort to be consistent.  It is a tremendously delicate balance between enforcing a standard of discipline while also not letting your child hold your errand-running efforts hostage.

It’s like trying to control a hive of killer bees at a carnival.

And children, magical little creatures they are, are more prone to test their boundaries while in public. The attention fuels them, and they like to up the ante with others (potential witnesses?) present. Don’t ask me why they occasionally act like a badly behaved reality show celebrity in front of an entire restaurant filled with people, because I have no reason for it.

On the flip side, if mom or dad seems a bit too relaxed over their child’s behavior, remember that what you’re seeing is just a blip in a family’s every day life. Most kids are awake 10-12+ hours a day. Some are even awake long before the sun and also, God. The day can seem long before 10 a.m. rolls around.

Forty-five minutes in the grocery store is only a snapshot during a day in the life of a parent and child.

Mom or dad is probably exhausted after nearly every task they must complete with children in tow, but there are still miles to go before bed time where they will have even an ounce of quiet time.

Parents sometimes run very thin on patience. Shocking, I know. Don’t be shocked when you see someone looking like they are simply trying to survive while grabbing toilet paper and milk as their child hangs off of the side of the shopping cart yelling something about Goldfish crackers.

Don’t assume that a parent is either “good or bad” based on what you see during one trip to the store.

And I promise, we can tell when we are being judged.

 

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2.) Every parent will be there/has been there. E-v-e-r-y parent. 

Before I became a parent, the only parent I knew, I mean really knew, was my own mother. 

You’re probably thinking that sentence sounds stupid, but what I mean is, the only parent I CARED about was my own mother. And that was only because I needed a ride to town and twenty bucks for snacks at the movies.

All of us personally know at least one parent in our social orbit.

A friend. A relative. A co-worker. We may think the world of them and their children and their parenting skills. We probably think that they have it all together, and it’s very hard to picture them having to forcibly remove their child from the swings at the park.

But it does happen.

Every parent has been there.

Because public meltdowns, potty accidents and temper tantrums over Mickey Mouse are going to happen somewhere, somehow. It’s a rite of parenting passage that we all must go through because we are teaching our tinies how to act in public (no, you can’t pee all over the toilet seat, child), and that simply doesn’t happen without trial and error.

So, when you’re frustrated with the mom of two in line behind you at the DMV, trying to keep her cool, think about that person you love. Think about your own mother. Would you want someone to ridicule them? Think less of them? For something that is bound to happen at least once in their parenting journey?

You would probably sooner want to show understanding and give them a hug in the midst of their troubles than see an old lady shake her cane at them in disgust.

Your friend and that mom you don’t even know – they’re both fighting the same good fight.

Dagnabbit.

Dagnabbit.

3.) Every one of us has been there. E-v-e-r-y single one.

I once hid from my mom at the grocery store. I climbed up on a shelf piled with thirty pound bags of dog food, and hid there quietly while my mother tried not to meltdown and the store locked itself down tighter than Fort Knox. It was hysterical to me and I was quite pleased with myself, thank you very much.

That wasn’t so much the case for my mother and the general manager of the store.  

We have ALL done something like that to our moms/dads/caregivers. We once made their attempts to accomplish even the most basic of errands a total nightmare. Because we needed to learn.

We all had to learn not to run-off and not tantrum and scream when they said “no” to our incessant requests for another box of Lucky Charms and blue finger paint and glitter.

We have all put someone through the ringer at some point with our behavior.

Somehow, we got through it, our moms got through it, and now we are well-adjusted adults who know what the protocol for proper behavior in public is. 

Well, hopefully, anyway.

It seems ridiculous to have to remind people that they were once small, too. And that they had to learn the ropes. So remember, people, you were once small, too. And you had to learn the ropes. 

So show some grace and understanding. Because someone once showed it to you

Image is not my own

Image is not my own

4.) They have as much right to be out in public as anybody.

We are not living in as child-friendly a culture as we may have used to, or that is present in other countries. People seem to have less and less patience for the antics of small children while out in public now a days.

 While on the flip-side, there are kiddos out there who especially need discipline and direction, and have parents who are reluctant to give it to them for whatever reason.

I. Get. It.

The fact is, though, while it might not always be convenient for YOU, parents and their children have as much right to be out in public as anybody else. Let that sink in. Actually, go ahead and let it stew for a while so that you truly grasp what I’m saying.

