I could feel people staring at us as they walked past. My daughter was crying and so was my son, and, to be honest, I was near tears as well. We were walking home from school and it had been one of those afternoons when not a single nice word had come out of Tori’s mouth since I picked her up. Whining, complaining, sassy-I-don’t-care kind of words came instead. “MOM! Get my jacket NOW,” was the first thing she said to me. Not, “Hi Mom!” or “Can you get my jacket?” We had made it about half-way home (a full mile one-way commute) when she chose to snatch her brother’s snack from his hand, eliciting tears from him. When I made her give it back AND give him a piece from her own snack, she lost it. “How dare you?!” she yelled. “NO!!”
Meanwhile, cars and cyclists whizzed by, dozens of people walked past, and we were in the middle of the sidewalk. I stopped walking, squatted next to her, and gave her a stern talking-to. We didn’t start walking again until she apologized and chose to change her attitude. It was a cold, wet wait, and we certainly received our share of curious looks from passers-by.
I’m sure this kind of thing happens to every parent. Whether it’s in the grocery store, at a restaurant, or even just with friends, we parent around other people. But here’s the thing that’s changed for us since living here: we don’t own a car, so I am CONSTANTLY parenting in public, even on our way TO the grocery store or restaurant.
There is no moment in which I am ever alone with my children except when we are literally in our house. No drives home from school, no road trips, no seat belts limiting the kids’ movement, and certainly no drive-thru restaurants. And, when bad choices or tantrums start happening, there are no threats of “don’t make me pull this car over, young lady!” haha!
Don’t get me wrong, driving with kids can be so very stressful; they’re yelling or crying or whining, all while you’re trying to pay attention to the road. BUT. In a car, there are not random strangers listening to every word you say. No one watching you, just to make sure that you don’t seem abusive or inappropriate. No random person walking by and offering unsolicited advice or an eye-brow raised stare when you’re choosing to let your child continue with his tantrum on the sidewalk.
Overall, we really love not having to drive! But it can be hard to be constantly scrutinized and judged (or feel you are) by the behavior of your children, and not have the respite of getting into the privacy of your car.
Parenting in public can be so, so exhausting, can’t it?? The looks and stares are enough to make you question your parenting choices. “Maybe I’m being too hard on her. Maybe I’m not being hard enough. Yes, thank you, ma’am, for saying ‘oh my’ when my son hit my daughter. Should I even bother addressing Tori’s attitude right now? But if I wait until we get home it will lose its effect… But it’s raining out and I really don’t have the energy to wait out here in the cold while we talk about this…” and so on. Sometimes I deliberately speak loudly so people around me can hear that, yes, I am addressing the issue, and no, I’m not swearing at her or threatening her with violence. But then speaking loudly can seem like I’m yelling at her. Yet speaking softly seems to imply malice!
I’m most grateful when I make eye contact with a stranger and they give me a sympathetic, smiling look which says “I’ve been in your shoes, hang in there,” and then go on their way.
Our extra time in public has forced me to stay true to my convictions, and to learn to just ignore the people walking by, and to realize this: It’s a lose-lose situation if I start to care what strangers on the street think about me and my children. My psyche can’t handle trying to impress people. It’s an exhausting and dangerous downhill battle that can lead to dark places.
We’ve all had that moment when someone offers you unsolicited advice or condemnation when you’re already stressed about your children. We must choose to stick to our convictions and instincts, and, dare I say it? parent our children the same in public as we do in private. Otherwise we’re sending our kids a mixed message and that’s not fair to them!
It’s so much easier said than done… I’d love to hear your thoughts about parenting in public; do you parent the same way at home as you do in the grocery store? Is it really possible to parent in public WITHOUT taking into consideration that you have an audience?
Well, I’m off to do the “school run,” as they say here; praying that our walk home will be full of good attitudes and happy kids :)