Wednesday, September 14, 2016

My Child is Not an Asshole. You are.

I like the parenting community, Scary Mommy. Amusing anecdotes and observations therein lie.

But this one story keeps popping up there that grates every time I see it:

The gist:  Self-important adult, and fellow parent, observes the interactions of parents and young child in public, and judges the behavior of the child by adult standards. As a fun bonus, said adult, based upon the scant evidence gleaned from this brief interaction, blames the parents' lax/neglectful/indulgent parenting for the kid's poor and/or demanding behavior. 

And, finally, said same adult excuses herself by noting in an off-hand way that her kid is, of course, far from perfect...with the subtext that "at least my kid isn't as bad as that kid . . . and at least I'm a way better parent than those jokers."  A paragon of imperfect parenting, this one.

Now, stipulated:  Spoiled brats with indulgent parents do exist in the world. They are a thing, and they have always been a thing.  Too, I fully, completely and totally understand that a parent is the strongest influence on a small child's moral, social, and spiritual development. And you can -- and most likely will in some small or large way -- screw that up.  And, finally, I admit that, yes, I have, in extremis, privately lamented my son's assholery.  I also admit that that was an immature and wrong thing to do.

All these acknowledgements and stipulations being laid out, there are still so many things wrong with a parenting culture that thinks it is funny -- or at any rate, helpful or illustrative -- to call a child an asshole.

Here are five of those things:

1.  It's ignorant, part A.

Obstinance and difficult behavior in small children is developmentally normal.  And it is also normal for parents to want to go out of the house for a family meal or other event before the child hits puberty.  It is not a solution, as the virtuously imperfect parent implies, just not to take the kids out and about.  Indeed, I would suggest that that is not normal behavior, as it fails to provide the child with opportunities to learn how to behave properly in public situations.   

2.  It's ignorant, part B.  

There are many childhood developmental difficulties and/or learning differences that make normal difficult behavior even more difficult:  attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, opposition defiant disorder, conduct disorder, certain sensory disorders, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum, Down Syndrom.  All of these conditions have the potential to turn normal childhood obstinance into difficult to manage defiance.

I'm sure the solution that this particular imperfectly perfect parent would suggest would be to just keep those kids at home so they can't spread their psychological or psychiatric disorders all over the rest of the normal folks in society.

But that's neither practical nor appropriate.  Just like typical kids, these kids are part of society, and being part of society means learning to function in it.  Who teaches that?  Parents.  And parents cannot teach these kids how to handle themselves in public from the privacy of their living rooms.  These kids and their parents are allowed to go out in public.  And in doing so, these kids and their parents, might have some difficulties. It's how a free and open society works. We don't actually hide these kids in asylums anymore, funnily enough, but allow them to be the part of us that they truly are.  And if we are kind and decent humans, we are sympathetic to these parents and, maybe, we offer help. Which brings me to . . . . 

3.  It's unsympathetic. 

"There but for the grace of God go I," should be your parenting motto. Not, "God has blessed me with superior parenting ability to these pathetic losers."

Drop the pretense of imperfect perfection and actually stand in those people's shoes:
  • Could the parents need a hand?
  • Can you sense a subtext to the child's behavior?
  • Do the parents look harried?
  • What could you do to lighten their load?
Instead if sneering and snarking, surely, there is something helpful you could do. Maybe you could distract their child. Maybe you could distract other children who are around so the parent of the misbehaving child can correct the behavior you find noisome.  Maybe all you can give is a sympathetic, half-grin of solidarity and support, accompanied by a moment of meaningful eye contact. Surely, that's better than criticizing them for bringing their ill-bred kid out for a meal.

And, let's be honest:  There's never been a time when you've taken your kid outside of the house and, much to your chagrin, he's behaved abominably?  Never?  Really?  You are a special unicorn.

4.  It's unhelpful. 

No one but your little echo chamber is listening to you. No one is changing their behavior or their parenting techniques based upon your judgy pronouncements. You are preaching to your imperfectly perfect choir. You change no parent's behavior by unsympathetically calling their child an asshole.  See above for actual ways to lend a hand, which might actually give you the opportunity to talk with the offending parent-of-asshole to offer suggestions or understand their point of view.

5.  It's modeling antisocial behavior for your own child.

That's right: When you judge other parents by a single instance and dub their toddler an "asshole," you are demonstrating to your child how to be an antisocial asshole.

There's no need for sympathy.  No need to offer help.  No need to lend a hand or give a sympathetic smile.

Why do that when you can snap-judge these people from your lofty tower?

I mean, after all, if you offered your sympathy, you might understand what these people are all about. You might see that they are doing their best.  Maybe, just maybe, you might learn something about other humans.  You might even learn to understand yourself better.  And you'd probably show your child how to be a decent human . . . instead of, you know, an asshole.

But why do that when you can write a pithy blog post calling a three year old an asshole and laugh about it with your friends?

Wait.  That's what school bullies do, right?

They attack and exploit the vulnerable in an effort to raise themselves up.  What a great lesson to teach your kids:  why give someone a hand up when you can shove them lower. "Hey, kids, watch Mommy shame and deride these parents and their kid for having the temerity to got out for Sunday brunch!"

But maybe you're not the big giant asshole of a bully I've envisioned you to be.  Maybe you've just used extreme and crass language to describe kid behavior in order to get attention.  Maybe it's "clickbait."

Might there be a better way, though, to get attention for your view that the world is going to hell in a hand basket because some parents (for reasons unknown to you) chose not to eat at a particular restaurant because the restaurant didn't serve food that they knew their child would eat?

I think, maybe, there might be.  In short, even if you're not an asshole, stop acting like one.