When I was growing up my parents said, “You’re just going to do whatever you want anyways.” That was not my favorite remark of theirs, but now that I have kids of my own I can see the truth in it.
I love my kids. I know everyone does, well, most people love their own kids. The older I get as a mom the more I understand what love means and the less tolerance I have for holier than thou mom shamers.
When my kids were infants they were very easy to love. These tiny creatures had little personality of their own. I could just project onto them whatever I thought or wanted them to be. As they have grown older they have become their own people who change as they learn. That was very uncomfortable at first. I was scared that they might become something that I did not like or approve of. Turns out I am full of unconditional love.
I remember times when my children made choices that were unethical and I became angry. I was angry because their actions reflected on me. How could my perfect children do something bad? What was I doing wrong? Or was it me at all? Society loves to blame the parents for everything. To a certain degree, parents must be held accountable.
But here’s the dirty, rotten truth that no one wants to admit, kids, are going to do what they want.
They are going to be foolish and embarrassing pushing boundaries, trying out new ideas. It is their job to figure out who they are and it is our job to guide them through that process. We don’t get to choose who they become, they have their own path to walk, but we do get to heavily influence them.
Now my children are seven and ten-years-old. Do my children embarrass me now? Of course, they do. Instead of toddler tantrums, they say things in public that are really only acceptable to say at home, or never at all. They forget their manners, they blurt out comments that have absolutely nothing to do with the conversation at hand. They burp and fart then laugh about it. Sometimes they will say something mean or small minded without even understanding what they have just said.
Once at a school festival, we were taking funny pictures at a photo booth with props. My youngest selected a straw hat and promptly announced he was a “dirty Mexican.” Of course, there were other families all around us and they looked at us.
Immediately I turned red and told him not to repeat those words ever again. When we were in the parking lot I asked him why he would say that. “Look at me, I’m dirty from playing in the mud today and the hat is like the ones at the Mexican restaurant.” He was remembering the sombrero people wear when it’s their birthday. He had not meant the comment as a racial slur, or putdown of any kind, but rather just two random adjectives that made sense to him.
So at seven-years-old, I had to explain to my son that there are some things we cannot say because some people say them out of hate. That was not an easy conversation and I am not sure he really understood what I meant, but he does know not to ever say those two words together, ever, ever again.
The most difficult parenting comes in these moments of embarrassment, anger and disappointment. It is how we handle these situations that teach our children the most and it took me many years to figure that out. Now that my children are old enough to have intelligent conversations about what they have done that is exactly what we do. I try to make them wear the other person’s shoes, to empathize and understand other points of view. This single strategy has helped my children be more compassionate and to care more about how what they do affects other people. When they were younger and incapable of lengthy conversations I would simply tell them “that’s not nice, you made her sad”.
It seems to me that as a society we have become wrapped up into placing blame and pointing fingers. When Johnny steals a pack of gum from the grocery store the first thing we ask is where was mom. Mom was watching the prices as her items were rung up and paying for the groceries. Johnny is old enough to stand by her side. People make poor choices and parents can’t prevent all of these from happening.
It’s important that Johnny makes and learns from his own mistakes. We all learned that way. Show me a person who has never made a mistake, always followed the rules and I will show you a liar. We learn by doing. The result is either positive or negative reinforcement.
As parents, we can only do so much and the rest is up to our children to decide.
We see the judgment everywhere we go. Social media is full of secretly taped videos of children misbehaving. The adult narrating the tape berates the child and/or parents touting how he would have handled the situation differently. Maybe mom/dad was just having a bad day. You have no idea what happened before you walked into that tiny window of their life. Sure, there are some parents out there that just don’t care, but I do not think that is the great majority. All of this judging and public shaming is not making things better for anyone. Do you think you are performing some public service announcement?
I was embarrassed every time we went somewhere. Eventually, I figured out that no one was as important as the people under my roof at home. I knew that in my heart, but my head was worried about what the strangers at the grocery store, gas station, or wherever thought about me.
Go ahead and judge me and my family. You are going to anyways, it’s human nature. My kids are going to make mistakes and I am going to let them because that’s my job as a parent. The day I stop shielding them from “safe” mistakes is the day I raise a human that has zero accountability and believes the world owes them everything.
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