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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Good enough for Obama but not yo mama

I've gone back and forth about whether or not to post this. I still don't know for sure that it will ever make it out of the draft stage. But at the risk of unintentionally offending a reader (heck, RAS has already promised to hate me and I haven't even written it yet!), I feel I need to get it off my chest. And, well, it's my blog. Sometimes, it's just like that.

Last Wednesday, my pal SomeMonkey had one of those afternoons of running errands with the kids when time gets away from you a bit. She had given the kids a rare treat of cookies and Icees, only to realize after that it was almost dinner time. This information is necessary to understand the following conversation from Thursday:
me: My a/c unit lives to serve another day!!!
heat exchanger is still fine so they topped it off again with more coolant
it could die tomorrow but who knows
so could I
SomeMonkey: that's the spirit!
me: i KNOW!
So, what's for dinner tonight? rock candy and milkshakes?
SomeMonkey: are you, perchance, commenting on my parenting skills?
me: absolutely not
I said I COULD die tomorrow
not I want to guarantee it
SomeMonkey: haha
Now, first I must say that I truly think SomeMonkey is one of the best and coolest moms I know. She's awesome with her kids, praises them, disciplines them, doesn't let them run with scissors and usually gives them a decent non-cookie meal. All of this while still being someone I, a non-mother, can relate to and really have a blast talking to. Yeah, she's pretty spectacular. And I don't just say that because I'm afraid she'll punch me in the face. So, no, other than joking around, no way am I commenting on her parenting skills.

But this exchange, plus an incident from last weekend, makes me wonder: why is it so off-limits to comment on someone's parenting choices? Especially if you yourself are not a parent.

I get that it's a really hard job. A really complicated job. I totally respect that. Yet being President is a really hard job. Being a CEO of a big company is a really hard job. A teacher. A doctor. A telemarketer. Heck, most jobs are really hard. But it's perfectly acceptable in our society to pass judgment on those folks, even if you aren't experienced in that life or profession.

So why not parents? Honestly, I try hard not to judge people. Sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that I don't know the whole story or that it's none of my business. The wisest thing my father has ever said to me was "just because it's not the decision I would make, doesn't mean it's necessarily the wrong decision". I try hard to apply that to most situations involving puzzling behavior.

What brings all this on? The incident I mentioned above. I observed what I feel was a questionable choice by some parents last weekend. I might even go so far as to say it was a wrong choice. (I don't mean I saw a kid eating ice cream before dinner - that kind of thing barely registers with me. I'm talking about something much larger.) But when I was talking to someone about it (not SomeMonkey), someone that happened to be a parent, she was instantly offended that I was insinuating these parents might be in the wrong. She then changed the subject so she could rip apart the CDC and their response to swine H1N1 flu. Because she's a doctor specializing in infectious disease. Oh, wait, no, she's actually an accountant.

Also, I've noticed that if you praise someone's skills or tell them they're doing a great job, they never tell you to shut up and mind your own business because you don't have the right to judge. What's that about?

I'm interested in other thoughts on this. At this point, it seems like a bit of a double-standard. And for kicks, I'm going to post about The Incident tomorrow so you can all weigh in on that as well. It'll be your opportunity to tell me if I'm being too sensitive or if these people were exercising poor judgment. Or, in either case, if I should even be allowed an opinion.

28 comments:

Sarah said...

The answer to why parents think they should not be criticized is really simple. And it's a secret that we parents don't share with non-parents. But we took a vote at the meeting, so I'm going to reveal it now. We are all confident in the fact that we are doing it utterly wrong all the time and will ruin our children.

Ryan Ashley Scott said...

I second Sarah's motion! In fact, there is a tremendous amount of guilt about every single decision we make, because there is no "right" way to do anything. There's a wrong way, for sure, but every child is different and always changing, so our parenting is constantly changing to fit them - and it's all a guessing game. All that, but I still catch myself thinking negative things about other parents sometimes. For instance, my cousin took his 4yo son to see the latest Batman flick in the theatre. I would classify this as "wrong" but then again, he thinks I'm too overprotective.

I'm glad you brought this up, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to stop before I take up a black hole of internet space here.

As far as Obama goes, I think people just want to complain.

Sass said...

Sarah absolutely beat me to it, and she absolutely hit the nail on the head.

We all know we're screwing up on a minute-by-minute basis. So when someone confirms that, whether they have children or NOT, it sucks. And I mean...sucks to the core.

And, as RAS put it, we still judge other parents, even though we know we are making mistakes, too.

Thing is, when a parent does something that is obviously wrong...neglect, abuse, malnutrition, whatever...we can ALL collectively point and say, "WRONG."

