Let’s stop the finger-pointing

Make love, not judgment

A couple of months back I posted a rant on my Facebook page about a run-in I had when out with a friend in Waitrose café.

We’d been sharing a proud mum moment while watching our two toddlers play together when an older gentleman (I use the term loosely) came over and gave us a delightful little lecture about how our kids were an embarrassment to society.

Those kids were playing peekaboo and practising little ballet moves. They were laughing and learning how to be friends.

The sort of thing that needs to be stamped out immediately, right?

I’m not quite quick-witted enough to think of clever responses in confrontational situations like that one. I spend ages mulling over conversations in my head and always think of brilliant things to say after they’re finished. Super useful.

My friend and I were so shocked by his ridiculous demands for silence that my blood started fizzing, which didn’t help my frantic search for the right words to stand up for our children and their right to be kids to this Victorian throwback.

Plenty of people saw what happened and were really supportive and kind – including some of the staff – but I still avoided Waitrose café for a few weeks. I’m pretty good at second-guessing my parenting decisions and abilities myself…I don’t need anyone to give me extra fuel for that fire, thanks.

I went back there one day recently and – gutted as I am to report this – a very similar thing happened.

It was late afternoon/witching hour/wine time and Xav was knackered. He’d also hurt his back at the playground and he was really whiney, clingy and nothing was helping snap him out of it. I tried everything. No amount of face-pulling/distraction/bribery was working. He just wanted mummy.

You know the feeling you get when someone’s watching you? There was an older couple (in their 60s, I reckon – though I am RUBBISH at guessing peoples’ ages so this could be either hugely insulting or a massive compliment to them) two tables away from us and they were talking in a too-loud-for-me-not-to-hear ‘whisper’ about how I needed to “get my son under control”.

Xav was crying out for cuddles, empathy and love from me. That’s what he was telling me he needed right then. My choice is to treat him respectfully and to try and understand the root cause of his behaviour. It’s not always an easy choice, but I believe that if I show my son respect and kindness, he will learn to be respectful and kind.

I didn’t jump down his throat the moment he made a noise in public. I didn’t choose to tell him he was being silly and to pull himself together and behave. Because it’s our prerogative as parents to deal with every situation we face every single day in the best way we can.

Obviously this couple had nothing better to do than to sit there and judge what an awful parent I am.

There’s a passage in Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that talks about assumptions we make. There’s a guy on a train with his brood of children who are annoying all the other passengers with their feral behaviour. Someone tells him he needs to sort them out, and the dad replies by saying that they’re on their way home from the hospital where their mother has just passed away so yes, they’re not perfect – but he’s going to let it go.

The bottom line: we can’t and shouldn’t ever assume anything or judge any situation that isn’t our own.

I want to make something clear. I’m not ageist and this is not a dig at older people. We’ve all experienced judgment from people of all ages (the crazy trolling of parents in the public eye is a sad example) and it’s everyone’s right to hold their own opinions.

Times have changed immeasurably, and across generations that’s not easy to understand or accept. I get that. But this harmful finger-pointing does nothing but spread insecurity, hostility and ill-feeling. In a world that’s full of that already, why add to it?

When I was a teenager my mum and dad had another baby and I remember clearly taking him out and getting loads of disgusted (and very obvious) looks and comments from people of my grandparents’ generation who assumed that my baby brother was my son. There was no thought, it seemed, to how that would make me feel. My mum’s advice to me was to politely let them know that he wasn’t, but that I would be proud if he was.

I vowed from that moment onwards that I would live my life remembering the way it felt to be judged so unjustly, and how it felt to be the subject of such spitefulness. I just wish so hard that other people could do the same.

I think my mum’s advice stands true whenever we receive any sort of judgment from others who think it’s ok to inflict their opinions and criticise people who are just trying to do the right thing by their kids.

Children should be seen, and they should be heard. And we have every right to be proud of the way we’re raising our children.

If the people in Waitrose don’t agree, that’s fine with me. I’m doing my best, and my son is to me – not to mention a hell of a lot of other people – an unlimited source of joy.

If they want to miss out on that, that’s their choice. But I won’t justify myself to them one more time. None of us should have to.

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