I am judged constantly on my parenting. Part of it is because I’m a new mom, part of it is because I am parenting transracially, and part of it is because I have an entire bureacracy monitoring most decisions I make. While on the one hand, it is exhausting, I have become much more aware of how my parenting styles affect others.
For example, I constantly feel as though I am being watched. And, when I look up (usually on the bus), it seems like there are always at least two people staring at my TA and I wistfully. At other times, such as when her hair is not at its prettiest, I will look around to see stern faces eyeing me and my daughter. I know what they are thinking, and I am careful to have my daughter look her best when we are out and about.
Something happened yesterday, though, that made me wonder about my own judgements of parents. TA and I were on our way to see about some baby music classes, and a woman and her (approximately) three or four year old son were waiting at the bus stop. TA did her best to engage the boy, and the mother and I laughed at her antics.
Then, on the bus, the boy started pointing at me and saying, “You have a big fat stomach. You have a big, fat, ugly stomach.” The mother told him that she used to have a big fat stomach, when she was pregnant with him. The boy thought about this for a moment, and then continued pointing at me and chanting, “You have a big fat stomach. You have a big, fat, ugly stomach.” The mother did nothing to encourage kind behavior or limit his meanness (and let’s face it, for a fourish year old, that is pretty effing mean, and let’s not even go into what it says about his respect for adults or what kinds of prejudice he hears in his home).
I could have done any one of a number of things. I waited for the mother to explain that 1) it is rude to point and 2) the behavior was mean and unacceptable. She did not do either of these, just looked at me and smiled one of those, “Kids say the darndest things,” smiles. I considered moving, but then was all, I’m going to be bullied by a four year old? I thought long and hard for several minutes, while the boy continued his pointing and chanting. Everyone on the bus who could see and hear him was tense, wondering how the heck this would end. I felt a little badly for them, because it was pretty uncomfortable and… ugly. That’s the only way I can describe it: Ugly. Not so much the boy’s behavior, but the mother’s condoning, and implicitly encouraging, said meanness.
I thought carefully about how I could handle the situation, and what I would do if my TA behaved in the same manner. One of my parenting fears is that my child will grow up to be selfish and unkind. Sitting on that bus, I told myself that I had to be gentle when/if I responded. I had to be kind because my upset was not so much caused by the boy as it was seeing a behavior – unkindness, lack of compassion, cruelty to another sentient being - that I fear TA will one day display. (And lets be honest – American society almost demands lack of compassion to “succeed” in life.) I waited some more for the mother to correct her son, and when it became clear that her only response would be to conflate a pregnant belly and a fat one, I parented her son for her.
In a calm, quiet, even voice, I said: You owe me an apology. You are being mean to me. It is rude and mean to point, and I don’t like it that you called my stomach big, fat and ugly. You hurt my feelings. You owe me an apology because you are being mean and rude and you hurt my feelings.
The mother looked simulaneously mortified and offended. The boy apologized. I wasn’t surprised that they got off at the next stop, but I was surprised that the mother told me to have a nice day.
And that was the end of it.
Except I can’t stop rehashing the events. Was I wrong to correct the boy? Was I being judgmental of his mother? Was my voice calm enough? Should I have just moved seats? I don’t know, and I’ve been rethinking my response over and over and over again. My words were not random; I rehearsed them in my mind for at least two blocks (mind you, while this kid pointed and chanted at me). My tone and voice were also not random; I said a little hello to TA before I spoke to the boy, to make sure my voice didn’t go all nutso on me. I used “I” statements. I told him my expectation and I told him what he did that was wrong and why the behavior was unacceptable. I made him aware of how his behavior affected me. I did not attack him… or did I?
Did I go too far when I said he was being mean and rude? I admit, that line came straight out of Supernanny, you know, when she puts the offending child in the naughty chair. Still, it came dangerously close to a personal attack in my view. On the other hand, should TA ever say anything like that, I would have no problem telling her that she was being mean and rude. So…….. where does it end? I admit I’m in a spin cycle of paralysis by analysis right now. Which, I guess, is why I’m posting this. I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this incident, and on the idea of how to raise a child to be compassionate and kind. If you had been in that situation, what would you have done? How would you have handled it differently? What if it were your child that had behaved similarly? And how do you raise a child to NOT hold prejudices that are socially acceptable (like fat prejudice)?