But there are so many shades of gray on a day to day basis...and we all know that. Parenting is something that has to change as your children change, as the rules change, as the world around you changes. So mistakes are inevitable.

I'm so babbling, but I think you get my point. Maybe.

C. Beth said...

Okay, I read this several minutes ago, and I had to really think about it before I could respond. So I spent time pondering it as I blended the Snickers milkshakes for my kiddos' breakfast. Zoodle was frustrated at how distracted I was, thinking so hard about this, but thankfully he had some kitchen knives to keep him busy.

Now, as we eat breakfast, I think I have an answer for you.

As someone without kids, you aren't any less qualified to comment on parenting than to comment on Obama. In fact, you probably know more about parenting (since you grew up with parents) than about being president (since your name isn't Chelsea...unless Cate is some weird nickname for Chelsea?)

But you don't have countless presidents around you, and you do have countless parents around you. So a parent relates to the parent you're questioning in a way most people don't relate to the president.

But it's more than that. Most jobs are just jobs. (President is more, but that's an exception.) Being a parent, especially a mother, tends to be an identity. And there is SO much riding on me being a good mom. If I mess up as a real estate agent, someone may pay too much for a house. If I mess up as a mom, I've screwed up a kid, and that kid AND my peers are going to blame me for it.

So we feel so much pressure to do the parenting thing RIGHT, and so many of us really fear that we are doing it wrong. So when we hear encouragement, it helps us feel like everything we're putting into it may be worth it. And when we hear criticism, whether about our own or another's parenting skills, we get defensive. We feel that that whole parenting IDENTITY is being attacked. We are afraid that someone thinks we are messing up our kids (and we feel the need to defend other parents from this accusation.)

You definitely have the right to criticize parenting, whether you're a parent or not. I'll admit, I criticize other parents. I am just really careful about who I say what to. I'll say things to my husband I won't say to anyone else.

Eric said...

I'd tell you that your blog is nice, but that would be wrong for me to be so effing judgemental, wouldn't it?

Tori_z said...

People don't like to be criticized, but they seem to enjoy criticizing others. Also, parents like to feel they're doing a great job with their children, even if they aren't. If you were a parent then you'd be allowed your opinion, but you'd be in the wrong if it contradicted the other person's. Why? Because every parent feels they are child experts simply because they have children. It's like people who grow a plant and then claim to know it all when it comes to plants. Or people who went camping as a kid, so insist they know everything there is to know about camping. Unless you have a child who is brought up in exactly the same way as someone else brings theirs up, nobody is going to agree with your opinions on raising a child, or how to deal with children in certain situations. Every parent thinks they know best - even if they don't - and will fight tooth and nail to keep that illusion alive.

As for why it's acceptable to criticize the government and people in high places. That's simple. It's because they're in a position of power, and people don't like it. So they deal with it by criticizing them, and - in doing so - reduce them back to the status of mere humans.

That's my opinion anyway.

blognut said...

I wrote a very clear and intelligent response to this post last night when it first went up. Then it disappeared before I could publish my comment. Sorry, but I can only be clever once.

In any case, I think I said something like this: I don't care when people offer me their opinions, criticisms, and/or feedback regarding parenting; and I certainly don't care if the person offering the 'pointers' has kids or not. Sometimes I look at the disaster that is their children and I discard their advice immediately. Other times, I'm awed by the naive advice I get from the non-parent. So, you see, there is no hard and fast rule here. Say whatever you want, I may choose to listen, laugh, or discard it entirely.

I am certain that I make lots of mistakes, so my goal here with my kids is to make sure that they understand that I'm doing the very best I can, and that I can admit it when I make a mistake. That's all I can do, right?

So - WHY would anyone be mad at you for writing this post?

Lora said...

Okay. Ready?

I HATE when parents are always like "what do you know, you aren't even a parent?"

Yeah, um, having been both a Not a Parent and a Parent, I'm going to say that you don't have to be a mom to know what is right and best for children. Cookies aren't healthy. Apples are. Regular bedtimes are important. Kids need to go to the doctor and be clothed and blah blah blah.

I think the difference between parents and non-parents is that non-parents don't realize how frustrating and exhausting parenting is and sometimes you just want to throw a cookie at your kid so they shut the hell up and you can finally get a god damn moment of fucking peach for once.

Breathe.

I appreciate the non-parents giving me a swift kick in the ass once in awhile. A raised eyebrow, a comment, whatever. Sometimes I need to see that I'm acting like an asshole mom.

I work with the worst of worst parents, the ones that you see at Walmart. the ones that carry thier baby by the arm on the bus while slapping them with the other hand. They suck. Even they know they are wrong, they just need a little bit of help.

