Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Little Monsters (Part Four)

Parts One, Two, and Three attempted to share the fodder behind my recent mediations on public parenting and the judging that ensues. Over the course of these posts, a bunch of really smart and thoughtful people chimed in with their comments and enriched this raw material into a meaty and complex conversation. No one was more thrilled than I, not only because I appreciate the feedback and added energy of readers but also because such comments help me to continue sussing out whatever topic is foremost on my mind and therefore under examination here.

As I've mentioned before, my primary reason for writing this blog is to provide myself with a place to process the trickier points of being a parent in the world in general and a stay-at-home feminist mother in particular. I'm happy to report that so far the author's mental health benefits are very real. Whatever frustration, angst, hurt, and/or confusion inspires me to sit down and compose a post in the first place dwindles by the time I share it via the internets. It tends to dissolve completely when others offer their points of view.

Which is to say that I'm feeling pretty calm about the whole being-judged-as-a-parent thing right about now. I found some kind of resonance in every perspective that was posted, whether or not I agree with each comment completely. This resonance reminded me that although different people, with our different personalities, often have different ideas of what's appropriate and helpful in any given situation, the majority of us are at least trying.

Maybe that's what's so frustrating. We're all trying and yet we so often find one another grating. Do we care too much? Should those of us who feel incessantly judged stop caring so much about what other people think? When we're irritated or inconvenienced by friends, family, or strangers and their rotten kids, should we take a deep breath and chuckle at the dynamic spectacle that is public life? Should we quash the voice inside our heads that automatically assumes we know better than the next person how to raise children and supplant it with a more humble, empathetic gremlin?

I believe the saying is, "Live and let live." Or, more succinctly, "Relax."

It's nice to know that most people have concern for the health and well-being of children in general.

It's a pain in the ass that different people have different boundaries regarding their concern for the health and well-being of children in general.

It's too bad that some people don't concern themselves with the health and well-being of their own children.

It's impressive but rare that people exhibit the grace to support parents instead of issuing criticisms or attempting to usurp their authority, tactics that are certain only to alienate and enrage.

As Bree suggested, perhaps the best approach is to "offer a kind word, a helping hand, and try your best to keep the judgemental tone out of your voice whether you have kids or not."

I suggest a quick and easy self-administered pre-test for those on the verge of jumping into the raucous parenting moments of others. As a parent, I always appreciate and warm to offers of support. Unsolicited help, on the other hand, tends to piss me off. I'll let you, dear reader, chew on that one yourselves, but here's a hint: the difference is a simple matter of intention, and no one likes being condescended to or colonized. We all think we know better, but that's missing the point completely.


  1. This discussion has been excellent & appreciated. It compelled me to intervene in a situation a couple weeks ago & to this day, I have misgivings about the situation. I was returning from my lunch break & upon exiting my car I could hear a child screaming from the street above. It was frustrated, distressed & did not stop. I made my way up to ground level, & surveyed the scene. A small child was struggling on a bench. He had blood pouring down his face & the adults were struggling to restrain him. This went on for several minutes. I was torn between, minding my business & "trying to help." The defining choice was, "Who are my actions going to serve? Myself & my comfort zone? Or this distressed child/family? I asked the hotdog vendor for ice & walked over. I sat down on one end of the bench & offered ice to the woman. Within seconds my perception of the situation was: his nosebleed was out of control, the adults' choice to physically restrain the child was creating further panic, he just wanted them to let him up. I offered what I know about nose bleeds - pinch the bridge of the nose & lean forward. That advice and the ice were impractical as the child thrashed & kicked. Here's where I wonder if I crossed the line; without asking anyone, I rubbed his back & whispered in his ear, "Stop fighting. You need to help your nose. If you stop fighting, they'll let you up." I whispered this to him twice. I don't know if he listened or was simply spent. But he stopped fighting. As soon as he stopped screaming & thrashing, the blood flow slowed to a trickle. Just as quickly they loosened their holds. By the time the paramedics arrived, the nose bleed had stopped. It felt to me that the adults’ attempts to control the situation, stripped the little boy of his power & contributed to his loss of self control. His panicked tantrum was the obstacle. I have no idea how it started, but my judgment - and it certainly was that - was that regardless of how it started, the adults coping mechanisms were exacerbating the situation. I watched it spiral out of control & I my heart bled for the kid. I still feel like I overstepped into another family's private business. They didn't ask me for help & I nosed in anyways. Whereas I'm pleased & a little proud that I helped him regain his composure & self control, I still feel uncomfortable for crossing that line of the unsolicited, nosy-noserton; the do-gooder who "knows better." It still doesn't sit well. Jasmine

  2. Mercy, Jasmine, what a story! I think it's safe to say that cool-headed assistance in a medical emergency is always a blessing. I realize a bloody nose is less medical emergency than fodder for a kid's freak-out, but blood is blood I'd say.

    My whole "help vs. support" assertion is like the subtle yet crucial difference between charity and advocacy. It all goes back to intention, the impulse behind one's decision to get involved, and the nature of involvement.

    If the adults had responded to your arrival by saying, "We've got this," that would've been legitimate and I imagine you would've honored their boundary. As it stands, it sounds like you provided some welcome and very effective support to adults and child both.