Thursday, August 11, 2011

Parenting on Display

When we go to public places where families go, such as Target, the grocery store, the playground, the...ahem...county fair, there is a lot of family action.  We see all sorts of parenting styles, discipline models, and general child management.  We can clearly establish which families use methods with names.  There's the Time Out, the 1,2,3, the Threats, the Bribes.  There are the tantrum throwers and yellers...and their kids.  (couldn't resist)

I wonder if parents kick up their discipline methods a notch when in these public places.  I mean, it's like the age old philosophical question "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise?"  My philosophical question is, "If there are no other parents around, does the mother still implement the discipline at the same level of intensity?"

My children mostly behave wonderfully and are a dream to take to public places.  It's true.  I don't have the feeling of dread going to Target with three kids as other mothers may experience with their brood or singlets.  But I have often been in Target and have noticed mothers disciplining their children kind of extra loud.  With a look cast my way.  Is it just me?  I feel like sometimes parents are quick to discipline their children, and with more severe intensity, than is necessary while in a public place for the sake of other people. 

It's as if parents want to display their discipline method.  I'll hear, "If you do that again you're going in time out." as if I'm supposed to think, "Ooooh, she uses time out."  Or I'll hear, "ONE......twoooooooo...................." and I'm supposed to think, "Oh, how great.  She didn't even have to get to three.  Her system totally works."

I'm not criticizing any moms or dads or methods here.  I'm simply questioning the gusto in which it's being used in public places.  This phenomenon coupled with the verbal or mouthed "I'm sorry" a mom directs towards me in Target as her child cries wants to make me shout, "Sorry for what?!  So what?!  Your kid is crying.  No one is judging you because, guess what, kids cry in stores all the time."

Is that it?  Are we afraid of being judged by how loudly or badly our children behave so while in public we are so quick to put our parenting skills to work.  On display?

Here's the scenario: my children and I, and two other moms and their children were all at the playground at the same time.  One sibling, under two maybe, was playing with a ball and his brother, 3ish maybe, swooped over and snatched the ball out of his hands.  Crime of the century?  Maybe in that household.  Mom immediately jumped into the Time Out and 1,2,3 combo because her son didn't get himself over to the time out tree fast enough. 

I thought, if there were no other mothers at the park, would this have been his consequence?  Or would it have been more of a dialogue.

I'm going to pay more attention to how I discipline my kids in public places.  I'm going to consciously make sure that my actions are for my children and not for other moms.  Because, really, the last thing I am ever going to do is tell someone else I'm sorry for my children.


  1. I always think back to the time we between flights and in line at customs in the Toronto airport for THREE hours with a two-year-old. She was whining and rolling around on the floor and hungry and tired, just like the rest of us.....and while I certainly didn’t discipline her or mouth “I’m sorry” to anyone in line, the frustration must have shown on my face. An older lady on the other side of the rope, who most likely had grown children who were not with her, leaned over the rope, touched my shoulder and said “Don’t worry Mom, you’ll get through it.” It was the greatest moment of that marathon travel day. Now, when I see those frustrated moms in stores, the ones who look around to see who’s judging them, I think they are looking for that lady and when they mouth “I’m sorry” to me I say, “Don’t worry mom, you’ll get through it.”

  2. There is always a moment when I am teaching a parent-child class that one of the children throws a small tantrum. It is always amazing to watch the reaction of the other parents. There is a look of relief on their faces. I am never sure if they are relieved that it is not their child or if it is because they get to see that other children have tantrums as well. This usually leads to a great discussion about children in stressful situations. I find going to Target, Meijer, etc to be extremely stressful. I always tell parents that if they are feeling stressed out in a situation, times it times 75 % and that is probably what their child is feeling. That being said I have had to leave Target with my children before because I could tell from my stress and their reaction it just was not a good time to be there. I did not want to become one of "those" moms. I remember once being in a store with my friend who had five boys and they were five "boy" boys. During the chaos that ensued an older Southern woman came up to my friend and said with sincerity, "Darlin' I raised six boys and when I brought the sixth one home my mother-in-law came to me and told me that raising six boys was an instant ticket to heaven." It was her way of telling my friend that she had been there and my friend was doing the best she could in the situation handed to her.