Since this piece made me too angry to see straight, I’m going to do away with a well-thought-out and eloquently put rebuttal to it, and just say exactly what I think.
Yes, exactly! Breastfeeding is hard, and our society isn’t designed to accommodate the needs of our children! So by all means, let’s all just give up and give them all a synthetic chemical formula instead, because probably breastmilk isn’t THAT great. Let’s not all stand up and fucking DEMAND that our society conform to the fucking NEEDS of our CHILDREN. Let’s just make sure that all those moms get right back to work so those businesses can keep on churning out their widgets, because that is what is truly important in our wonderful country!
I actually handle it pretty much identically to what Haidee just described (which was, basically, hands-off). Unless there is actual physical danger (in which case, by all means I’d physically move my child out of the situation!), I usually let the kids work it out themselves. If a child takes a toy from my child and he/she objects, I say something like “There are LOTS of toys. Let’s go find another one!” or “Why don’t we find something else to do? There’s a slide!”. (Of course, if I witness my child take someone else’s toy, I DO intervene and tell them not to do so!)Personally, I feel like handling situations this way gives my children the tools to navigate social interactions on their own instead of feeling they need to expect authority figures to intervene on their behalf for all real or imagined slights. I’m a little horrified on the rare occasions that I do encounter someone attempting to discipline someone else’s child, especially for something minor like a toy squabble (and have watched people make fools of themselves for attempting to do so wrongly more than once–yikes!).
I have to confess, I always think it’s funny when people explain that they (unlike me) make it a habit to interfere with their children’s playground interactions in order to teach them to be “assertive”, because I’m actually quite an assertive person (as are my children, the apples not having fallen far from the tree, ha!). But at playtime, I personally go in another direction. I don’t think it’s necessary to approach social interactions between small children from the standpoint that other people are out to get one over on your child and you therefore must teach him/her to be “assertive” to ensure this doesn’t happen. No one is trying to take advantage of anyone else–these are just small children who still primarily think with that reptilian “I want” part of the brain, and that’s cool–we’ll get them socialized eventually and there are probably plenty of things around that they “want”. We live in this rich western country where our kids don’t have to burst into inconsolable tears when someone takes the toy they were using because, chances are, there’s always going to be another toy they can play with, instead. This isn’t soviet Russia, that other child didn’t just run off with the last potato…KWIM?We all have to approach things with our kids the way we feel is best, and best for OUR particular child, and I think that’s awesome. But when I see people step in again and again and again to facilitate their child’s every social interaction, I feel like the child is coming to expect that s/he’ll always and forever get a “fair” turn with everything, and that’s just not realistic. While every kid is obviously different, I have found that just setting the expectation for my own child’s behavior (“You cannot just take that toy away. Ask if he is finished, or if he would like to trade…”) eventually led to him speaking up himself (“Hey, I was still using that, want to use this airplane instead?”). YMMV, of course, and obviously a little, “You have to tell him you were still using that toy if you were still using it.” isn’t unfounded–but I personally try to always focus on what MY child can do in the situation, because that is all s/he will ever have control of in life, right?But I also think, when it’s your first child and he or she is still very young, like toddler age; there’s a tendency to feel like s/he is being unfairly taken advantage of by “much bigger” kids. As your child gets older, you learn that really, while there are obviously degrees of youth/inexperience/babyness; ALL those kids on the playground are still very young children who are still learning to properly express their needs, the same as your child. (And probably, the lion’s share of them have parents who are horrified by their occasional reptilian-brain behavior!)
According to the New York TImes, making new friends as an adult poses some interesting challenges.
Times, I’ll see your “challenge as an adult” and raise you a “nearly freaking impossible as an adult who is a parent to small children”. Seriously. It’s like nothing else I’ve experienced in its difficulty, its complexity, its need of constant careful navigation. I think people would probably go one further and assume that it’s easy for parents who stay home with their children to make friends, like we have these active social lives between swing pushes, like we meet our new soul-mates hovering behind the jungle gym.
It’s not really like that.
Take today. I had answered a local mom’s shout-out to other local mom writers who might like to get together and talk about writing. We decided to meet at a playground this morning, and two other women showed up with their progeny in tow. I felt comfortable, confident, and happy–that’s the irony of how difficult it is to make friends as an “adult”–I feel less fidgety and awkward than I probably ever have in my life! Finally, I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to maybe be interesting to other people, except that my own world (in the form of two little people) gets in the way. Or something. Anyway.
Unfortunately, either the extreme (high 90s today!) heat or just the realization that I was trying to connect to some other grown-ups seemed to deeply affect Juniper, as my little queen of independence chose today to need me desperately every 5 minutes or so. “Mama! Help! I stuck!” she yelled from the top of one hill. “Oh, no, Mama. I need help!”, she implored from the downward-facing dog she had attempted in the middle of another. I could ignore her for a bit, but eventually her cries would become insistent enough to warrant attention, so I’d retrieve her from whatever her most recent precarious position was and plop her down with a smile and an, “Ok! Now go play!”
She did not. Not really. Forcing me to fetch her again and again.
It was a lovely time, really it was, with more adult social interaction than I generally get while out with my kids. But still, there was an encumbrance to overcome that wasn’t there Before.