No one likes to be told they are wrong but everyone is sometimes.

Lyndsay said...

Standing ovation for C. Beth - seriously. She put into words what I think, just so much better than I could have ever explained.

On a different note, I thought we agreed that you weren't going to post about my mothering techniques and THE INCIDENT you witnessed. What happened to the pinky-swear?

andy said...

i agree with all the other intelligent parent or non-parent humans commenting here.

except for maybe C.Beth 'cause i'm not entirely sure that she should let her kid play with knives and shit. but since i never graduated from the "I'M PERFECT ENOUGH TO JUDGE YOU" finishing school for girls, i'll just assume that i don't know the entire story...you know, maybe he is in ninja school for kids or something?

nobody likes to be called out on an error in parenting...it's kind of like "hey, you just ruined that perfectly good human specimen with that monumental fuck up...good job!".

but trust me when i say that even if my reaction is @ first defensive, i often find myself analyzing the situation afterwards...some of it i take as just intrusive ignorance, some as helpful suggestions, and others as somebody simply trying to make me feel like a failure.

i will be so bold as to say that if i had not had children until RIGHT NOW in my life...i'm not sure i would choose to.

it is the single most impossibly frustrating, rewarding, hurtful, joyful, sorrowful, annoying, tiring, exhilarating "job" that this chippy has ever experienced.

i know that in the end, i will at least be able to hold onto the knowledge that i did what i thought was right...admitted to and fixed my mistakes...and loved and guided my children to the utmost best of my abilities.

and crossing your fingers helps too, i think.

andy

p.s. HA! bet i have the looooongest comment. booyah!

p.p.s. this discussion is a mute point you know, 'cause my mother KNOWS that i should enlighten my children differently than how i do it...curious. perhaps she has forgotten that her and my father taught me all i know.

Ryan Ashley Scott said...

I had to come back to see what everyone said. I'm laughing at much of this humor, especially Lora right now. Everyone seems to be making a similar point, and nobody is threatening you yet, so all is sunny! Such an interesting topic... I'll be back again.

adriana said...

I'm new to your blog, but I had to chime in. I had an experience last night where I witnessed a woman being a truly awful mother - yelling and cursing at her kids in the middle of a Target store, ignoring the younger one who was injured and crying, the whole shebang. And I didn't say anything. I minded my own business, because it is totally taboo to criticize a parent.

And now, the more I think about it, the more I am disappointed in myself for not saying anything. Not giving that eyebrow raise or that glare that clearly says "What you're doing is shitty."

I'm with Lora.

Snarky A. said...

I'm with RAS on this one; I think it is the parental guilt that parents put on them self, that flares up when someone from the outside seems to criticize them too,in addition to their own self critique. Similar to (but over simplified) how one can easily tell oneself "wow I look fat/am dumb/am a nincompoop, but if someone else chimes in you punch them in the face.

Maybe I'm not making sense... Haven't had any coffee yet.
Great topic, Cate!

mo.stoneskin said...

I don't have much wisdom to give, apart from to say that you kept catching me out, every time I dropped by the post had gone again!

Prior to having our baby (7 months ago) we had v definite ideas of the best way to do things, even passing judgement on other parents, since Bubba arrived we quickly realised a) how hard it is and b) practically we couldn't live up to all our earlier ideals.

You've touched on something though, I think parenting can be an overly-sensitive subject.

Isabella said...

Hmm...I agree with the comments, especially C. Beth's. Well said.

Whether you are a parent or not, it's all about how you word what you want to say to another parent. You can say as much or as little as you want...it's all about the delivery of the statement.

I hope that makes sense. My mind is in a "halfway through my cup of coffee" fog.

:)

Call Me Cate said...

I've decided to respond to comments individually through email on this one but I've really enjoyed reading all of your views.

As someone who responds poorly to criticism (I don't just take it to heart - I internalize and completely devalue myself), I can understand why it would be touchy for parents. Already struggling to do your best and then to be judged as a failure by someone who doesn't know the details...

And it seems there are definitely some situations that are just black and white WRONG. Wondering where you'll all think tomorrow's post falls. And when is appropriate to say something (if ever).

I was afraid people would take this post the wrong way and it would offend someone but it seems everyone is clear that I'm not talking about *me* wanting to judge parents but more the general feeling by society that it's not cool.

I hope comments continue - it's been VERY enlightening. Off now to comment individually to those of you with email enabled.

Grand Pooba said...

Ok, first I love the title of this post! Best. Title. Evah.

I'm no mom, not even close. Well unless you count babysitting my neices and nephews.

There is definately a fuzzy almost invisible line of when a parent is NOT a good parent.

