You Know I’m Bad

Wow. It’s been an intense couple of weeks over here at CocoaMamas. And, I’ve been laying it down at other sites too, commenting away.

But one thing that’s got me really drawn in recently is about judging. Judging parenting. When I was younger, before I had my children, I considered myself to be a moral absolutist. I had a line – some things, some people, were on the good side of the line, other things were on the bad side of the line. I had no patience for cultural relativism, no sense that something that was “bad” could be “good” in certain circumstances. I could agree that I knew a “bad” parent when I saw one, based on their actions, their kid, or a combination of the two. I would have probably agreed with a list like this one, that lays out pretty well what most folks consider a ‘bad’ parent:

They cuss around and at their kids in the middle of the cereal aisle.

They fight with their significant others in public, in front of their kids, and slap the little ones when they get out of pocket, especially if there’s an audience to witness their discipline.

They let their kids roam the streets until somebody else’s mother tells the kid to go home.

They ride around in their cars with the windows rolled up, chain smoking while their babies bounce around in the back seat, sans seatbelts and boosters.

When it comes to showing up for parent/teacher conferences, or sending in donations for a teacher gift, or chipping in at the PTA-sponsored events, they’re nowhere to be found.

But then two things happened to me, and made me forever change the way I saw morality, the way I saw right and wrong, the way I saw parenting.

***

First, I became a parent. Twice. Now I do not believe that you have to experience something to understand it. I don’t need to eat a chili pepper to know it’s hot. I don’t need to dive into the deep end of the pool to know I’m going to drown cause I don’t know how to swim. I don’t need to touch the hot burner to know my skin will burn if I do. But there are some things in life that nothing but experience will truly allow you to understand, and parenting is one of them. (I think sex, being drunk, and actually driving a car are others.)

Consider the cussing at the kids in the cereal aisle. I’ve NEVER cussed at my kids, and I never will. (I don’t think I’ve ever cussed AT anyone.) But I can understand why one might want to. Imagine you’re in the supermarket, not in the cereal aisle, but in the produce department. You are inspecting the the peaches, looking for the best ones, and suddenly you hear, “Ummm…” You whip your head around, and your child has just taken a big ole bite out of several peaches right on down the row! You want to say, “What the F@*K!” because you’ve been through this before and she was instructed not to touch anything and especially not to take bites of fruit in the produce section. You were sure that THIS time you’d gotten through to her. But you hold it in as you hurriedly throw all the bitten peaches into your bag, which at $2.99 a lb, just decimated your budget for peaches. Again, I’ve never cussed at my kids and try my hardest not to cuss around them either, but damn, I can understand.

***

The second thing that happened to me was I was diagnosed with a serious mental illness and spent a week in the hospital when my children were 3 years and 18 months. From that day on, I could never find it in me to call another parent a bad parent. When you’ve wanted to do something as horrific as leave your children without a mother, and believed that was the best thing for them…

I don’t think I’ve turned into someone who doesn’t believe in right and wrong anymore, or good and bad. I’ve just come to believe that almost everything “depends.” I do believe that what other people do to and with their kids has an effect on the rest of us, as we are all interconnected and live in this society together. But when it comes to parenting, and knowing the hard choices that I made and continue to make every day, that right and wrong don’t have much meaning to me any more.

I hate to judge. And I hate being judged. Even if a parent does every single thing on that list, I’m not going to call him or her a bad parent. Why? Because I think it’s a waste of time and not very productive. Instead of sending positive vibes and energy about how to help that parent and especially that child, all I’d be doing in pointing out the flaws, gossiping about the defects. I’m sure many people could have did that while I had two babies at home, having a nervous breakdown in the hospital, saying that I was selfish and not taking care of my responsibilities. Or they could of helped me and my kids, which is what a lot of people did. If you see a kid out at all times of night, do send him home. You see a family without car seats, give them yours when your kids outgrow them. You see  mom about to go off on her kid in the cereal aisle, distract her so she doesn’t. You see adults fighting in front of the kids, in public? Take the kids and distract them, bring them to your house to play for a while. Befriend these so-called “bad” parents, bring them into your fold, your group, teach them some things. Don’t just label them and cast them aside.

I have friends now, who, when they see me discipline my children, will tell me a better way they think I could have handled the situation. I absolutely appreciate that. Would you?

