The Parent Trap

Why is Parenting in front of other Adults so Shaming?

I have never felt more alienated as I did parenting my kids in public or around other adults and family. I clearly remember Esme disobeying me in front of grown-ups. The looks and sideways glances were unreal. It was almost as if I was being bullied into “making” my kid behave. I immediately felt judged as if my child and I were now on the “naughty” list. Or, somehow the baby that had been doted over incessantly by all those around her became the “troubled” or “bad” kid with one misstep. Nobody came close and held my hand, told me it was normal to have kids who disobey and asserted themselves. Not one person said “come with love and use kindness” to get your child connected so that they want to behave.

My family, friends and people I didn’t even know expected me to punish my 3-year-old—to make her feel bad or withdraw some sort of privilege. Worse yet, to put her in Time Out. The crazy thing is I did it without even questioning. It felt awful, heart-wrenching, and  I was traumatized. I didn’t want to punish my little girl. But I didn’t know what else to do. Each time she acted out I came up with new consequences and rewards. I think my heart hardened to her to some degree like I lost my empathy bone. She was being “bad” in my mind and I HAD to correct it, fix it, make it stop. The problem with the punishments is that they only worked for a while and then pretty soon I’d have to find something else that “stung”

The other truth to this vicious cycle was she began to harden toward me. She didn’t want to hug and kiss me as much. Sometimes when I picked her up from preschool she shunned me. I loved her deeply and knew somewhere in her she loved me too, but it was all eroding. The relationship between us, the sweetness and love were being overshadowed by my need to make her “good” and “well behaved" so all the adults in this world would think I was doing my job. In a sense, I felt I was doing my job. Longing to be a “good” mother with “good” kids was something only society could grant me. I wanted in that club, the “good mommy” club. I longed to be seen that way, then I could sidestep the shame and embarrassment of having a child with feelings and behaviors and mistakes. No crime was left unpunished in my house! You were not to make a mistake, well, unless you were an adult. Then all bets were off. If you were an adult you could have a temper tantrum, yell and scream or just say you were having a “bad day” and were “tired” and then all of your inexcusable behavior was forgiven.

I am not blaming society for my head first dive into the world of “control” parenting”, but I certainly was set up, like we all are, to follow its lead. There is no mercy for children who say and do the wrong thing. Mistakes are hardly tolerated and poor behavior can land you in baby jail or time out with no chance for parole. I do believe children and parents are subjected to discrimination and marginally treated. Children because they are little and weak and depend so greatly on adults and adults because of the shame...the horrible awful shame. What if we treated our adult friends the way some adults treat kids? I am not sure it would go over very well, in fact those people would likely have few friends.