I have been writing parenting advice for quite a while now, most of it tech-based, and while my main goal has been to help someone, somewhere, have a little easier time navigating the pitfalls of parenting in a device rich world, I sometimes look back and see all the ways I was wrong. Because of one of these moments of reflection, I will not be bringing you the regularly scheduled tech tip, but instead would like to take this moment for a simple singular thought. No one is perfect so parent your way and allow other to do the same.
That’s right, no parents are perfect. Surprising as it may sound, there is no one father out there who all others are judged against. There is no Mom of the year. The main reason for this is simple, there is no perfect parent because there is no rule book or guideline to follow, no lines to stay inside of as you color your own households story. No ring to grab, no mark to measure up to. Everyone is different. Every child is unique and every parent has different challenges, most of which you know nothing about. The old adage is to not judge someone “till you have walked a mile in their shoes” however even that is misguided advice. If you walked a mile in my shoes, all you would learn about me would be that one mile. As we are all products of our environment and as all environments change over time, it isn’t possible to judge someone till you have walked every step of their life in their shoes. That is the only way to realize who they are and why they are that way. Since this is completely impossible, my advice to you becomes much simpler, yet almost impossible in practical applications. Just Don’t Judge. Not at all. When you walk past that mom in the mall who is shaking with internal rage and has just shrieked a near obscenity at a toddler, don’t judge. Is she wrong? Probably, but what business is it of yours? Could you really do any better? Well, it would be impossible to say if you could unless you knew all the backstory, so leave it alone. When you see that dad who is near tears because his young daughter just won’t put down the toy in the supermarket and move along obediently do you understand what he is going thru? Do you understand why he can’t do more than beg? Do you know the reason behind his bewilderment? No, and you’re not supposed to, so instead of judging, talking under your breath (or over it) about what YOU would do differently (better) if you were in charge of his kid, just be thankful that you are NOT in his place, that you are in your own, and that it is a place that you understand. You may even be right. That parent may be doing a terrible job. What business is it of yours?
My rule is: If you can’t be helpful, be kind. If you can’t be kind, be invisible. In other words, when you see someone who is in the middle of a parenting struggle, don’t interject yourself or your beliefs. Don’t look down your nose and say to your friends how glad you are that Your children obey, just loud enough for them to hear, instead, look for some unassuming way to help them. If there is no way to help without being condescending or making it worse, then be polite and then be gone. Give them the space they need to do it their way, even if their way isn’t your way or the “right way.”
Let me give you an example. I have a dear friend who went through a very nasty divorce. His ex is the devil. He is a very kind and gentle man who is very slow to anger, however during the breakup, his ex accused him of violence toward the kids. She later explained to the judge that this was a story she made up so that the police would remove him from their home without any questions. She also admitted to using that story to atempt to sway the divorce settlement in her favor. (yes, she actually told the judge that during the proceedings. I said she was evil, not smart) Though no charges were pursued, and the divorce was finalized fairly, the state had been made “aware of the potential for abuse,” and because of that have “checked up” on the child often when they are with their father. His ex is aware of this and uses it often to manipulate him or gain leverage over him. She has even taught the child to use this as a tool to get whatever they want. My friend is very aware of this, but there is nothing he can do. When his child wants a toy in the market, he has to decide to either give in and keep the peace or stand his ground, face down the wrath and fury while kindly, politely, quietly asking them to stop acting out. He is convinced that if he is forceful, demanding or dominant with them in any way, the state will swoop in and whisk him off to jail, or at least keep him from seeing his child again. I am not agreeing with him on this; I am not condoning his child’s actions or his response to it. I am simply giving you this bit of back story in order to say the next few sentences and have them make sense to you. You don’t know him. You don’t know his child. You have never met his devil and you know nothing of his life. Therefore, when this happens in a store, everyone around assumes he is just a bad parent. Many people whisper or worse. Often they approach him with advice or try to intervene by talking to or attempting to calm the child. Every time this happens, he simply has to ignore them, smile, and endure the barrage of “parenting tips,” stares, scowls and whatnot. The irony is, most of these people mean well. They truly do, but they don’t know his story, they haven’t walked their mile in his shoes, so all they are doing is making it worse. Sooner or later, that child will mature to the age of logic and reason, and when that happens, they will work it out, and his life will be better. Until then, Don’t Judge.
Be kind, be helpful, or be invisible.
The second example of you just can’t tell, so don’t judge people is as follows: While our house has a “No Devices at the table” rule, my kids are allowed to use devices when we go out to eat. They have very specific rules regarding them and they all follow them quite well. These rules may be different from the ones you would choose for your family, so feel free to do your own thing, but I like my rules, my kids follow them, and they work for our family, so they will stand. Sometimes, when we are out, people who see us, with four kids, heads bowed into a device, have an opinion and need to share it. When they do, my children are kind to the strangers, or at least civil with replies to their comments ranging among my kids from “talk to my dad about that” to “what an interesting idea, thank you” to “your insignificant little opinion is duly noted.”
The real problem comes in when we go out in a bigger group. We have several families of friends that we enjoy outings with and one of those families includes an autistic child. I am no expert on anything related to autism. I have no opinion and nothing to say about it, except that he is a sweet kid and though he has challenges, I think he will do just fine, he has great parents, wonderful teachers and an awesome amount of kind, understanding support. His family also have rules regarding devices at meals, and their rules are different. He is not allowed to have any devices at the table at all, either out or at home. When we go out to dinner together, we have agreed to decide before we go who’s rules we will follow; he just can’t handle my kids having a toy and himself not being allowed too. This is a great solution for our families, as no one feels they are winning or losing or singled out. Everyone gets along and has a great time. However, when the group chooses to allow devices to go, following my households rules, there is always more than one parent in the place who seem to think that not only do they have an opinion about our parenting choices, they want to voice those opinions. When this happens, and it often does, our friends’ son just can’t handle it. It feels confrontational to him, and it makes him feel like he has broken a rule, even though he was told it was OK. He ends up stressed out, upset, sometimes crying. You see, he is a normal little boy. Great hair, a big smile, freckles. He doesn’t LOOK autistic (as if there were such a thing.) The passer-by who feels the need to comment has no idea that they are about to trigger him. So what should they do? Be invisible. Obviously, the people who always feel the need to approach us, comment, instruct, they are the ones who are incapable of being kind, or helpful. I am sure that more people who see us, five adults all chatting quietly as five children each stare at their own private screen, have an opinion, but most of them already know, or still remember the first two parts of the rule. They are being kind, by letting us parent our way. They are being helpful by minding their own business or keeping their own kids in line, their own way. But the ones who can’t live and let live, they need to get invisible.
So what can you take away from this and use in your own life? If nothing else, take this: Parent your way. I have said that from the beginning, and I mean it wholeheartedly. Be you, Do you, your way. Make your family culture whatever you envision it to be. Just remember, as you do, you are encountering three kinds of people. Those kind people who lend a hand, give a smile, offer no judgment, just support. Those helpful people who hold a door, pick up your child’s thrown pacifier for the umpteenth time, or just shut up and don’t judge you when you are doing something different than they would. Or the person who can be neither kind nor helpful and should just disappear. As you live your life and meet these people, pay close attention to which you are choosing to be. Ask yourself, are you kind? Helpful? Or should you keep your comments to your self, stay invisible and let everyone else just Parent Their Way.
Categories: Parenting Thoughts