A boy was climbing on top of a structure in the Museum. His father was telling the boy to get down, as it was not meant for climbing. The father looked as though he was about to follow through by physically helping the boy to get down, when my family walked into the room. Suddenly, this father seemed to become unsure of his parenting choices. He now had an audience. Having another parent watching him made him stop in his tracks. Instead of following through with his original assertion that his son come down, he instead mumbled something along the lines of “well… just be careful up there”.
Part of me wanted to go up to the dad and say “Hey, I’m behind you 100%. Go right ahead and follow through with what you were doing. If he melts down, I promise not to judge. We’ve all been there.” I didn’t, but I kind of wish I had. I wanted to give this dad permission to continue to be the good parent he was, and to apologize for breaking his flow.
Although it is possible that the father suddenly had a change of heart about the safety of his son or the rules of being in a Museum, it is more likely that he decided not to follow through with his child in this moment because he feared judgement, and didn’t want to have a “scene” with his son. Having an audience can make even the most confident of parents doubt their parenting choices.
I see this happen frequently, and have definitely had my own moments when I adapted my own parenting style to better match the expectations of others in a public setting. Parents can fear the judgement of other parents so much that we feel pressured to adopt a completely different set of rules in front of others in order to avoid a confrontation and hide the fact that our child or family is not perfect.
This can send really confusing messages to our children when we switch gears half way through a problem that we are working through with our child. Consistency is one of the best gifts we can give to our children, even when it means feeling embarrassed, ashamed, or anxious in front of others. When we parent according to who is watching instead of who we are raising, we are essentially putting the opinion of other parents ahead of our own child’s needs.
Being a parent means being vulnerable. Being laid open to criticism and commentary by well-meaning strangers. Being open to judgement from others who are covering up their own wounds and insecurities by pointing out our mistakes and differences. It’s incredibly brave work to be an authentic parent, and it can be hard to do what we know is right for our own child, when we are surrounded by those with different beliefs or values.
The good news is that there truly is no such thing as a perfect parent, despite what we might assume based on polished social media posts. The discomfort that we feel now as we struggle to parent authentically under the lens of judgement from others will be rewarded with a generation who will know how to stand up for the things they believe in, and who will live fully because they were parented with consistency and fairness.