It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Judging Parents

Here we have a video clip. Title: Parenting FAIL. Which kind of says it all right there.

(The clip is from YouTube; the commenters I mention are on the Failblog site.)

Updated to add: The event in the video is sudden, unexpected, and, though inadvertant, shockingly violent. If you have a tender heart, you may opt to skip it.

Most of the commenters (who appear to have a mental age of 14 or 15 — with apologies to my very sensible and decently sensitive 15-year-old), are completely oblivious to the fact that this involved Real Human Beings, one of them a baby, and are either titillated (nasty children that they are) or just exchanging irrelevant nonsense amongst themselves (inane but harmless). A few of them, however, come out with the Judgements:

She should have been hanging on. (She probably was, dipshit; you’ve obviously never tried to hold the hand of a squirmy, sweaty two-year-old determined to be somewhere else.)

She should have been hanging on; I’m INSANE about hanging on to my child in public. (And she’s never, not once, slipped your grip? Come on, now.)

She should have the kid on a leash. (Oh, yes, so you could then slam her for treating her child like an animal; can’t win for losing on this one.)

If more parents and fewer 14-year-olds read that blog, you can be sure there’d have been more condemnation. Why do we parents do that?

Well, sometimes it’s appropriate to note where someone’s doing it ‘wrong’. That’s a politically incorrect thing to say these days, but nonetheless true. Some parenting actions you see can serve as useful object lessons in how not to do it. But let’s stop at thinking, “Hm. That doesn’t seem to be effective because of a, b, c; this other approach would be better.” We do not need to move from a thoughtful analysis to judgment, “And what a CRAP parent he/she is for doing that.”

Or, if you do go that extra step (and who among us doesn’t, at least once in a while?), keep it to yourself. Given what I do for a living, I find myself analysing parents all the time — and not always kindly. Just like a financial planner might take a look at the general public’s retirement “plans”, and shudder. Or a nutritionist watch how families eat and want to get in there and MAKE THEM EAT SOME VEGETABLES, DAMMIT! (Oh, wait. That’s me, too…)

Everyone knows the savage pleasure of a catty conversation. It’s not the most honourable of human impulses, but many of us have it, and I confess I am in this group at least once in a while. So enjoy your internal slice-and-dice, but keep it to yourself. You’re doing it for fun; this hardly makes you morally superior.

We can savage for personal entertainment; we can observe, analyse, and learn. We do not need to judge, but often we do. Why?

Mostly because it’s comforting, I think.

– Nothing like that could ever happen to MY child, because I would never make that mistake. No, I would never lose my grip (physically or mentally), never have that split-second of inattention, never make the wrong judgment call. Nuh-uh. So my baby will always and ever be 100% safe.

– Nothing like that ever HAS happened to my baby, so I must be a Good Parent. Phew.

– I may not be a perfect parent, but I’m better than THAT loser. Phew.

All those assume that it is reasonable to think that a child will always and ever be 100% safe. It just ain’t so. The sooner we give up that idea, the sooner we can lift a weight of unnecessary guilt off our shoulders.

My thoughts were:

Well, my first reaction wasn’t a thought, just a jolt of startlement — which, in some people might come out as a shout of laughter, but that doesn’t mean you found it funny.

Then concern for the child:
Oh, my GOD! Is she alive? Did she break her neck? Is she just bumped and bruised?

Followed by:
Oh, that poor woman.

Because, if you’ve ever held the sweaty hand of a struggling toddler, you know those little hands are hard to hold; you know they can slip out of your grip; you know they can make a sudden, unexpected dash. You know, because it’s happened, and most of the time, it doesn’t matter. Most of the time, you lurch forward and grab the little bugger darling by the scruff of her neck and haul her back, no harm done.

But once in a long while, once in ten thousand impulsive toddler dashes, something potentially tragic can happen. And it’s nobody’s fault. Nobody’s fault at all.

Just try telling the mother that, though.

That poor, poor woman.

November 7, 2008 Posted by | parenting, peer pressure | , , , , , , , | 17 Comments