(This is a bit of a follow-up to the previous post Underwater Basket Case 101. Comments and other thoughts kept rolling out and making me think.)
What people think of me---of me and my children---matters to me. I am aware of, and concerned with, public opinion.
It comes from good intentions, you understand. Caring what others think is a good goal, and is the basis for respect and consideration. I just never learned healthy boundaries for it. So as I entered adulthood, I tried to find a happier medium. It's been a struggle.
Public feedback is a mixed bag, and very confusing. I'm not really clear what people's expectations are, or how I am supposed to respond to them. It doesn't come naturally to me---determining how much opinion and expectation ought to matter in a healthy way---so I have to consider it. I'm probably too conservative, expecting high need and harsh judgment. It's what I learned from and experienced.
Therefore, out in public, I tend to assume that people do not like my children, do not want them around, and will become highly annoyed and critical if they "misbehave" (read: act like normal). I like to think that other parents will understand---and sometimes they do---but other times, they might very well be my harshest critics.
I discussed this in detail in my last post, and also went on to wonder whether there really is a mommy war, or if it is the tail wagging the dog.
Media stories certainly add fuel to the fire of my concern about public judgment.
Is the public really paying that much attention to me?
One of my favorite bookmarked bloggers, Beck (Frog and Toad are Still Friends) recently wrote about the type of parents she and her husband are, and described our mindset pretty well, in her post Attached.
We aim to positively discipline our children so they know okay ways to behave, with their spirits intact.
Additionally, her post and the comments to it, as well as her follow-up post World of Danger, confirmed for me that other people do pay attention to my kids.
My concern, though, is that my awareness of this might be a hyper-awareness, and may be out of perspective.
Am I sacrificing my children on the altar of public perception? Setting them up to care a little too much what others think?
How I feel: I am on my children in public like white on rice. Nothing slips past me and I am constantly on guard, working to keep them in line. A collie herding sheep.
This is tiring. I feel exhausted.
It takes everything in me and then some to keep my kids from being the kids who hit people, are disruptive, create chaos and messes, and who are unbearable to be around.
I feel like a sort of minority. Other moms just don’t seem to have to work quite this hard. Kids are kids, sure, and when tired or hungry will be on edge, or off it with crying, tantrumming, or tough behavior. All kids can be tough at times, all kids need discipline, and no parenting job is easy. Sometimes though, I feel a little validated when other moms look at me and say about my children, ‘I don’t know how you do it.”
Or maybe the mom stuff is more intuitive to them, and that’s why it doesn’t look as hard as it feels to me.
Or maybe it’s both.
For example: At the grocery store, I see other children who ride quietly in the proper seat of the shopping cart, just looking around, passively happy.
My children don't want to ride in the cart. They want to touch, taste, see, smell, crawl under, climb up, swing on and more.
I want to encourage their curiosity and sense of exploration, but not at the expense of the world around me.
My perception: my children, sitting in the basket or skipping alongside, occasionally testing the boundary by grabbing a package off the shelf or hopping on the side of the cart for a ride, are acting really well, all things considered. They aren't shrieking, running up and down the aisles, or knocking the entire pile of apples off the produce shelf. We're doing well. Okay, this is okay!
Then, I get a look. It might be slanted eyes, or raised brows, or worse, a fast look away. It might be a comment, either directly to me, or a passive one directed to another adult or child, "Look at that naughty child, Johnny, I'll beat your bum blue if you act like THAT!" I hate the latter most of all.
Suddenly, my confidence wavers, dips, plunges. I pause, step out of my little world of just the three of us, doing okay, and look around. I feel a little light, then self-conscious---that feeling in your nightmare when you realize you are at school in your underwear---and I sense/imagine a buzz of negative thoughts about us.
I imagine they are thinking, "How can that mom let her kids ride on the outside of the cart! That's dangerous!" Possibly, but we do our best to be careful, and truly, it's not as dangerous as them running off.
"Does that mom ever shut up? Constant chatter to her kids, 'do this,' and 'that's not okay let's do this instead' and 'good choice' and on and on and on." Just riding herd, knowing me, knowing my kids, and doing our best to stay safe and considerate.
"Those kids are loud! How many more times can they sing the ABC song?" Trust me, so much better than the banshee tantrum that is possible.
I often feel like a bone between two dogs, one named Public Expectation and one named Children's Needs.
It's a struggle to balance the two, and they often seem to be in conflict. Somewhere in there, too, I have to consider my sanity.
I look at the well-behaved children, who sit so nicely in the seat while mom shops and pays attention to what she buys rather than riding herd on them every second, and I wonder, "What did she drug them with and where can I get some?"
No seriously, I wonder if she understands, or if she thinks we are maniacs.
I wonder why I care. And whether her approval would matter.
I think it would. I'm trying so hard to be good. More than anything, I want some sort of confirmation that it looks okay and therefore it is okay.
Believe it or not, it's not really all about me.
I don't want my kids to experience negativity from strangers, possibly due to them acting in a way that the person perceives as badly-disciplined (but that I might accept or have failed to manage positively).
I don't want our discipline choices to negatively affect them.
I just so want my children to be welcomed into the loving, accepting bosom of the world exactly as they are, for who they are...not in spite of that. And, from personal experience, I know it isn't that simple or unconditional, and to expect that, is a little unreasonable on my part.
I hope they find that loving acceptance at home. Goodness knows we try.
And in honesty, that's the public feedback I really want: wow, those kids are so confident, sure of themselves, you can tell they feel loved
How does parenting feel to you? How do others’ opinions matter to you, or do they? Do you alter your parenting out in public?
copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Tags: mom,children behavior public,,mom expectation, positive discipline, meeting children's needs