This means that in your travels, you WILL encounter crying children. You WILL see children having temper tantrums. You will come across parents trying to do their best and sometimes failing. You will encounter children and not all of them will be well-behaved or super cute like Michelle Tanner. Because children are not mannequins. Children are not objects that are only for seeing and not hearing. Children are PEOPLE.

No, I don’t think that children who are destructive, disruptive and overly obnoxious are fun to be around. BUT that’s ultimately their parent’s business, isn’t it?

I see WAY more adults on a daily basis who are rude – drivers who text-and-drive while cutting you off, people talking loudly on their cell phones in public, people who are rude to their servers at a restaurant, people who bump into you and don’t excuse themselves, people who talk during a movie, people who abandon their shopping cart in the middle of the grocery store parking lot, people who are just plain grumpy and unpleasant– than I do children.

And you know who has more of an excuse? The child, not the grown person.

While it isn’t always pleasant, it is an unavoidable part of life. It’s part of sharing the planet with seven billion other people when part of its population is still in diapers. It’s gonna happen. This world doesn’t cater to you, it doesn’t cater to me. Such is life.

Take it from someone who at times is well-versed in what it means to live with crying children: Your life will still go on if you encounter a crying child a restaurant. I promise. Mine has gone on after having Sprite down the front of her shirt in public. 

You can make it.

5.) You never know if there is a disability involved

We live in an entirely different world than we did thirty or even ten years ago. So much has changed, and we should be more aware than any generation before us of the emotional, physical and developmental handicaps that affect so many people. 

The key word there is “should.” 

When a child is lashing out, loud or overly playful out in public, we should resign ourselves to accepting that we don’t ever know the full story. Judging a child by their size and appearance, and ascribing to them behaviors that they “should” be capable of without personally knowing that child or family is incredibly arrogant. 

Autism. Aspergers syndrome. ADHD. Social anxiety. These are just a few disorders that can effect the way a child behaves while out in public, and you may never know someone has them just by looking at them. 

If a child is lashing out or over-reacting around you, be the person willing to walk over to the parents to see if you can actually do something to help them. Be the person who teaches their children what it really means to love their neighbors, and to never be afraid of or nervous about loving others. Be the friendly smile to the exhausted parent or  stressed child in the grocery store checkout line. 

All we need is love. The Beatles got it. Now we should, too.

6.) Don’t dispense “advice.”

Don’t nitpick. Don’t make snarky comments. Don’t tell a parent how to parent. ESPECIALLY if you are not a parent – I SERIOUSLY cannot stress this fact enough. If you do not want a Starbucks drink dumped over your head, just don’t do it.

I know that existing around children can be tricky. Here is my personal motto: if a child in my bubble may potentially hurt themselves or someone else or destroy something, I quell the issue as best as I can.

Even still, it isn’t my place to berate their parent. I have had a child teeter off while in the store. I have had a child break glass in a store. It wasn’t because I wasn’t being careful. It wasn’t because I left them unattended while I yakked on my phone. 

These things happened because the sky is blue, and that’s the way it always will be.

Do you know what made some of those moments all the worse for me? People cutting glances at me or making comments to me. 

You know what I wanted to say to them? Thanks for nothing. 

I can assure you, my idea of a good time is not chasing after my disobedient child in a grocery store. I can assure someone that bad things sometimes happen when I’m in public no matter what I do, no matter how many ground rules I lay out before we get out of the van. I don’t want them to happen as much the next person.

Condescending advice is literally good for nothing. It is the currency of  prideful and self-righteousness uppity people. Can you tell now how much parents do not like biting comments from strangers??

Someone helping me clean up while I am trying to put a grocery store shelf back together? Someone being honest about the fact that they have also been humiliated in public by their three year old? That says something.

Parenting is hard. Parenting is far from always being pleasant. But, in those moments, you know the ones I’m talking about, a parent has to parent anyway. They take their licks, earn their parenting bruises, deal and move on.

You choose to parent even when it’s you that has to be paged to the front of the store because the manager found your child wandering down the cereal aisle.

We hold our head high as we are doing the best that we can. 

And the best comeback to any unwanted advice or unwanted attention from any of these scenarios: if you think you can do a better job, you can start right now

Amazing how that usually works.