An interesting article in The Guardian this weekend about Greg Pembroke’s massively popular blog in which he posts pictures of his own and other people’s children crying, with a caption giving the reason. It seems millions of people find this highly amusing. The reasons are always so ridiculous, you see.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about this blog. Other parenting writers that I follow have already had some words to say about it. Janet Lansbury, for example, wrote an excellent article about it back in April. But the Guardian article caught my attention because many of the things Greg Pembroke is quoted as saying actually seemed quite reasonable. Perhaps he’s not all bad, I wondered.
He claims he is not making fun of the children, but simply posting pictures that give a more realistic representation of life with a toddler. True, it’s not always rosy. Also true that it can help us through what can be at times an extremely trying task of parenting small children, if we can lighten up, not be too serious all the time, and not be too hard on ourselves when things don’t go swimmingly. Toddlers cry a lot. They can throw a total fit about the craziest things. Parents enjoy some solidarity knowing it’s not due to their failings as a parent, but just that their child is, well, a child.
At the end of the article, Pembroke is quoted as saying, “I think that if you’re present, loving, and not a total push-over, your kids will turn out fine”. Some truth in that, although I’d suggest it’s not quite that simple. But the problem here is this: How does taking a photo of your child when they’re crying equate to being present and loving?
I’m really struggling with this one. I’ve looked at the blog. The pictures are mostly of very distressed looking kids, and they’re mostly staring right at the camera. So it’s not like the pictures were taken when they weren’t looking (not that I think this would make it OK anyway).
Now, even if Pembroke gets the whole notion of toddlers getting easily overwhelmed by feelings they don’t know how to deal with, about frustrations that have been building up all day, about needs they’re struggling to express, about the fact that it may not actually be just that little thing they’re crying over, it may be just the last straw, or a trigger for some bigger upset they’ve been storing. Even if he gets all this, and after taking his photo he validates, sympathises, comforts. Even if he does all this (and I think there’s reasonable grounds to suspect that he doesn’t), how must the child feel when, before being the present and loving parent Pembroke describes he says, “Oh, just hold on while I take a photo of you.”? Because in saying this he’s saying “This takes priority. This is more important than your feelings. I don’t care that you’re upset.”, and a whole host of other things, none of them good.
Why is it so often considered acceptable to treat children with less respect than we would adults? If you were crying over something, how would you feel if the person you count on most in the world to take care of you pointed a camera at you in the midst of your distress? And then posted the picture on the internet for all to see. It may not be Pembroke’s intention, as the article claims, to make fun of these children. But making fun is exactly what he’s doing, along with disrespecting them, disrespecting their feelings, and exploiting their powerlessness and vulnerability.
And don’t give me “They’re not really distressed”. They are. That’s why they’re crying. Tears or no tears, there are big feelings and emotions being dealt with here.
Yes, we parents don’t need to get all upset and serious about each and every thing our toddlers have a meltdown over. Parenting small children can be exasperating. And it’s fine to allow our children space and time to have a good cry. But pointing a camera at them while they’re doing this is not. It’s not supportive, it’s not respectful, it’s not loving, and it’s not funny.