My child, not yours.

April 11, 2013

Mother Holding ChildI have just been reading about the recent story of how a shop worker smacked a three year old girl, who she deemed to be misbehaving, without the permission of the parent. Needless to say, I am outraged (although it seems not everyone is). 

I could of course write a good deal on why I think smacking is wrong, and have a good rant about this. But the story also made my blood pressure rise for other reasons. It evoked that all too familiar feeling of extreme annoyance and affront that I feel whenever someone takes it upon themselves, uninvited, to speak to my child in a way I feel is not appropriate. 

At what point is it OK to intervene with someone else’s child? This question could lead to an endless debate about what is and is not acceptable behaviour from children, but I think that misses the point. 

Sarah Ditum’s article in The Guardian, whilst expressing her disapproval of the incident, concludes by saying, “… there are so many ways of dealing with another person’s child in the act of naughtiness that don’t involve physically attacking them‚ like, say, talking to them gently but firmly.” 

True. But I would go further, like, say, talking to their parents. Anyone ever think of that? It’s not like the mother wasn’t there. 

And that’s what really gets me. I would always favour talking to the parent first, rather than to their child. 

It’s the parent’s job to choose their methods of parenting, of disciplining and limit setting. And it’s the parent’s job to decide what they think are reasonable limits to set. If we disagree with these limits and feel there is a problem then it is surely more appropriate to discuss these with the parent than to take matters into our own hands with their child. The parent is also the one with intimate knowledge of their child, of the sort of language and methods they will and will not respond to, how they’re likely to respond, how they’re likely to be feeling, where their behaviour is coming from in the first place, what has gone before. 

And yet so often I find people talk to my child inappropriately. Don’t misunderstand. I do not let my child just run amuck. I don’t think it’s OK for my child to charge round a shop knocking things over and breaking them. Nor, I’m sure, did Angela Cropley. I’m right there, ready to deal with the situation as I see fit, and yet so often it’s taken out of my hands before I have the chance. 

And it’s not just issues around behaviour that bug me. It bugs me when people comment to my child on how dirty he is when I don’t mind him getting dirty if he’s having fun, and I don’t want him to be worried about it. It bugs me when people use language like ‘naughty’ and ‘not very nice’ around my child. It bugs me when people try to distract or cheer up my child when he’s crying, or worse, mock or belittle him, when I would rather validate his feelings and let him have a good cry if he needs to. 

I recognise that much of the problem for me is that others’ perception or definition of what is bad or normal behaviour are often not on a par with mine. Couple that with the fact that my methods of dealing with behaviour are not on a par with theirs, and the result is, well, lots of difference of opinion, and perhaps I’m over-sensitive about it. But the thing is, I spend a great deal of time biting my tongue or turning a blind eye to parenting methods that I strongly disagree with, and that I often find quite upsetting to witness. Children being smacked, children being left to cry, threatened, bullied, talked down to, disrespected and humiliated. But I say nothing because I don’t feel it’s my place to interfere. So it would be really nice to feel other parents could extend me the same courtesy. 

So as well as raising the issue of respect for children, this recent incident of the child being smacked by a shop keeper raises the issue of respect for parents. 

Please stop assuming that everyone uses and approves of the same old dated parenting methods. If you want to use them with your child, that’s your business, but my child, my methods are my business. Butt out.


Don’t succumb to the pressure

November 21, 2011

When I became a parent one of the many ‘Congratulations’ cards I received was from an aunt with a sense of humour.  In it she wrote, ‘My advice – don’t take any advice’. I laughed at the time, but now I look back at this as the most sensible piece of advice I was ever given.

I’d say the single most important thing I’ve learnt as a mother is to trust my own instincts. To not allow myself to be talked into anything, pressured into anything, or made to behave in a way that is against my better judgement as to what’s best for my child.

But when we choose to parent our children in a way that is not the most commonly accepted way in today’s society, this can be hard, we can sometimes feel like we’re swimming against the tide, and this can lead to feelings of isolation and self doubt.

Overcoming these feelings, and learning to tune out negative thoughts – your own, and those you perceive others may have about you – is an important skill. 

Many parents admit that they feel embarrassed, or that everyone is watching them, when their child has a meltdown in public. It follows that how we handle our child in these situations is likely to be at least in part influenced by these feelings. – What is everyone thinking?  What does everyone think I should do?  Everyone thinks my child is badly behaved, or that I’m a bad parent.

These thoughts are not helpful to you in finding the most appropriate response for your child, particularly if, like me, you parent without the use of punishments, threats or bribes.  ‘What that child needs is a good smack’ – is a comment guaranteed to set your own adrenalin levels soaring, making you less able to be the calm, understanding parent your child needs you to be.  But this is at the extreme end.  Even without hearing comments like this, we still feel the pressure to be seen to be punishing our child for their perceived ‘bad behaviour’.   We must be seen to be doing something, and that something must be a widely recognised response.  Yet strangers, and even friends and family members, don’t have the level of understanding you do regarding the reasons for your child’s behaviour and their underlying needs, nor the knowledge you have as to what works best for them.

It takes practice and time, but once you have learnt to identify this type of perceived pressure as unhelpful and unimportant, you are able to pay more attention to your own thoughts and to your child, and better able to use your judgement regarding your child’s needs.

I think many parents allow themselves to be governed by this pressure in deciding how to parent, and sadly dismiss their own instincts as being the wrong ones.

I would be interested to hear how others feel on this subject.  Do you ever feel judged or pressured, and do you think this affects the way you parent?