What’s up with the parent-shaming in the US?
I stayed with my friend for a week in Houston and she’s doing a fantastic job raising her son and daughter in a blended family with her new husband. I suspect she’s a little ambivalent about her new life in the ‘burbs in so much as she’s traveled the world, lived a dozen crazy lives before the one she’s living now, and is not only super intelligent but I’d say, a little rebellious too. It’s conflicting right? I think all parents wrestle with this kind of thing, and for this post, I am not talking about you.
In fact, I’m not talking about anyone who makes different parenting choices than me. It’s this specific group of people who not only feel like there’s a certain way to be a parent, but have also assigned themselves deputy-know-it-alls when it comes to other people’s kids.
So we’re traveling across the US after living in Mexico for nearly a year and half, on our way to Europe. We’re fairly isolated in Houston, staying in the plush comfort of my friend’s home, but when we drive to New Orleans it starts.
Suddenly I am a bad parent.
That’s the feeling I get, and I have this urge, something I only vaguely remember from being home years ago, of wanting to put on the “I’m a good parent show”.
“Cole! Don’t touch that!” I say, trying to sound very authoritative. Cole shoots me a look like, huh, I do this all the time, what’s your deal, woman?
I try to smile and send him secret messages like, “Just go with it, kid, your mom is getting the stink eye from the security lady.”
I admit, I am a permissive parent. My basic rules are this: it has to be safe and it can’t infringe on other people.
My idea of safety is probably different from yours. I also embrace “conditional rules” which means in certain situations life gets more strict if the environment we’re in requires it… for example to be polite to our guests, our hosts or to blend in at a museum.
In short, my children are feral beasties but if required they can sit nicely and say “Please and Thank You” (or at least I try to get them to do that).
But I’m an American, so I have strong opinions about the idea that I have the RED WHITE AND BLUE, PATRIOTIC RIGHT to raise my children however I see fit, whether that’s homeschooling them and teaching them to speak in Klingon or letting them climb trees and juggle knives. Back off.
So during this short US trip, I started to get really annoyed. Here are three stories on why I seriously question what is going on in my home country.
1. My Kids Almost Died
I drop my bags in the hotel room, get the kids sorted with some cartoons and I take off my pants.
Am I the only one that does this? Get into the hotel room, and BAM off comes the pants.
Anyway, gloriously pants-free I curl up in bed with a book and Drew heads out to find some food. I’m exhausted. I am not watching my kids so much as vaguely listening for sounds of death or mayhem when I hear the door open.
I jump up and the hotel room door is open and my kids are gone. Okay crap.
Someone comes over to my door and is like – imagine a thick Louisiana drawl – “Your babies are running free!”
Okay so no pants on, like four people standing outside my door, all looking in, because they are staying in the room across the hall and I jump up, half-naked:
“I’m coming! I just have to find my pants!”
They don’t care—there’s clearly panic in their voices:
ACK! PANTSPANTSPANTS wherearetheywherearetheywherearethey?
They are knocking on my door frame, yelling to me, it’s like my kids are on fire, but instead of being on fire, they are just in the hallway of a motel without their mother and I haven’t made the panicked decision to run half naked out of the room to rescue them from the dangers of bad carpeting.
Pants. I pull them on. I run out.
My children… are… fine.
They are standing in the middle of a hallway with a half unraveled roll of toilet paper between them unable to go anywhere because of the fire doors blocking their exit and the fact that they had only a 30 second lead on their mother.
“Thank you!” I yell back to the little crowd.
This is the point where I start to get annoyed. Okay maybe they thought I was drunk or high or just plain stupid, but now I’ve got my kids, I’ve smiled, we’re walking down the hallway and they just stand there. Staring at me.
No response, no smiles, no movement. OH REALLY. Y’all gonna wait here and shame-watch me shuffle back into my room? You do realize that my children did not actually wander into traffic but simply my four-year-old discovered for the first time that he could escape the hotel room by tugging on the door handle?
“Thanks, Thanks, I just didn’t have my pants on, they are okay, okay well thanks!”
Nothing. Just them staring me down and as I walked into the room, they turned and watched me close the door.
If this is at all what it’s like to raise children in the US… then it must be exhausting.
2. There shall be no fun.
We sat down for bowls of gumbo in a little outdoor cafe that was next to a park. We weren’t on the street, so Cole was wandering (I hate the phrase “running around” which is probably what you’d call any movement a child does, but it implies misbehaving). He made a loop over to the steps, then walked down, hid behind a bush, popped out to surprise us and then would make his way over to our table. He was fine.
This woman walked over to him and yelled “boo!” into his ear.
He burst into tears. She scared the crap out of him. We ran over scooped him up and she came by to apologize, saying that when her son was little and won’t stay near her one time she did the same thing to him and he, “never left her side again.”
Oh fantastic. One time you scared the crap out of your child so badly he was literally afraid for the rest of his childhood to leave your side, and given that an obedient child (read: easy for the parents) trumps any other characteristics you might want to encourage, like for example, not being scared of the world, you decided that it was your job to pass this wisdom on to my child without running it pass his parents first?
She offered Cole $3 to buy a toy. He didn’t want to take it, but you know what? I took that money and shoved it in my son’s pocket.
3. Don’t touch anything. Actually just don’t be here. Or exist. Anywhere.
A police officer came up to us in the park and told my son not to touch the iron fence that goes around the entire park. “You never know with people around here” she said cryptically and headed off. Later, my kids were inside the hotel parking lot, waiting for us to get checked in, and they were told not to stand there, unlike the adults who had been for the last five minutes because “sometimes cars drive in here”. Yes, and if a car comes, as the mother standing literally touching my child’s hair, I would pick her up rather than stand there and get mowed down. Thanks.
I know my impression is exaggerated by the fact that I lived so long away from this atmosphere, but between the parent-shaming, the absence of children, the heightened fear and constant monitoring by, well, everyone, I don’t know how people do it. Let your kids skip a bath, climb a tree, touch something dirty, wander into the hotel hallway, stand on the sidewalk, be around adults, explore and just BE in the world. Or in other words: RELAX.
I did love New Orleans though, I am even coming back this fall. I’m just not sure I could handle raising kids here.