Parenting in Public

Yesterday we were on a mission.  I had a child who wanted to build a store that he could go into and use to sell us apples.  He tried desperately the day before to use several small boxes, masking tape was strung around like spaghetti, but to no avail. . .and LOTS of frustration and tears.  So the mission was to get some BIG boxes.  We headed to a local appliance store and left happy and full of ideas for what to use the other two boxes for.  We talked about other important places in our town, and the kids narrowed it down.  Yes the Town Hall is an important place, but it is summer and these are kids, so our three most important buildings would be Mim's Market (kids think "candy"), Library (they love the library), and the Creamie ( I say no more).

After scoring the boxes, we headed to a small park for lunch under a big tree, then 15 minutes on the playground.  It was midday and the shade of the tree and the playground did not intersect.  I knew they would lose their play power shortly and be ready to go work on the big box project.  There were a couple guys on the caged tennis court nearby, and excepting the pong of the tennis ball and squeaks of their shoes it was quiet, till I sat down to read a teaching article on my iphone while the kids played.  Then one of the tennis player says loudly to the other.  "Have you noticed the decline in care since the invention of the iphone?!"  . . . He said it with the same self righteous tone I heard a teacher use with a child a few weeks ago when the child tossed a banana peel into an untraveled wooded area when he was done with his lunch.  The boy replied, "But it was just a banana peel.". . but that's another story.

I felt a bit of a sting.  Was he talking about me?  Just last summer I was praised by a stranger for actually talking to my daughter in the stroller while walking along the cove road on the lake.  The man felt it was such a rare sight to have a parent engaged with her child rather than in adult cell phone conversation that he just had to tell me I was rare and special. No sting. I might have even felt a little righteous.  Hmm. . .Then I had to wonder, "Why do I care what this stranger thinks?"  And I realize it is not so much about caring what one stranger thinks of my parenting as it is knowing that when I am in public. . .well, uh. . . hmm, darn. . .I care what a perfect stranger thinks.  The teacher in me wants to model good parenting skills.  The parent in me enjoys the little boost from positive feedback.  Plus, if I didn't care what others thought, just a little, I can't imagine I would be a very good parent.

On the other hand, I have been in some pretty tense parenting moments that happened to be in public places.    When as a parent I have struggled with what appears to onlookers as a misbehaving child, everything a I do or don't do in response feels like it is under scrutiny.  I have heard the term, "It takes a village. . ." most people have, but I don't think that is what is meant.  (Let's criticize them till they get it right?) Is it? Why do we (as a society) praise parents who are having a good day already?  Why do we feel it is alright to criticize or judge parents who are struggling? I can attest that the parents who are struggling need more kind words and encouragement than any of them will ever get in their lifetime.  Parenting is hard.  For some it is really hard, not neccessarily because they are doing it wrong, but because of their circumstance or the child's.

So, yesterday, I shut off my phone.  I pushed my girl on the swing.  I did some swinging myself, umm. . .blah... wish I didn't get motion sickness from swinging.  And we all went home to build Mim's store, a Library and a Creamie.  We played under a big tree in our yard all afternoon.  I ate 7 pretend icecream cones, drank lemonade and read real books at the pretend library.  My oldest came home and added crochet lessons on the lawn to the afternoon's activities. 

 I wonder when, or if, that man will learn to recognize his righteous side, and see that it isn't neccessarily a positive trait, I have learned that from people like him and have tried to loose that kind of judgement of others.  I wonder what more I have to learn about myself.  I believe every person we come across in life has something to teach us if we are open minded enough to learn it.  I wonder if that man will learn too. . .and I hope it is not learned in a hard way, like having his child melt down in a public place while onlookers glare disapproval.   

No comments: