I’m going to let you in on a secret. Parenting is not something I feel I’m particularly good at.
Don’t get me wrong here, I definitely try to be a good parent. I adore my little gremlin, and I try hard to show him every day that I love him, to get him to eat well, to use his manners, to understand that hitting others (usually me) isn’t very nice.
That being said, there are definitely things I do as a parent that help me get through the day. One of those things is that I let my now two-year-old still use his dummy.
Many people are horrified by this fact, and I get told frequently that I shouldn’t be doing so.
Generally, I laugh at those comments and remind people that he’s fine with it for now. After all, he’s my child and I’m the one who has to deal with that choice in the end.
However, this story is about one such comment, that came so unexpectedly, in such an unseen way, that I was completely stunned into silence.
You know those days when you head to the supermarket with a tired child? Those days that are punctuated by tantrums (theirs, not yours, though sometimes it's a close run thing). We were having one of those days.
The gremlin had thrown a tantrum when we arrived at the supermarket, but calmed down after a time and was a generally lovely little boy. As we were leaving, I rewarded him for his good behaviour with a go on one of those kids' rides they have in big shopping centres.
All was well until it was time to head home. Dragging the once more kicking and screaming gremlin from the ride and putting him back into the trolley, I pulled out my trusty helper, his dummy. With it firmly in his mouth the crying ceased and we began making our way towards the exit.
It was at this point that my pretty standard shopping experience became something completely different.
Out of nowhere, an older woman approached us. She reached out, plucked the dummy out of my son's unsuspecting mouth and scolded me about how he doesn’t need it. She said I was a bad parent to give it to him.
We, both my gremlin and I, met this proclamation with stunned silence. Before I had so much as attempted to gather myself to respond, the woman walked off with his dummy in hand!
I’m not sure if it was the silence on my part or the need to belittle me further that had her turning back, but just as suddenly she was approaching me again and her scolding recommenced.
This time it was along the lines of ‘what kind of parent did you think you are to be using a dummy’ and ‘You should know better, it’s no wonder he screams’.
Eventually, she returned the dummy. My, perhaps petulant, response was to promptly place it right back in his mouth. (To be perfectly honest, this thought makes me cringe now for I surely should have disinfected it first, but it was very satisfying to see her face.)
What bothers me most is not that yet another person had the nerve to question my parenting.
No. What bothers me most is that the absolute shock of that situation stunned me into silence. What bothers me most is that a complete stranger actually had the nerve to get so close to my son as to take something from him without my permission and I didn't say a thing.
I pride myself for using my voice, for standing up for myself when I feel I need to do so, and this sudden silence, this sudden loss of agency, had me furious.
By the time I had gathered my wits enough to respond at all, the woman I was most angry at was gone. Instead, the person who dealt with the brunt of my rage was my beautiful husband, who I called immediately.
It was only then that my voice returned. It was only then that I proceeded to use every vile curse word I could think of to describe the woman who had so blatantly gone near our son. And then, because my anger had transferred itself from being furious at her to being furious at myself for not responding, I spent the next week venting about it to anyone who dared so much as look at me sideways – from friends and family, to colleagues.
That anger I felt towards myself for not responding, for being so shocked by the situation that I didn’t tell that woman to go fuck herself still sits inside me to this day, months later.
The anger comes out as questions now. Why do people feel the need to comment on the way those around them parent? Do they not remember how hard being a parent is? Have they never just done something just to get through? Or, if they’re not parents themselves, did they never learn that it wasn’t okay to be so rude?
People complain that the youth of today have no manners – I would argue that the adults of today are often far worse.
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