19 April 2010

When Moms Attack...

Spongebob Yelling

Ok, so not literally. I'm not talking about a fist fight.
I'm talking about a mom berating her child in public.

A few weeks ago, I read a post by Lisa Belkin, whose blog, Motherlode, runs in the NY Times. The topic was Friends with Different Parenting Styles. I read in disbelief about moms who felt entitled to criticize other moms freely, after all they were friends. The discussion centered on whether to remain friends with someone who felt so comfortable telling you that your parenting sucks.

I thought, short of seeing someone hitting their kid, I couldn't really imagine criticizing someone else's parenting style. After all, shouldn't we all just be doing what's best for our own families? I have mom friends who parent quite differently than I do. We don't have problems - we have playdates, mom-dates, we get along. We respect each others choices.

And then it happened. I was in the park with my son. It was the end of the day and we were getting ready to leave. Diego had been playing with another child who was now being verbally ripped to shreds by mommy.  I didn't think that the child had done anything that terrible, certainly nothing out of character for a 4-year old. But the kiddo's behavior must have pushed a button, because mom lost it.  I had to wonder if she spoke to her child like that all of the time or if she was having a really bad day. After all, I had spoken to her on occasion and she seemed nice enough. But I was shocked by the hurtful words she was saying to her little child.

Now let me say upfront, I yell. My mom was a yeller. I'm a yeller. And, though I do have a pretty long fuse, when I've reached my limit I resort to yelling. I am not proud of it. It is not how I want to parent. I struggle every day to have more patience, to try to understand what I can learn from the situation at hand. But, sometimes there's nothing else I am able to do in that moment. So I resort to yelling my child's name in hopes that he will hear the stress and seriousness in my voice. And of course, it doesn't work. It never works. Yelling at your child only makes them tune you out ever further. Or so it seems...

When I was a child, my mother screamed at us on a regular basis. I was the oldest of four, but even when it was just me and my brother - she was always yelling. And she was mean. As much as I wanted to tune her out, I couldn't. Maybe it seemed we weren't listening - I wish that I hadn't been. But on nearly every occasion that something unpleasant came out of her mouth, I heard every word. I was scared of her. My mother scared the crap out of me. And that's really sad... it's also something that I don't want for my little boy. Which is why I struggle to keep cool, and why I'm struggling as I write this post.

Would it have mattered if this playground mom had just screamed her child's name instead of something mean? What if it was just "come here now!" Is that ok? And where do you draw the line? Maybe the effect depends on the kid - though I can't remember one time where I just heard my name screamed at me from across the room. Maybe that's just me.

Is it really my business that this woman said awful things to her child? In a way, yes. I wasn't eavesdropping - I was right there. I'll probably never say anything to this woman though. I doubt that I'd be heard (for a variety of reasons). And I don't have that kind of relationship with her. But it is an opportunity. It's a chance to learn more about myself and how I parent.

I started this blog so I could reflect on my choices as a mother, to understand how I could live a more compassionate life - for myself, for my family.  Seeing behavior in others that I am uncomfortable with leads me to ask myself why? Am I sensitive in this situation because of my own childhood? Probably. Can I understand how this mom lost it? Absolutely. But, I also understand how this little child felt. This new reminder of something that happened to me such a long time ago will hopefully serve as my teacher. I pray everyday for the compassion to better handle the challenges I face as a parent. And I pray for the mindfulness to remember that anyone can be my teacher.

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