15 thoughts on “You Know I’m Bad

  1. Funny you say that because I have noticed that, without exception, each and every time I have judged another person for his or her parenting, that exact same thing I was judging them for has happened to me within weeks or months. Karma appears rather quickly in my life. And so I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and not utter a peep unless I have walked in a person’s shoes. And even then, I hesitate.

    Having said that, though, there is a thing or two I will judge you up and down for: smoking in a baby’s vicinity, being one of them.

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  2. I like your idea of offering help and/or distractions to change the dynamic of a situation that might be devolving into a situtation that will not benefit the child involved.

    Judgment for the purposes of giggling or gossiping doesn’t serve anyone. I am not totally ready to throw out all judgments because we have to stand for something. There have to be standards, a bottom line somewhere. We can agree to disagree on what is judgment worthy and what to do with/about those judged.

    Totally agree on not smoking around a baby/child, that’s just wrong!

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  3. I’m not befriending a woman who puts cigarettes out on her three year old. I’m calling the police and grabbing the kid.

    There ARE bad parents, horrible even. We can judge. I hear your points though b/c I know people judge my parenting. Will say more later…

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  4. Hi, I’m new here, and mostly read, but I wanted to comment. As a new Mom, I find myself doing things that I said I would never ever do. I look at parents in the stores and don’t judge at all if their child is hollaring or throwing a tantrum in the middle of aisle six. It’s not my business. And I know without a doubt that one day, it might be me.
    But smoking around your child is BAD. I can’t even justify that!

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  5. I’ve become more sensitive to issues like autism, or serious behavioral problems. I also realize that the best parents can have children who misbehave, and that the worst parents can have angels; a big part of it is a child’s innate personality. So, if I see a child totally wiggin’ out, I try to give mom a sympathetic smile, and if it’s really bad, I ask “can I help?”

    The points you made in your post, however, bring to mind an experience I had in the last city I lived in. There, I took the bus to work. Sometimes, there was a woman on my route who had a very young child with her; less than a year old. One day, she was carrying a styrofoam container of food with her, in a plastic bag. Babies, as you all know, are intensely curiosity, and the baby wouldn’t stop grabbing at the bag; he was desperate to get in. Although it’s frustrating, most of us realize that developmentally, babies that young can’t really help it. The best you can do after saying “no” is to remove that object from the child’s reach. But she was angry; she kept saying, “that’s not yours; don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you; that’s mine!” She was probably tired and stressed out, but it also seemed that she really didn’t understand that her child wasn’t trying to take what belonged to her, in the same way that adults takes things from each other; he really just wanted to play with the bag.

    I made a judgment that she didn’t really understand her child’s developmental stage. I made a judgment that she should have. I also made a mental laundry list of all the possible reasons she didn’t know; just because I judged her, doesn’t mean I didn’t understand what was going on. And just because I understood, doesn’t mean I didn’t judge her. We all make judgments; sometimes we conclude that the behavior we’re judging is “good;” sometimes, we conclude it’s “bad.” We all have different triggers for judgment, depending on our personal experiences. I’m not sure we can get away from that, and as Andrea points out, sometimes we have to stand for something.

    I thought about reaching out to her, but what would I say? Should I just try to distract her, as you mentioned in your post, or should I just tell her, “he’s not doing it to be mean to you”? It might make her life a little easier if somebody explained that to her, no? Ultimately, I decided to mind my own business, and didn’t do anything. In return for a society in which individual rights are paramount, the unspoken (if imperfect) agreement is that we will all “mind our own business.” Unless directly asked or engaged on a particular issue, I’m not likely to say anything, even if I do think there is a better way. If a friend gave me their unsolicited opinion, I’d probably take it well, although how I felt about it internally would depend on who that person was. A good friend, or a stranger? My mother, or my mother in law? LOL!

    Forget people who smoke around babies; I judge people who smoke around ME!

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    1. Once, when Ahmir was a little smaller, he was carrying on on an airplane during the last hour of a flight. He just wouldn’t stop screaming. I was at my wits end. I wasn’t yelling at him, as I recognized that would do no good, but I had no idea what to do. Like the lady in your story, I probably should have known what to do with a child of his developmental stage on an airplane, but I didn’t. I bet a whole lot of people were judging me and my parenting at that moment.

