Being a Mum
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Parenting for the benefit of strangers

My children are not easily ignored.  They are loud.  They are opinionated. They are communicators.  They have a lot of energy.  Everything is important and urgent to them. When they are doing something they go all in, unless it’s reading their school book or eating frittata.

Minnie is kind, generous and spots details like Sherlock Holmes.

Jackson always has a project he’s working on, he has it all planned out and he wants you to be part of the team (under his leadership of course).

I love my children.  I can see so much of me, their, daddy and their grand parents in them and that delights me.  I think my children are fascinating and I hope we help them to grow their God given talents into gifts to the world.

My children can also be self absorbed, bullish, cheeky and sometimes out and out rude. They are young, they are at the beginning of their lives and perfection only happens in heaven, which is true for all of us by the way.

I know all this about my children, because I am their mother.  I live with them, I am in their family, I see them everyday, I knew them before they were born.  The people who interact with my children on a single occasion or observe them from a certain distance in a public setting know none of the above.

So why is it, that when we are in a public place, say the library or a shop or a play ground, I feel the need to parent for the benefit of the stranger who is standing nearby or who is serving us behind the counter, rather than for the benefit of my growing child?

Politeness, civility and safety are of course to be aimed for at all times when in public, and hey we try to get to a reasonable level at home too.  But should I really stop them from running and singing loudly at the park when that’s what brings them joy? Or do I have to stop them from picking up things in the shop if they are genuinely interested to see what it is?  What about when my child is shattered and hungry and I’m dragging him round the supermarket after school, should I tell him off if he has a meltdown at the till or is it OK for me to let him cry it out and then give him a cuddle?  If your child is shy and quiet, do they have to engage in conversation with a stranger just because they want to talk to them?

At this age (5 and 6), children are now actual people in society, they can read, they can converse, walk, feed themselves, articulate some feelings, go to school, be part of a team, think for themselves.  However they have only just begun to wrap their heads around things like thinking about others’ needs, about cause and effect, consequences, sharing, equality.  And they get mixed messages on it all; their parents have one worldview but their teachers and friends may have other ideas.  Children have a lot to work out yet and how to be an upstanding member of society is still a long way off.

And yet, somehow there is an expectation from strangers that my children will be quiet, but also speak when spoken to, they won’t run, they won’t be curious, they will answer with the expected response.  And if they don’t, then the parent certainly deserves a withering look, but perhaps a condescending remark or maybe even a word of advice like, “You shouldn’t….” or “They are very (insert offensive adjective here)”.  This advice is given like they know my child better than I do and in front of my child so they get to see their parent undermined.  It’s all very helpful and not at all unnecessary.

I guess my point is.  Do we really need to parent for the benefit of a stranger who has no knowledge of our family or the context of our lives? Do we have to tell our child to act like someone they are not, so a person they don’t know and may never see again gets an impression of them that fits their expectation of what a five year old child should be like?

If we are a stranger observing, can we allow for the possibility that mum knows best?  Can we trust that the parent has a qualified judgment, rather than our 10 second assumption? Does crying have to be bad?  Does outspoken mean naughty?  Does quiet mean rude? Can we bite our tongues and take a moment to use our words for the benefit of others?  Could we encourage instead of strip down?

Raising children is already demanding enough, it would be great if we didn’t have to avoid public places for fear of offending a stranger.


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