Why do people get such a charge out of criticising the parenting of others? You can see them flashing the evil eye at the young mother in the supermarket as her toddler has a meltdown in the Tim Tam aisle. You can see them tut-tutting at the local pool as some kid does a bomb near some elderly swimmers.
And you can see them, pursed-lipped and superior, chanting from the sidelines as the Australian Medical Association proposes a restriction on advertising junk food in the early evenings. ”The parents should just learn to say no.”
Have they entirely forgotten what it was like to be a parent? Sure, the human mind is designed to block out horrific events. As a result, most parents have no memories of the year known as ”the terrible twos”. Most of years three, four and five are gone as well. In our mind’s eye, the child goes from cute baby to half-decent junior soccer player over a period of about three days.
All the same, can’t we try to remember what it was like? Most toddlers have to be approached as you would a madman wired with explosives. The usual method involves a combination of threats, entreaties and bribes. It’s much like the US policy in Pakistan. It’s about as effective.
You then reach for distraction: ”Oh, look! A wincey little spider is tickling your tummy.”
This ploy, of course, brings an intake of breath, as the surprised toddler forgets to cry while considering the matter of the wincey little spider. This momentary quiet, of course, just serves to emphasise the sudden and startling recommencement of the howling, this time invigorated by the notion that their body is under sustained attack by arachnids.
You can understand why the child has now thrown herself face-forward to the ground and is busy turning blue. First her mother refuses her the opportunity to eat a whole packet of Tim Tams, then she stands idly by during a major spider attack. Really, if there was a phone available, the child would call DOCS herself.
At this point, every person in the supermarket is staring at the crime scene, the tut-tutting rising like a mist over the cereal aisle. If bubbles were balloons, the ceiling would be a mass of grey, complete with the message ”baaaaad parent”.
There’s nothing as lonely as being that parent, with your toddler in meltdown, the whole world condemning you and nary a sympathetic glance.
From the looks on their faces, the children of the tut-tut squad must have been perfect.
At their place, it must have been like a scene from The Sound of Music, the children lined up in order of height, hair combed and lederhosen scrubbed, awaiting the chance to chorus ”Welcome home, papa” before scrambling off to do their homework.
I just don’t believe it. I think the tut-tut squad comprises older men who simply didn’t partake in much of the parenting and, thus, always assumed it was easy. And the women, left alone for years with the burden, have successfully blocked out all the difficult moments.
Here’s the other thing about those staring at the young mother or father with such naked hostility: while they are all agreed that you are a baaaaad parent, each will have a different idea about what you should be doing.
Some will be mumbling about how you shouldn’t bring toddlers to the supermarket (presumably Santa delivered all their food when they had young children), others will be saying ”Why doesn’t she smack that child?”, while others will be saying: ”He threatened to smack him – that’s the problem.”
The only thing they agree on is that ”parents should take more responsibility”. This phrase has been heard ad nauseum in response to the Australian proposal to ban junk-food advertising on early-evening TV.
”Parents are the bosses, they should just control what their children eat.” Some, with stomach-turning smugness, even say, with a trill of laughter: ”It’s not that hard to say no. You are bigger than them!!!” (Even when spoken, this phrase comes with multiple explanation marks, each one a wagging finger.)
Of course, in truth, parents do say ”no” all the time. That’s why that toddler is on the ground at the supermarket in the first place.
The better question is this: should ”the tribe” try to help people be better parents, or should ”the tribe” do all it can to make parenting more difficult?
At the moment, we sternly tell parents they must fight the obesity epidemic by insisting their children eat properly.
Then, at the same time, we spend millions trying to convince those same children that eating fast food is fun and they should fight their parents over every healthy food decision.
Really, you couldn’t design a better technique if your aim was to turn parenting into a military obstacle course.
Why do we want to hinder people instead of help them? Isn’t it in all our interests for good parenting to be made easier and not more difficult?
On the other hand, the system we have now gives people the chance to tut-tut about young parents. And since it affords them such immense pleasure …
Richard Glover is the author of 12 books, most recently Why Men are Necessary and More News from Nowhere, a collection of his comic pieces for radio’s Thank God It’s Friday. He is also author of The Mud House, the story of building a house in the middle of nowhere with no power tools.
His book Desperate Husbandshas been a best-seller in Australia and is published in translation in Italy and Poland and he’s also written two short novels for children – The Dirt Experiment and The Joke Trap.
Click on any of the links to buy Richard’s books. You wont be disappointed.