Thursday, July 30, 2009

Double standards of discipline

One of the more prominent fears I had when raising my tantruming toddler was The Public Tantrum - the one in the grocery store that made customer's heads turn and stare, piercing me to the depths of my soul.

The judgmental stare. That's what I was afraid of.

Most mothers do the best they can to raise their children to be model citizens and decent human beings. Our society is very judgmental towards parents and their ability to control their children in public. I often hear bits of conversation around town about how moms need to whip their kids into shape and not be the doormat their children are turning them into. I actually hear this point of view much more than hearing about parents being too hard on their kids. "Spare the rod, spoil the child".

I'm a pretty strict mom that has high expectations of my kids. My older son is only three and a half, but I expect him to follow direction, to not talk back, to clean up after himself and do the age-appropriate chores he is given. I try to teach him independence and how to handle responsibility. I try to teach him to not only respect me and his Dad, but others around him. I'm not one to give up or fold in teaching these lessons either.

In raising a three and a half year old, I have dealt with my fair share of public tantrums. I've left full carts of groceries to walk out of the store due to meltdowns and I've taken him by the hand to sit on time-out in front of the store until he had calmed down. I've been stopped by both store employees and customers thanking me for disciplining my son and teaching him about good public behavior. I got over my fear of public judgment when dealing with tantrums because I knew I was doing what was best for my son and our family.

That is, until recently.

Our last weekly grocery shopping trip was a challenge. The Preschooler was having a bad day and he had the behavior to go along with it. He was ignoring requests to sit in the cart with his brother or to stay close if he chose to walk. Rather, he decided to do his own thing and get in the way of other shoppers. After a full shopping trip of constant reprimanding, I was worn out - physically and mentally. We stopped for lunch while my husband grabbed a last minute item.

While in line, The Preschooler was up to his usual defiant antics - not listening to my requests of staying close by, being the annoying kid running around and not being aware of those around him. After narrowly getting run over by an old lady and her shopping cart, I quickly grabbed him by the arm, pulled him in towards me with The Baby on my other side and scolded him for not listening and getting in the way of others. The old lady sweetly told me not to get him into trouble, to which I explained "Yes, he would be in trouble for not listening all day".

And then it happened. The glaring judgmental stares. Everyone around me had the look of disbelief on their faces as if I had just pulled out the wooden spoon from my back pocket to whack my disobedient son on is bare bottom.

"Oh, he's fine. There's no reason for him to get into trouble", the old lady requested again.

"But he's little! How old is he?", the cashier asked.

"He's almost four. He's going to start preschool. He's old enough to follow direction and behave appropriately in public", I defended myself.

An uneasy silence filled the line of customers and employees, with everyone shifting uncomfortably. I felt sick to my stomach. Was I really being judged for disciplining my child in public? Did everyone really feel that I overreacted in scolding him for getting in the way of shoppers? All I did was give him a stern talking to with a firm grip on his arm, he did not get spanked even though I felt like strangling him right at that very moment. I felt myself burn red, feeling vilified for my choice.

I paid for our meal and my husband conveniently joined us at the table. I couldn't eat, I was still irritated. The Preschooler was picking at his meal and dropping it on the floor. "That's it. I'm done. We're out of here," I said in exasperation. We packed up our lunch and drove home in silence, my husband unaware of the upsetting event that had just occurred.

That evening I felt the sting of the double standards of public discipline. Parenting is hard enough as it is without comments and judgment from the peanut gallery. When confronted about disciplining choices, it's no wonder why some parents just let their kids scream in the stores. Now that many days have gone by and time has healed that wound, I will never judge another parent on public discipline (or not disciplining) again.


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