Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Life Sherpa" Discusses Public Tantrum

St. Louis Dispatch
Dear Life Sherpa: Why is it when my kid throws a fit in the store, people act as if they have never seen a kid throw a fit when he doesn't get what he wants? I don't give in to him, we leave as soon as possible, and I don't spank him. Don't they understand I'm trying to do her best?

— World's Worst Mother

Dear World: The answer to your question is simple: The people who look at you with that superior, know-it-all attitude probably don't have any children of their own. I have discovered that childless adults always possess the most clear-cut opinions about raising kids. These textbook experts have never had to live with a cranky 5-year-old or an angst-ridden teen. That's why they still have the energy and pomposity needed to pass arbitrary judgment on those of us who struggle with parenthood.
Wow, that is obnoxious. If you don't have children, you're not entitled to an opinion. No matter that without having children, one might still be a teacher, child psychologist, or otherwise quite qualified or knowledgeable about child-rearing. But their opinions don't count if they haven't sprogged. It also leads to the conclusion that having a child makes one more qualified to judge other parents - is he stating that all children and all parenting experiences are so similar that parents are equipped to judge each other?

Never mind the strong possibility (discussed below) that those giving her looks are indeed parents. Besides, are both writer and columnist so myopic that they don't consider the possibility that what they read as judgment is actually annoyance? Or are we so stigmatized by our barrenness that we are not allowed to be irritated by wailing children?

In a recent column, the "life sherpa" invited and responded to feedback from readers about advice. One reader addressed the above column:
Kathy: Re: Your advice to "World's Worst Mother."
. . .
People who look at bone-headed mothers and father's (sorry) who allow their children to throw fits in public are not all weird childless people from another planet. If you take time to ask, they would probably tell you that yes, they have children. And, given time, they might tell you to stop "struggling with parenthood" and get down to the difficult task of instilling some discipline in your own children. And I am not taking about spanking, beating or other forms of abuse.

As you and I know, we sometimes see mothers or fathers in the mall pushing their severely handicapped child in a wheelchair. And often these children cry out or make distressing sounds that break your heart. And yet on no occasion have I seen the parent try to engage a passer-by in some "poor, pitiful me" dialogue. They usually seem self-possessed and capable of rising to what must be an extremely tiring and frustrating routine. I always smile at the children and their parents, as I often do when I see other "normal" children -- rather than look away. But when I'm in a mall or grocery store, and little Tyler or Madison is throwing a major fit, I find myself giving the "frustrated" mother a look that I hope conveys the message: "Raise your child now. So society doesn't have to do it later."

Thanks for listening to another point of view.

Life Sherpa: Kathy, you make some excellent points. I whole-heartedly agree that parents need to be firm with their children and discipline then before society has to jump in -- because society can be an extremely harsh judge.
. . .
But what is really galling is the attitude of those without children who believe they have all the answers because they read it in a book or saw it on a talk show.
My only point of my response to World's Worst was "if you don't have children, keep that annoyed smirk to yourself."
Gee I'd like to. But reading your column, I find that nearly impossible.

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Anonymous said...

When I give that look, it's not because I'm trying to judge the person's parenting skills. It's because I'm trying to say your child's misbehavior is annoying me, please make it stop. I'm not saying you're a good mom or a bad mom, I don't judge that, I just want you to do what it takes to make the disturbance stop as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

I may not have children, but I have parents, and as the childed are always so eager to tell me, I was a child once too. So yes, I do know something about children and parenting. I wasn't raised by wolves, you know.

Parenting isn't like abdominal surgery, where only a special elite with years of training can (and are allowed to) do it. Any fertile moron with a broken condom can have a kid. That doesn't make them an expert. Saying I shouldn't have an opinion on parenting because I don't have kids is like saying that I shouldn't have an opinion about houses because I live in an apartment.