Friday, April 3, 2015

Look Away

“The child supplies the power but the parents have to do the steering.” – Benjamin Spock

I read a blog post today about a man who witnessed a kid throwing a fit in an IKEA store. The child’s mom was so embarrassed by this tantrum that she gave in and bought the kid what he was demanding. The author’s automatic assumption was that the kid was a brat. He based this entirely on looks. He visually assessed the child: he looked healthy; he did not look as though he possessed any of the markers for autism, or any other special needs designation; he was not visually disabled. So based solely on this this visual examination, from 20 feet away, and from the mother’s reaction of giving in to the child’s demands, he decided upon the child’s age (9) and pegged him as the brat of the millennium.

There is no way he can say this. Autism doesn’t always leave visual cues. Meltdowns come with no warning. And even if there is no impairment on the child, those who are watching from a distance have no idea of the history that family unit is coping with. Maybe they are shopping for disposable furniture because they lost their home to fire and the stress overwhelmed the boy in that moment. Maybe the parents are going through a divorce and the mom is furnishing a new home. That could cause the boy to act out and the mom to compensate. But to an outsider, these scenarios are often not considered. Onlookers sit back in a pretty pink bubble of judgement and invoke their own ideas of what is right and what is wrong, what should be done, and what should not.

This caused me to think.

If someone didn’t know me, and only watched me parent from mere feet away, how would they judge me?

I have two great kids. They are smart. They are happy. They are thriving. They know I love them. How do they know this? Not just because I tell them all the time, which I do, but they know through my actions. I do not indulge their every desire; I do not give them everything they ask for. I set boundaries, limits. If I didn’t care so much about them, it wouldn’t matter to me what they did, or where they went, or what they ate, or when they went to sleep. I explain to them that it is because I love them that these limits have to be enforced. We have a routine. And yes, sometimes – of course – there are treats and surprises. Treats are fun. I love being able to surprise my kids.

Kids need to know what to expect from their lives. In an odd paradox, knowing what to expect from their lives allows kids the freedom to live. If they know bedtime is 9:00, they know how long they have to play. If they know homework is to be done as soon as they get home from school, there is no argument. It’s not “let’s do it this way today, and we’ll see how something else works tomorrow.” Routine is comforting to children, even if adults find it constricting at times. Naturally they’re going to push it, test it, try to get their own way. That’s how kids learn what the boundaries are. That’s how kids grow. It’s up to the adults in charge to hold the lines firm, no matter how embarrassed we may get at times, no matter the fits that get thrown, no matter the childish behavior on the part of the kids (they are children, after all…childish behavior is to be expected).

We have a rule when we go to the store. They are not allowed to ask me to buy them things. If I choose to buy them a treat, I will. I will either tell them to pick out a treat, or I will put a surprise in the buggy for them. They know that the consequence for begging for things at the store is no dessert after dinner. It’s not a harsh punishment, but they do love dessert. If they throw a fit in the store, which they haven’t done in years, I have no problem leaving my buggy and taking my fit-throwing child out of the store.

I don’t yell. I’ve never been a yeller. In fact, the more upset they get, the calmer I look because I refuse to give them a reaction. I wonder if this comes across as detachment to people who simply look at me? Or do they see me calmly speaking with my child? I talk to my children. I have always reasoned with them, even before they could understand reason.

Some people tell me I am too hard on my children. I’m not sure what that means. My children are mostly well behaved. They usually have good manners. Of course we have disagreements, but they are short-lived because I have taught my children how to talk things out. I’ve taught them that yelling, screaming, and pouting will not deliver what they want. Does that mean I’m too hard on them? I don’t think so.

But if someone were just watching me, would they see a militant mother who rigidly structures her children’s lives? Would they call me a bad mother for teaching my children to entertain themselves, for teaching them that I am not their playmate, not their friend, but their mother first and foremost?

The best thing I can do for my kids is raise them to be secure, honest, self-sufficient, and loved. Will I be judged for how I do that? Probably. It’s human nature to look at other people and say, “I wouldn’t do that” or “They shouldn’t do it that way”. Parenting is personal. It should be about making the kids the best they can be.

Tearing other parents down doesn’t make one parent better than another. Judging based only on what can be seen in one particular moment is so arrogant, as if you can possibly know all the history that encapsulates that specific instant. I am not a perfect parent. I make many mistakes. I hope I am not judged for the specific window of those mistakes but am taken on the whole of my effort.

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