I posted a moan on Facebook last week, after a local Mum swore loudly at a bus driver in front of her toddler (and mine). I didn’t ‘name and shame’, but I accept that this was judgmental of me.
I’m still struggling with the potty-mouthed parent, though. I make plenty of mistakes as a Mum, but a real pet hate of mine is parents arguing or ranting to a friend using all kinds of colourful language while their child is with them. I just can’t stand it! It’s disrespectful to others around you, but above all these parents must either assume their children are temporarily deaf, or simply not care if their child picks up this language (and attitude). There’s plenty more I could say on the topic of arguing in front of children in general, but not today…!
Our fear of being judged as parents has increased recently. Several years ago, the stakes just weren’t this high. Last Tuesday, for example, you could have driven past me and the boys and taken an awful photograph. It would have shown a terrible Mum feeding her children unhealthy food whilst dragging the younger child along the pavement. The reality was that I was in a rush for a bus to get them to their childminder and head to work myself, this was their one unhealthy lunch of the week, I couldn’t hold Toby’s hand as he thought it was hilarious to hide them in his sleeves, and I had sound equipment in my bag so couldn’t carry him.
My point is, had someone shared an image of this exact moment out of context, I could easily have been condemned all over social media and branded an awful Mum. The stakes are high as anyone can go viral or be judged in an instant.
Is this fear of being embarrassed or Mum-shamed raising our defences too high? If it takes a village to raise a child, how are our children going to grow up to be well-rounded individuals if everyone is too frightened of our snappy comebacks to bother trying to influence the next generation?
I certainly didn’t contribute anything positive to the bus situation for the child involved. I avoided eye contact with the mother in question, and counted down the stops until I could get Toby off the bus. The atmosphere was awful, but nobody made a comment.
The mother didn’t swear due to an emergency, or in sudden distress. She asked the bus driver to wait (indefinitely) as she had left her keys at home. The bus driver politely declined, as the bus was already running late and the next one would be along soon anyway. The mum proceeded to shout abuse, then spotted her boyfriend approaching with her keys and turned the abuse to him. She eventually boarded and was quite unpleasant to everyone around.
I realise that I may appear to be making a mountain out of a molehill, but it made me think of some lyrics I adore (Sondheim/Lapine): “Careful the things you say; children will listen. Careful the things you do; children will see, and learn.” I just can’t imagine that this situation is a one-off, like the alleged arm-drag snapshot. If you’re casually aggressive and shout profanities at a bus driver and partner in the space of 30 seconds, I’m not sure you’re worrying quite enough about the environment your child is growing in.
In short, we can’t expect children to behave respectfully if we don’t model this behaviour. We can’t condemn foul language if we use it in front of them. It all seems straightforward, but I know too well how difficult it can be to consistently put into practise.
I’m an awful worrier. Ironically, my biggest worry is that this social anxiety will pass on to my children, and I’m sure it’s subconsciously happening despite my best efforts. As I say, I’m far from a perfect Mum.
But I worry enough about getting it all right that I wouldn’t explode if someone offered advice or support for my children. I may act against advise after weighing it up, but I would still appreciate the thought. I’m lucky enough to have a great family, friends and extended family of students.
Some of my singers offer advice. Others make positive comments about my children. Some interact with my boys fantastically. Others take the time to source or create thoughtful gifts for them. They are a huge part of my ‘village’, and I’m confident that at least one of them would step in if things didn’t seem right.
I suppose I feel embarrassed that I ‘Mum-shamed’, even if it was kept anonymous. I feel ashamed that I didn’t feel able to do anything to improve the situation for the child who looked like this was the absolute norm for them. I feel silly that I’ve overreacted and spent so much time thinking about this incident whilst the other people involved have probably forgotten the whole thing. I feel sad that advice and help are probably not offered to parents for fear of ugly comebacks, accusations or general abuse.
If it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps we all need to accept more criticism, seek more help and offer more support rather than making quick judgments and carrying on with our day.