Saturday, 27 September 2014

Dear 'Mum Sticking To Your Guns', it's Okay to Change Your Mind

Be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult,
whose good opinion and affection you valued - John Holt

Dear Mum in McDonalds last night, whose daughter was crying so hard and for so long she could hardly catch her breath,

I'm not even going to look in detail at the idea that you throwing your daughter's Happy Meal toy in the bin, because she didn't finish her dinner, will teach her anything good, anything that you want her to learn. 

I'm going to assume instead that you started off feeling like you were doing that right thing. Maybe angry, feeling that a couple of chicken nuggets in the bin were wasted money. Maybe frustrated that your special evening out with your girl hadn't gone quite as imagined. You maybe put your foot down, gave an ultimatum that if she didn't do what you wanted, well then you were going to throw that coveted toy in the bin. And then... it didn't work, and you're there with an ultimatum hanging in the air, a stated course of action where you're in control, a statement that you're absolutely sure every single person in the restaurant and maybe some outside the open window heard. And you're sure in your mind that they're all expecting you to continue put your foot down. Follow through. Show you're not one of those permissive parents.

I've been there. I've felt the perceived pressure of all around as they stop living their own lives and nothing matters more to them than whether you're going to Follow Through and be a Good Parent. (Really, they're just eating their burger and wondering if they've got time for a McFlurry, if that helps at all.)

So you throw the toy in the bin. You must put your foot down. You must follow through. People are watching. You must be a Good Parent. Your tiny daughter screams as though the world is ending. Which, to her, it is. She's three. Do you remember being a child? Things that often lose their sparkle when we're adults, are of the utmost importance when you're little. Ladybirds on your finger. Drawing in yoghurt with your hands. Getting to sit in the front seat. The excitement of that surprise toy that you might save or swap or collect, or have as a little memory of a fun night out with your mummy.

Your heart jumps into your throat for a moment when you see how upset she is. But you must put your foot down. You must follow through. People are watching. You must be a Good Parent. You repeat to her that the next time you come, she will know to eat all her food, and then she will get to keep her toy that time. You repeat it louder each time so people know you're doing this For Her Own Good. You're being a Good Parent. So you state it louder each time.

On the way to the toilet five minutes later, as your tiny daughter continues to sob uncontrollably and struggles to catch her breath, you state it again.

In the toilet, as she cries and begs so hard she's almost sick, you state it again. And again. Hopefully no one will think you would back down. They will all know you're a Good Parent, who doesn't let a child Get Her Own Way (a cardinal sin, in the books of those who might be judging.)

She cries on the way back through the restaurant, pleading, begging for this little thing that's so important to her. You feel everyone watching, waiting to see whether you'll back down and let her Get Her Own Way. So you Put Your Foot Down again. And again. And eventually the sound of her sobs fades to us.

I want to tell you that it's okay to change your mind. It's okay to make a different choice, even if you've started off in a different way. Do you know what? The other people there might well be passing judgement, thinking 'kids these days' or whatever. There's another person there judging your actions too. Your daughter.

Once I realised that I valued the opinion of the people who are my children WAY more than any random person who might be judging my actions in whatever way, it was easier to make a better choice *even when I'd started off making a poorer one*. 

If any of my children get upset, it's not a 'tantrum', or a 'paddy', or 'kicking off'. It's communication. It's a person I love feeling powerless and needing my help. 

If I actually don't have control over the outcome - if the play area is closing, if I actually don't have enough money to buy the giant Lego set from the advert today, if the ice cream van isn't coming round again until tomorrow - I can commiserate, empathise, help them come up with other options. I can be on their side. I can help them deal with disappointment.

If I do have power to help - to say yes to  staying at the park longer, to dying their hair blue, or to retrieving or replacing that toy of utmost importance to them - then I can do that. I can help make their lives joyful and abundant, *even if* my initial reply was a knee jerk, un-thought- out 'no'.

In either case, I can now ignore the (real or perceived) opinions of random people who happen to be within earshot of a conversation between me and those I love. Instead I can choose to listen to the person I love, this little person who needs my help, and who will, consciously or not, assimilate my behaviour/response into their picture of whether they can trust me, whether I'm on their side, and will refer to that in the future in situations where it matters even more. 

And if I start off on the wrong foot, the good regard of these little people is the best reason in the world to change my mind, 'back down', make a better choice, and if necessary (I hope not, but we're all fallible), go and buy a new Happy Meal toy and say sorry.  They're the only people whose opinion I care about regarding whether I'm a Good Parent. Time will tell. And making the better choice will help. Making choices, or following through with them, based on the imagined principles of unknown people in the street will not.

1 comment:

  1. A very powerful post, thank you. It's good to be reminded that our own children are far more important than the opinions of others.