As a kid I marveled at how two words like shut and up, harmless when they stand separately, could join up to become so hurtful. Like when hydrogen and oxygen come together, these words become something very different from their component parts. And when my son bellowed “SHUT UP!” to an acquaintance, mortification didn’t begin to describe our reaction. It seemed the world stopped spinning. Proverbial crickets chirped so loud that our ears were ringing. The stunning paralytic effect of those two words kept us from swooping in and immediately rectifying what had gone terribly wrong. Our reaction, or lack thereof, did not go unnoticed by the adult targeted by my son’s ire. Her daggered look implied we must be the worst parents ever for raising a child to be so rude.
Of course we didn’t teach our son to scream “S.U.!” at people anymore than we raise him to make obnoxious armpit farts in public. But the woman’s reaction got me thinking about how easy it is to judge parents by their children’s (bad) behavior. I know I did so regularly before having kids and admittedly, even after I had them. And I know better! But it’s a tough habit to break. Recently, a friend “shared” on her Facebook status a post from the blog ScaryMommy.com (If you haven’t checked out this funny, crass site couched in reality, do. But please read PulseonParenting first!) called “10 Things I Thought Were Caused by Bad Parenting…Before I Had My Own Kids” by Annie Reneau.** This essay spoke right to our “S.U. incident” and the reality of kids’ behavior, despite our best efforts as parents.
And it serves as a great reminder: when I find myself beginning to critique, say, the parent whose child is kicking her brother in the butt at a post-music recital reception, I reflect upon two personal experiences. My additions to Ms. Reneau’s list:
#11 Mouthing off. It could be a raging “Shut Up!”. It could be worse. It could be less worse. But mouthing off is The Queen Mother of all infractions. This one is bad enough that even other parents look at you like WTH?! It’s bad enough you yourself thinks WTH?! and become paralyzed with shock, unable to respond. Which leaves the impression you are a terrible parent for not moving in with an “APOLOGIZE THIS INSTANT!!” But here’s the thing: just because kids revert to impulsive, primal behavior doesn’t mean we parents should do the same. Our anger in the heat of the moment doesn’t accomplish one positive thing. Try as we might to teach our kids (good) manners and respect, kids still lose it. They get tired. They get hungry. They get overstimulated and the rest is history. If we blow up, it sends the message this behavior is perfectly acceptable, which of course, it’s not. Know what we did in this situation? We let the incident simmer down. Over the next week we helped our son write and practice an apology. Then he read it out loud, in person, to the individual he insulted in his fit of poor self control. I’ll tell ‘ya, the adult smiles of approval leave a heck of an impression on a child who owns up to his behavior. No better teaching moment than that.
#12 Peeing in public
Yup. There was my oldest, at age three, producing an arched stream of urine from the bridge atop a castle-like play structure. Thank God “it” didn’t shower anyone. Shamefully, it never occurred to me to be mortified. In fact my close friend, also a mother of twins, and I shared what we hoped was a stifled giggle (gotta love my bestie!). Now I don’t know if other moms would agree with our reaction but I do know this: if before-kids me had witnessed a child urinating in a public place, I would have wondered what kind of parent wasn’t supervising her child well enough to take them to the potty. But as a mother of boys I’ve quickly learned there is something innate that makes young males think the entire world is a urinal ( except for an actual urinal of course). But it’s not like I told my boys, “Hey, take a wee off the jungle gym. I’m too lazy to to care about common decency and public health.” The best I could do was tell my son not to do that again (although he would in some form or another) and make sure I pointed out the actual bathrooms…just in case.
12a: public exposure. My other son, for many years, would drop trow en route to a public restroom. We had to explain to him over and over he needed to pull his pants down WHEN HE WAS STANDING BY THE TOILET. We didn’t care if he thought he was “saving time.” Maybe he finally heard us, or his nervous system finally caught up to his constantly lengthening body, but he is ten years old now and keeps his trousers up until he reaches the toilet. Thank God.
My own dad used to tease me by saying, “It’s tough being a kid!” But it’s so true. There’s lots to learn, even more to remember. So many rules. So many different situations in which to apply those rules. And we parents try to teach them all this socially acceptable behavior before they have achieved full cognitive ability. We parents can talk ’til we are blue in the face about good manners and responsibility but to have all that info cross over for every place and time and circumstance, well, it can’t happen. As Annie Reneau says:
There’s a reason it takes 18 years (at least) to raise responsible, socially adept, non-disgusting humans.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
**[As of this posting, I had not yet received permission to link up to Ms. Reneau’s musings. But do check out scary mommy.com for the full article.]