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.

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November 7, 2008 - Posted by | parenting, peer pressure | , , , , , , ,

17 Comments »

  1. true…

    Comment by Suzi | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  2. My reaction was also to wonder if the poor child was ok / alive. It looked such an awkward flip – poor baby. And poor mom.

    I was reassured, when I took a second look, to see the poor thing lift her head: she was a) alive and b) able to move. But what a nasty blow!

    Comment by Sylvia | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  3. I entirely agree! My fist thought was poor kiddo! That must really have hurt.
    Good thing they’re still a little bendy at that size!

    Her ‘bendy-ness’ must explain why she was able to lift her head (and, one assumes, holler REALLY LOUDLY). I think if that had happened to me, my back would have broken. Certainly I’d have been out cold. Brrr.

    Comment by Jennifer | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  4. That was nauseating to watch.

    You’re right, it was. I will put a warning up. You don’t need to see the video to understand the post.

    Comment by Bridgett | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  5. I saw that yesterday on Failblog and I was horrified. However, it wasn’t a parenting fail, just an accident. I felt as awful for the dancer as I did for the kid and parent.

    Exactly. It wasn’t a fail, it was an accident, awful for everyone involved.

    Comment by Clementine | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  6. My first reaction was “Oh my god, that must have HURT. That poor kid!”

    Two years old are like little eels – and what small child wouldn’t want to get in on that dancing action? I agree with Bridgett, it wasn’t a fail, just an accident.

    I agree entirely.

    Comment by rambleicious | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  7. I don’t have any desire to see the video. I don’t need to in order to understand what you’re talking about.

    When Son was three he was nearly hit by a car after wrestling out of my grip at a bus stop. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt and seventeen years later, he doesn’t even remember it.

    But I will never forget it nor will I forget how long it took me to stop wondering what “might” have happened and to accept that it wasn’t my fault.

    I’m with you, that poor dear woman.

    Who among us with any personal honesty at all can’t think of a time when something awful could easily have happened — and the only reason it didn’t was nothing other than pure luck. It’s too easy to blame.

    Comment by Zayna | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  8. “Two years old are like little eels – and what small child wouldn’t want to get in on that dancing action?”

    I haven’t read the failblog comments, but I’d seen the video, and the people I talked to about it said basically the same thing. And that’s exactly why they thought it a parenting fail as well as a terrible accident, and I agree.

    Toddlers that age are terribly hard to hold on to, and some things draw them like magnets to iron. When that something is potentially deadly, I just can’t possibly imagine relying on holding the child’s hand. Picking the kid up or leaving the scene would be the minimum.

    I agree that you do all you can to keep your child from something potentially deadly — but really, who would consider a dance competition, even dance as athletic as this, deadly? If I’d been in that mall with a toddler, I would have been standing there, letting my child watch the exciting dancing, I’m quite sure. I’d have kept a hand on her, sure, but only because I’d have feared my child might get underfoot, but would I have foreseen something like this? Nope.

    Comment by Helen | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  9. “my first reaction wasn’t a thought, just a jolt of startlement

    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.”

    That’s EXACTLY what I thought when I saw that clip yesterday. And then it just made me sick to my stomach when I saw that the people in the comments said they had laughed. LAUGHED. I visit fail blog, but I never comment because it’s so not worth it to get into stuff with the immature a-holes who are regular commenters. But that video haunted me all day. Awful.

    The commenters on YouTube were even worse. I read the first three or four, then had to stop. They sickened me even more than the video. And now I’m off to edit this post with a warning.

    Comment by heels | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  10. after seeing the video, i felt really horrified and sickened. but, the thought that has been nagging at me all day is what responsibility does the dancer have? judging from the location i see in the video, it does not appear to be an organized event, just an impromptu type thing. just seems kind of like asking for trouble to break out into some fancy dance routine like that in the middle of a seemingly busy place. i dunno, i guess i’m a geezer! dang kids!

    Now, I was seeing this as an event organized by the mall, but perhaps I was wrong. Were that so, there probably would have been some sort of barrier.

    But you know, I view this activity as such a positive of living in a city. Those kids are doing something amazing: athletic, creative, beautiful to watch. It’s an art form, and I’d have been right there, letting my child take it all in, just as I almost always stop to watch the violinist who busks downtown, or visit the art gallery once or twice a summer. The fact that it’s impromptu would only increase its appeal — culture, busting out like that! Cool!

    Nope. I can’t find it in my heart to blame anyone in this scenario.

    Comment by Dana | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  11. I saw this yesterday and gasped so loudly that my husband thought something had happened here. Then I explained it to him, and (without seeing the video), he had the same reaction. I still cringe thinking about it.

    From your post, I am so very glad that I didn’t read the comments.

    Be very glad. Many were merely inane, but you had to hunt really hard to find anyone who was shocked by what happened to the poor child. That in itself is sickening.

    Comment by Allison | November 7, 2008 | Reply

  12. but really, who would consider a dance competition, even dance as athletic as this, deadly?

    I really don’t understand what you’re saying. Who wouldn’t consider getting in the way of one of those dancers potentially deadly? Would you let a child get in the path of a prizefighter in motion? Those dancers are wielding just as much force.

    Who wouldn’t consider getting in the way of a moving car deadly, and yet we persist in taking our children for walks down city sidewalks. There is risk in every daily activity. I don’t believe this mother was taking an irresponsible risk simply by letting her child watch the dancers.

    Comment by Helen | November 8, 2008 | Reply

  13. One other thing, now that I’m over it (! Pregnant! Shouldn’t see things like this!)–I sometimes scan failblog, mostly for the stupid pictures of boarded up doors with “Enter” above them, that sort of stuff. The last “parenting fail” I saw was a dad holding a toddler while watching a stripper at a bachelor party. This video doesn’t hold a candle to that. Not a fail. Just horrible.

    Mental tangent: I wonder if the parent knows this vignette is on the blog. What kinds of permissions are asked/granted, I wonder?

    Comment by Bridgett | November 8, 2008 | Reply

  14. Ya know, I’m far too well acquainted with my own foibles and short comings as a parent to be able to judge anyone else in their attempts.

    I know far too well how many times I have made mistakes, and how many close calls my kids have had.

    I wonder if that’s not the reason why parents judge others. Perhaps they do it to unload some of the guilt they feel at not being perfect by thinking to themselves, “Well at least I’m not as bad as them.”

    Comment by carrien (she laughs at the days) | November 9, 2008 | Reply

  15. Omigoodness, thank god you told me she was okay. That looked bad. And yes, that kind of thing can happen to anyone. The first thought should be “is the child okay”, not that the parent failed.

    Comment by No Mother Earth | November 9, 2008 | Reply

  16. Oh my goodness. I only thought of the child. Who would judge the parent just by what is on the video? Seriously. I’m glad you said that the child is probably OK; I really shouldn’t have watched.

    Comment by midlife mommy | November 9, 2008 | Reply

  17. You know, mine never did do that running away thing, but I chalk that up to her temperament and me being lucky, not to the parent, because some kids are just runners. My sister was like that, and even wore a harness at times to keep her safe. Not the parent’s fault, just really unfortunate timing. Thank goodness she was okay.

    Comment by kittenpie | November 14, 2008 | Reply


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