      A woman sitting across from me started folding some paper. Before I knew it, she’d made him a paper airplane. It distracted him immediately. Then she showed him how to make one himself. He was quiet the rest of the flight.

      I don’t think that it always calls for you to intervene in a direct way, by giving the woman advice, or preaching to her about child developmental stages. That woman on the plane taught me something without saying a word to me.

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      1. I think this is part of the village aspect of parenting that has been so lost. That woman didnt know you from a can of paint, but she understood your struggle and sought to help. Maybe it was motivated by selfish means of wanting your son to shut up lol But maybe, just maybe, she’d been there before and someone helped her too. I think we can agree this is an amazing thing.

        Adults talk to Garvey all of the time. He engages with them and people are often so impressed with his language skills and communication, they stop and have full conversations with him. Your airplane story reminds me of ours. We were headed to ATL and it was his first trip on the plane. We were in the waiting areas and he was clearly excited. I was carrying 49 bags and was losing my mind because he would not sit still and was running all over the place. An older White male had been observing us from when we sat down. He seemed totally enthralled by him. He asked his name and G told him. He said, “Oh, like Marcus Garvey? What a great name! Do you know who that is?” and G said “No” (I was embarassed lol). So the man asked him over to sit by him and just randomly whipped out a book he had on his person about Marcus Garvey. What? Who does that? LOL So for the next few minutes, he sat and read with G about Marcus Garvey, showed him pictures, etc. He caught my eye and I mouthed “Thank you”. I later found out he is a professor at a big school in ATL. Those few minutes of not having to chase after G lowered my already hightened anxiety about taking him on the plane, which I think was being projected onto him and spurring his own excitement.

        It was a great moment.

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      2. I didn’t necessarily think she should have known what to DO. I wouldn’t have known what to DO. My judgment was that she should have known that he was just being a kid; the way you knew that screaming at your son wouldn’t have been helpful. I have definitely had moments when I’ve taken my child’s behavior personal; in the middle of the night, after 1 hour of rocking, it sure does feel personal when she won’t go to sleep. But she was genuinely offended; she expected him to understand concepts of “mine” and “yours,” at less than 1 year old.

        My point was that in watching her, I made a judgment about her situation. Just like the woman who helped you out made a judgment about you; her judgment was, “oh, mom is having trouble handling this; I better intervene and show her a better way.” We make judgments all the time; but to label a parenting behavior “bad” or “good” does not mean we’re labeling the person “bad” or “good.” And, as you correctly note, it’s much more helpful to pitch in, to ask “can I help,” or to be sympathetic, than to just write that person off.

        My point was also that it’s not always easy to know how to intervene, and that it’s rational to fear that your intervention will not always been taken well. You intervened with some bullying, but what if that mother had been working with some sibling dynamics, and hoping the little one would finally defend himself? Maybe she was waiting to see what would happen. It’s not that I think you shouldn’t have stepped in. But in our society, it’s not surprising when somebody says “butt out.” As you and Benee agree, the “village” aspect of parenting is not appreciated by all.

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  6. “You want to say, “What the F@*K!” because you’ve been through this before and she was instructed not to touch anything and especially not to take bites of fruit in the produce section. You were sure that THIS time you’d gotten through to her. But you hold it in as you hurriedly throw all the bitten peaches into your bag, which at $2.99 a lb, just decimated your budget for peaches. Again, I’ve never cussed at my kids and try my hardest not to cuss around them either, but damn, I can understand.”

    I guess this stood out to me. Sure, you want to say it… but you don’t. You shouldn’t. Why? Because I think we can all pretty much agree that cursing at kids is bad and some might agree it borders on verbal abuse. You say you can understand? Understand someone being this frustrated and having these thoughts? Or someone actually cursing at their kids? I think I’m confused a bit because it is a bit ambiguous.

    Parenting requires self-discipline. We all know that there are a lot of things we have to change about ourselves when we become responsible for the lives or other people namely our children. We alter how we think, speak, and act (as needed) so as to provide positive guidance, loving nurturing, and safe stability. There is a difference between the mother who THINKS “What the f–k??” and the mother who yells “What the f–k??” I’m not sure I can thoroughly explain that difference, but it relates to my point about self-discipline and my earlier points in the previous post about being proactive with your approach to discipline and being able to handle certain situations.

