A few weeks ago I was having an exchange with Elita at Blacktating aboutdifferent perceptions of parents, specifically black parents vs. white
parents, when people see us in public. She had a lot of interesting
points to make about how white parents can
"get away" with a wider set of parenting behaviors in public than black
That started me thinking about Parenting In Public for all of us.
How many times have you felt forced/nudged/shamed/coerced into
parenting in a way you don't usually because you were in a public
situation? I know I have, and it still happens now that my kids are out
of the toddler tantrum stage.
The PIP issue that used to bite me on the ass every single time I went
to the playground when my kids were a certain age was sharing. As it's
enforced in the United States for middle-class white kids, I loathe
sharing. Basically, this is how it's supposed to go: My kid is playing
happily with a toy and another kid walks over and wants to play with my
child's toy, so I'm supposed to prompt (and force, if necessary) my
2-year-old to "share" by letting the other kid play with my child's toy. In
adult terms, that would be similar to my sitting on a park bench
canoodling with my boyfriend, and another woman walking up and my gladly
saying "Go for it" and letting her make out with him until it was my
"turn" again. Right*.
(First of all, I think it's confusing and downright cruel to a little kid
to force them to hand over their own things like that (older kids can
certainly understand the concept of taking turns, but they also
understand not asking for turns from a total stranger, so the whole
dynamic is different anyway because there's a reciprocal relationship
established with anyone you're likely to be asked to share with). But
also, since I'm raising my kids in the US, I feel it's vital that they
understand the concept of private property, so that they don't infringe
on other people's property, and part of that is encouraging them to
value their own property.)
Anyway, I abhored feeling like I had to cave and let some stranger
toddler "take a turn" with my kid's toy. So I'd just try to stay out of
the situation by not bringing personal toys out into public, or making
some lame excuse for not forcing my kid to she ("He's coming down with a cold" or "He just got that toy from his grandma").
But there are some situations you can't avoid, like a kid having a meltdown
on the train. I know it's because he's tired and is under some kind of
stress so I just want to let it go and give him a hug when he calms down and lets me. But all eyes are on me and I don't
want to be the Pushover Yuppie White Mom Who Lets Her Darling Run Over
Her. Or the other times when they've been at it all day and I am *done*, and know that now I'm Pitiful Single Mom Who's Mean To PrHer Kids to all the watchful eyes.
Parenting is hard enough without all the baggage of race, ethnicity,
economic status, class, and all the other ways we judge each other (for
better or worse). I feel like I am *finally* starting to be able to let
some of that go when I look at other parents. I wish, though, that I had
the strength to not even notice the looks I get in public so that I
could focus on the actual situation with my kids. We are *never* not going to judge other people based on their behavior, but I wish that I had the strength just to handle a situation exactly as I would if we were at home, without noticing how others react to us.
I can't be the only one. What are your least favorite Parenting In Public situations? On what
grounds do you think you get judged? Are there situations in which you
know you judge others prematurely?
* Yes, I realize that in my example I've made my hypothetical boyfriend my property. I think it's OK. He's hypothetical only, so he doesn't mind being dehumanized a little bit.