Friday, February 25, 2005

It Takes a Village, Not a Yenta

I had never heard of Chez Miscarriage until I was directed there by Making Light. Now I will probably have to add this to my list of blogs to check up on. The discussion that hooked me was about "mothering drive-by,"the phenomenon where one parent upbraids another for failure to adhere to first parent's standards. Aw, you know: "You're letting your child run around without mittens when it's 40 degrees out?" "Don't you think your obesity sets a poor example for your children?" "Oh, I never let little Smedley eat processed sugar/wheat/juice/junk food/candy..." And those are the relatively mild ones; the breastfeeding fanatics, the organic food fanatics, the Montessori/ Waldorf/etc. fanatics can be really over the top: I had a woman respond to my very mild assertion that breastfeeding was a personal decision by stating, "Well it shouldn't be! If all babies were breastfed there would be no crime!" Anyway, after Chez Miscarriage made her first post about this phenomenon, she got something like 300 comments--half of them drive-by scolds by people who clearly didn't get the point of her post.

I have been a victim of the drive-by (breathes there a parent who hasn't?). SG, at age four, told off a woman who scolded me for not using one of the straps on the stroller to belt her in (the kid, not the woman). Generally I try to be noncommittal to someone who aims a drive-by comment in my direction, but really: I'm insecure enough about my parenting skills: I know I'm doing it wrong, dammit! Even if I disagree with you about what it is I'm screwing up.

But before I get all self-righteous about people who scold and run, let be be honest. I harbor unworthy thoughts in my heart. I have watched a fat child scarfing down a large McDonalds fries and wondered what the kid's mother is thinking. I just don't say anything, because it's not my place. I have watched two parents so involved in quarrelling that they weren't watching their kids drift too close to the edge of a BART platform, and I didn't say anything, because it's not my place (actually, in that case, I chatted up the kids and lured them back to the center of the platform. My heart can only take so much). Would I keep still if I thought a child was in danger? I don't think so. There have been a couple of times I wondered if I should be intervene. But then I have to remember that there were a whole lot of people on Columbus Avenue the day I had to sling a 3-year-old YG over my shoulder as she kicked and screamed at me, who did not report me to Children's Services. A twenty-second window into someone else's life is not much to base a judgement on.

I try, when I can, to be helpful to other parents. Hold the Post Office door for the woman with the huge stroller; play peek-a-boo with a toddler while her dad is occupied looking for his credit card at the checkout; stop a baby who's lurched out of his mom's reach and is about to hit the street. Granted, I'm not Supergirl, whizzing around the city from parent to parent making it all better. But I know I like it when someone holds a door or catches something for me; it makes me feel like this parenting thing is possible.


Blogger Jonquil said...

Something I try to do is support other parents. Smile and say "It gets better" when the toddler's melting down.

I think it's a parental reflex; once you've had a toddler, whenever you see a toddler in public you reflexively sweep the area for the responsible adult. However, you don't grab; I once did (stupid, stupid) at the farmer's market when the mom had her arms full of flowers, and of course the kid melted down. Rightly so. Now I just try to block and warn.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

The breastfeeding mafia is the worst (and I say that as the husband of one whose breasts have been owned by her daughters--serially--for the past 3.75 years).

Were I female, I would note that the women out there with inverted nipples might disgree about "there would be no crime." Fortunately, I can just watch the blood and realise yet again that anyone who describes women as "the fairer sex" clearly has never interacted with one for any length of time.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Being nice to other parents--even if it's just smiling to demonstrate that you don't think they're Big Monsters--is a very important thing to do. I think praise is highly underrated for parents; there are times when I call the Spouse and tell him he is to tell me what a good parent I am (usually because I haven't killed anyone yet). And I try to tell him he's a good dad at least once a day. Because you know THEY (which is, the Young) aren't going to say anything useful.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Janni said...

One thing being a Scout leader has made me understand is that being a parent is really, really hard, and that parents need all the encouragement and sympathy and support they can get.

Not interference, though. One only gets to step in, imho, when the child is clearly in immediate danger. (Which would, to my mind, include, say, standing near the train tracks, running into the street, etc. But not drinking the wrong kind of juice or ditching the mittens.)

I wonder if parenting isn't a particularly easy thing for obsessive types to obsess over--and once they've begun obsessing, they forget how to keep their obsessiveness to themselves.

I do know that dealing with other adults is, to me, the single most frightening thing about the idea of raising children.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

The thing is, if there were One True Right Way, I'd try it. Honest. If, by feeding my children milled flax seed and dressing them in buttered yak floss I could guarantee that they would grow up strong, brilliant, talented, principled, and with a killer sense of humor and a sound right hook, I'd make the effort. But one woman's buttered yak floss is another woman's polyester. I think a certain kind of woman veers toward drive-by behavior because their preference feels so safe to them that they cannot believe that not providing that safety to other children is not abusive.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Janni said...

I thought it was good to hear from the Mom who did everything "wrong" and whose son was still fine. Kids really are more resilient than we think.

I'm beginning to think the whole drive by things is because ... there are an awful lot of unhappy, overly anxious people in the world who simply are not at ease with ... well, anything; or at least anything they can't control.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous L.N. Hammer said...

"Buttered yak floss" sounds like a euphemism for something. Not sure what, but I'm fairly sure it's dirty.


7:59 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

It could as easily have been Egyptian cotten or polished flax thread, Larry. I have reached that point of the biological journey where sometimes the word I want is supplanted by some other, barely related word, while my chosen word goes off for a weekend at the craps tables in Tahoe. Thus, buttered yak floss. But by all means, euphemize it!

8:15 AM  

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