When I see a mom in public beatin her kids and cussing about how horrible and stupid they are. Yeah, I'm gonna say something!

I'd even say something if a parent calmly told their child that they were stupid, or ugly or any demeaning descriptive word.

Of course not being a mom, I can only wish I wouldn't be one of "Those" mothers. But when I do become a mom, I definately want in the club! Is there some sort of initiation into the Parent club that you all have been talking about?

I hope the whole giving birth thing is enough to get me in.

PetalsYoga said...

Great topic to blog about. I agree with all of the above and I frequently busybody myself into situations that are frankly NONE OF MY BEESWAX. I'm trying to quit but like all addictions I'm taking it one day at a time. I don't mind non-parental units telling me I suck as a mom. I know I do. Sometimes. Sometimes though, I rock the mom gig.

If we're honest (like everyone here who has commented before me has been!) we all have good days and bad days in all or our roles. Mom, Wife, Co-worker, Employee, etc. The key is to just live and let live unless someone is about to get hurt. Then it's okay to butt it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Rachel said...

I was a "judger" pre-kids. I think its just natural. Now I just hold on for dear life and hope the artifial colors, preservatives, parabens, whatever won't be as dangerous as remebering to look both ways before jr. crosses the street. We do what we can, I guess.

Melissa B. said...

I think some parents...take moi, for example, but only on odd Tuesdays in months that end in the letter "R"...are touchy. I don't know why. I stopped commenting on parenting a long time ago...afraid, I'm sure, that it would boomerang back me me!

Yaya said...

So true. I'm a nanny...I've seen all sorts of parents and I always want to comment on their parenting skills (or lack thereof) in order to help them be better parents...but it's just no kosher.

I guess pointing out faults in parenting would be like telling someone they're fat.


Glad she teaches her kids not to run with scissors. That's an important one.

Amy K. said...

I'm a teacher and a parent...I judge others' parenting all the time...but of course mine is flawless. That is just fact. ;-) Funny you post this today though...my post today was about Things No One Ever Told You About Parenting, lol...

I agree with much of what has been said. Criticizing parenting is criticizing the essence of how you are raising (or ruining) another human being. People take it much more to heart.

Parenting is 24/7 and even though I had been a teacher for 10 years before I was a mom, *I* wasn't prepared for the all-encompassing work that it is. And truth be told...one bad parenting choice (even a public one) doesn't make one a bad parent. We all have our moments...and that is something that some can't understand. I might scream at my kid in public once and make him cry, but that doesn't change the fact that I'd lay down in front of a train for him, stay up all night with him while he pukes on me, or happily give up the party of the century to watch him play the recorder in the stupid school music show.

And that's a fact. :-)

2cats said...

My son turned 25 in March. I still wonder if I am a good mother.
Most of my mothering is finished but there are times, thank God, when he calls me for advice.
I have a friend who is always being criticized for her mothering skill. I think she is the best mom ever.
Who knows?
We take it all in and ignore what we don't want to hear.

resplendentlife said...

What a great topic. I found you through blognut's blogroll.
I agree with C. Beth...parenting is soooo much more than a job. It is so extremely personal...it goes to the core of your very being. The stakes are so much higher than with a job and the gray area is so large.
That's why it is a taboo topic in terms of criticism.
Can't wait to see what The Incident is. I'm ready to judge those parents already ;)

The Wife O Riley said...

I might be a little late on this subject, but I wanted to say something.

I try not to put too much stock into what other people think. Whether or not they're parents. All I know, is that at the end of the day, my kids are happy (if they don't get their nightly beatings, just kidding).

That being said, we all feel a little more superior when someone like Octo-mom comes on the scene and we can look and say, "See what a GREAT mom I am??"

Currently Untitled said...

i'm not a parent so i can't really comment (though, sometimes i do lol) i agree with C. Beth though, that if you stuff up as a telemarketer, someone just owns something crud, if you stuff up as a parent then you stuffed up a kid that will end up growing up to hate you. and itself, because it's stuffed up.

anyway, i have an award for you over on my blog, come check it out!

Call Me Cate said...

Keep the comments coming folks - it's been fascinating. I'm still responding via email.

H F W said...

I've been quite careful since my senior year of college when I was the editor of our university's paper to not critisize the job other people do when you haven't walked in those shoes. I even wrote a huge column about it back then. Because you are right; we really don't have a right to judge the way someone else does a job we do not understand. As for parenting, I think it's so taboo because parenting style is shaped by so many personal, intimate factors in your life -- how your own childhood was, how your marriage is, how you exhibit patience -- it's almost like the job of parenting is one where you pour yourself personally -- flaws and all -into. Therefore, when critisized, it hurts personally.