    Once you learn that children are going to be XYZ way, because they are CHILDREN, you can think differently about how you approach parenting and work within those parameters. I think too often, parents let the whole thing get away from them and they lose control and melt down right alongside their kids. That isnt a “bad” parent, just an unprepared, reactive parent.

    As for some of the obvious things that make a parent “bad”, there is absolutely nothing wrong with judging, IMO. In fact, those judgments often save children’s lives. I agree that whenever possible we should extend our helping hands and sage advice to those in need. But before we offer help, something in us has made a judgment that what the parent is doing is not “right” and it is based on whatever measurement of “rightness” we personally adhere to. So, we’re still judging.

    One of my closest friends gives me parenting advice. Sometimes I take it, sometimes I don’t. We have different philosophies on some things, but thats all good. She is a good mother and I respect her opinion and advice. I decide for myself if I want to follow it though, based on what I think is best for my son and myself.

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    1. Yes, you’re right, I can understand wanting to say it, I can understand thinking it. I’ve never said it to my children. Can I understand saying it? Perhaps, as you say, if I was a person with less self control. But again, I’ve never cussed, negatively, at anyone. It’s just not something I do.

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  7. “I think this is part of the village aspect of parenting that has been so lost. ”

    YES! I so agree! Since I’ve become a parent, I find myself at least psychically parenting other children all the time. I correct other children – the other day a big kid was seemingly bullying another little kid in the pool. I said something to him – I didn’t even realize his mother was sitting right there and the little kid was his brother! The mother thanked me! Or I was at the CVS, and a little girl was seemingly by herself, chilling at the side of the parking lot. I stopped, asking her where was her parent? Then her dad spoke to her out of his car where he was watching her. But I wasn’t just going to leave her when I saw something wasn’t right.

    Who our children grow up to me won’t just affect me, but will affect all of us. Same for all children. It takes all of us to raise all children, because they really are the ones who will be taking care of us in the future, and we want them all to be good people, right? So I can’t just care about just my kids, I have to care about ALL kids. Kuddos to that kind gentleman. I hope I have one of those on my next trip, in T-5 days.

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  8. This is kind of abstract, but when I think of “judge,” I think of coming to have an opinion, or placing a value, instead of accepting something for what it is. I think of judging as comparing a behavior to what it should be, instead of accepting the behavior for what it is, and then moving from there. With the woman on the plane, or the gentleman in the airport, I don’t get the sense that they judged the parenting behavior. I get the sense that they saw a situation for what it was – children a bit out of control – and proceeded to rectify the situation the best way they knew how.

    In the situation of the woman on the bus, I get the sense that you judged her parenting – she didn’t recognize that her child’s behavior was age appropriate – and then left it at that. When I corrected the child in the pool, I wasn’t thinking, “Where is this child’s parent?” I was thinking it’s dangerous to bully another child, especially in a pool, and as an adult sitting right here, I should do something about it.

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    1. I get what you’re saying; ideally, I would have thought “that baby is acting in an age-appropriate manner, and his mother doesn’t know that,” or, maybe better: “that baby is acting in an age-appropriate manner.” I see that, but I’m not sure it’s an accurate description of what motivates people to step in. At some point, to be motivated to “help” or “step-in” I have to decide that what I see going on is not ideal, and that there is some way I can make it better. Otherwise, I’m just observing in a zen-like way, which is fine, but doesn’t motivate me to help. You mentioned that the woman on the plane taught you something; before she stepped in, you don’t think it possible that she thought, “let me show her how to distract him; this trick always works with my grandchild…” or something like that? She helped you because she saw that the situation wasn’t positive; wasn’t good for you, wasn’t good for her, and wasn’t good for your son. She placed a value on it, and then intervened.

      It also sounds like you saw the kids before you saw mom. But what if what you observed was bullying with mom involved; that is, she was playing with both her kids, and one kid was picking on the other, right as she played with them. Would you intervene? Just walk over, interrupt mom mid-sentence, and say “hey, don’t pick on your brother?” And if you didn’t, wouldn’t you, at some level, have decided that you had to do what mom wasn’t doing? That you had to step in because someone had to address something that she wasn’t?

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  9. I appreciate feedback, but ONLY from someone who has shown that they KNOW what the heck they’re doing! lol And I’ve worked to stop dispensing advice, cause people are REAL sensitive about their children and their parenting. EVEN if the person making suggestions has proven themselves to be an effective parent…

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