Our own Whitney Hoffman wrote an essay last week, one which got me to thinking. In her post, “Other People’s Kids,” Whitney relayed her feelings about the sensitive nature of dealing with other parents’ children. One section stuck out for me – she wrote: “How do you feel about disciplining other people’s children? That’s extremely tricky on its own. I know I tend to be indulgent with my nieces and nephews, more so than I would ever be with my own kids, and likewise with friends and guests. Yet when I see a kid treat their parent badly or disrespectfully, this is something we just don’t put up with.”
What do we put up with? Where do we draw the line? When is it ok to talk to the parent about their kid?
Most people seem to respond with some version of “Hey, don’t tell me how to parent my own kid!” I understand the feelings behind this, and I don’t dismiss them. Raising a child is, arguably, the toughest job on the planet. And it can be stressful, often too stressful, and sometimes you just need people to leave you alone. We all have those days when we’re down to our last nerve and we’re seriously considering selling the kids to that nice man who lives under the overpass. And that’s just not the time to be telling us what we’re doing wrong.
And maybe some of you think that it is never ok to tell another parent what to do with their kid. Perhaps you think that you and you alone know what is best for your child. Maybe you see your situation as different from anyone else’s, and bless your heart, maybe that is indeed the case. And maybe you’re just smarter than everyone else. Hey, I write a column where I give parenting advice, I’ve heard this exact line from more parents than you could imagine. And I’m ok with all of that. They are your kids and you get to decide how you’re going to parent. And in the end, no one should judge you, because you’re the one who’s got to do the heavy lifting.
But I operate in a different manner altogether. Not a better manner, mind you, just different. When it comes to my children, I actually welcome feedback from other parents. And I’m not just talking about the times when my kids are running around the supermarket or are having a “who can scream louder” contest in the parking lot of the movie theater. I’m talking about any area of my kids’ lives. If you see me doin’ somethin’ stupid, or if you see one of my kids making some horrible tragic mistake, I want to hear about it. Even if it’s something sensitive, like school or morality or nutrition or immunization or whatever. I’ll listen to any parent tell me what’s wrong with the way I parent. Even if they’re rude. Even if I’m in a hurry. Even if I’m exhausted. No matter the situation, I’m going to do my best to hear their advice or complaints or suggestion, and I’ll thank them for their help. Even if they’re screaming the help at the top of their lungs.
Well, it goes like this: A long time ago, a mentor of mine said this to me: “You *always* learn something from other people. When someone says something to you, no matter what, you learn one of three things. Either you learn something new, or you discover that you already understood what they are teaching you, which reinforces the learning, or you learn that the person talking to you is a complete idiot. So whatever they say, remember that you are learning something and be grateful for that.”
Most folks I’ve met have thought that this was just too difficult a process to internalize. And I get that, it’s reasonable to have a limit on one’s patience and understanding. But for me, I find those words bring me such undeniable relief. They are my excuse to be relaxed when someone tells me what to do with my kids. Yeah, sometimes what I hear is junk, but because I am open to the possibility, because I don’t reject what they say out of hand, there are many, many moments when another parent teaches me exactly what I need to know.
It’s not for everyone, and I’m not judging anyone who rejects this. I’m merely speaking of my own experience. And I’m also letting you know that if you see me on the street, don’t hesitate to give me an earful on what I’m doing wrong and how I need to fix myself. ‘Cause I absolutely want to do what is best for my kids, and I get it that I don’t have all the answers, and that sometimes I can really be an idiot. And if you know something I don’t, why on earth would I let my ego prevent me from hearing what could be an excellent parenting tip? My kids deserve nothing less than my every effort, my every ounce of strength, and my everlasting, unconditional humility.
So, please, tell me how to parent my kid. Thank you.
by Stu Mark
Photo graciously provided by meg nicol, through a Creative Commons license, some rights reserved