In the Times piece, relationship experts said that most friendships of the more “lifelong/confidante” variety are born out of a combination of proximity and similarity, which is why so many of us hold onto our college friends for so long. But it’s not just the being similar and geographically close that does it in college, they said, it’s also the large swaths of unstructured time that we end up filling with our conversations, with our oh-so-casual dropping of tidbits of information about our True Selves. We take it for granted then that we’ll have a lifetime of opportunity to learn who we are and share it with people.
Of course, it’s not really like that at all. By the time your mid-30s rolls around and you have a couple of kids, you’re far too busy trying to hold your head above water to take part in any enormous self-explorations. There’s no time or energy for those 2am cups of coffee and omelets and conversations.
I think I have the obvious solution–Camp for grown-ups. You go away for a week or 2 (leaving your significant other in charge of your charges) and room in a bunkhouse with 7 strangers. You compete against other bunkhouses in casual games of skill. You make woven keychains. You eat your meals together. You each teach your bunkmates how to do something that’s important to you, and you explain why it’s important to you in the first place. You share a bathroom (well, maybe THAT’S a little extreme…). You talk over campfires and mosquito repellant and waiting in line for the shower. You talk and talk and talk.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? I would sign up for that. I mean, if I could find the time to register.
There has been an Intense Conversation going on on one of the parent listservs I subscribe to. It’s not even the super-crazy-parent listserv that I’m pretty sure I subscribe to just to get some really out-there ideas (you know, like hanging a sheet in a corner of the dining room and making that corner your child’s bedroom so you can have space for a grand piano in the actual bedroom?), it’s the normal-parent listserv.
Long story shortish, this woman wrote in a tone of great disgust about how she had witnessed a BABY LEFT ALONE IN THE CAR. For TWO MINUTES. While his or her uncaring father procured a CUP OF COFFEE. So distressed was she by this child sleeping in a car unsupervised at a suburban Dunkin Donuts on a 60-degree morning that she waited to see if someone would return (he did), gave him a severe dressing-down (which he apparently responded to by telling her to mind her own business), calling the police (who told her basically that it wasn’t illegal and they wouldn’t look into it), and the coup de grace — posting the offending parent’s license plate number and a full description of him on a listserv with hundreds, maybe thousands of subscribers.
What followed was a judgement firestorm of epic proportions. He was a terrible father because one person was left in a car as a toddler and deactivated the emergency brake, causing the car to roll backwards into the guardrail. He was also a terrible father because although it wasn’t, it might have been a hundred degrees and the baby might have been in danger. Mostly, he was a terrible father because he did something that the people who thought he was a terrible father would not do.
The thing with parenting that all parents should (but apparently, don’t) get is this: parenting is the balance of safety and judgement all day, every day, 365 days a year. I am constantly assessing situations and quickly deciding the best course of action, often when there isn’t really an ideal choice.That’s the thing with parenting that people can be loathe to cop to: you do things you would rather not more often than you’d care to admit.
When I’m shopping and my five-year-old desperately has to go to the bathroom but I can’t get my toddler out of the cart in time to prevent an accident, should I humiliate him by making him wet himself in the middle of a store just so I can be sure to check the bathroom for creepy people, just in case? I say no–that sort of humiliation would be far more scarring than the tiny possibility that a pedophile is lurking in the bathroom. I make a judgement call. Were there an actual pedophile in the bathroom, I would regret that decision for my entire life. But in the split second I have to decide, I decide that humiliation is a more likely result in the imaginary scenarios I envision than molestation.
I have left my kids in the car, too. I left them in the CVS parking lot the other day while I ran in to the ATM. I think nearly all of my leaving-kids-in-the-car situations are ATM-related, which makes me think that there need to be more drive-up ATMs around here. Once, when Bryce was a baby, I left him sleeping in the car and tore into the grocery store to get something we desperately needed in order to keep him from getting soaked by a crazy, insane deluge-of-a-storm that literally soaked me to the skin during my frantic dash in and out.
So, obviously, I’m a bad parent.
I run upstairs to go to the bathroom, leaving the toddler downstairs alone. I come back to find her eating an ice cream sandwich, pouring out boxes of crackers, attempting to open a container of ice cream, gnawing on a frozen waffle. (I swear I feed her regularly.) But clearly, she could have instead chosen to find a way to scale the cabinets and gone after the Wusthof knives. She could have cut off her sweet little toes, stuck a knife into her eyes the color of the sky.
While the toddler is napping, I go outside to water the flowers, to clean up the yard. We don’t really use a monitor any longer, so I can’t hear her. She could climb out of her crib, find a way to break through the screen and throw herself out of the 5 inches of open window, falling to her death.
The kids eat lunch and I leave to answer the door, or leave them at the table on our (fenced-in) deck to grab something one of them has requested. TOTAL CHOKING HAZARD.
There are probably more ways than I can count for something to go terribly, freakishly wrong at any given point in the day when I’m interacting with my children. So far I’ve been fortunate that it hasn’t, and I worry that one day it somehow will. And on that day I’m sure that there will be a listserv subscriber, waiting with her pencil and paper and self-righteousness to scribble down everything she can glean about me and report it to the world at large so everyone can see what a terrible, neglectful parent I truly am.