Every so often, I use these few inches of white space to make a confession. Sometimes, the confessions are unexpected. Sometimes not. Sometimes they’re a little unorthodox. And sometimes they’re meant to be nothing more than funny. With this one, though, I’m not sure it falls into one specific category. This one, I think, may have some overlap. Guess you’ll just have to decide for yourself.
Here goes …
I confess that I find it absolutely mesmerizing (even entertaining) to watch someone else’s kid have a meltdown. And I’m not even the least bit ashamed of it. (Well, maybe a skootch, but not enough to matter.)
Now I know, your gut reaction is that I’m a monster. You think I must be twisted to find any sort of entertainment value in watching someone else’s kid lose it in an elevator or in a restaurant or at a hotel pool. Or do you?
Maybe, just maybe, you feel exactly the way I do when you’re in the same situation. In fact, I’ll bet you$50 … no, $100, that you do. Because every mom and dad out there belongs to “The Parent Club,” which means we all feel each other’s pain and joy and insanity very acutely. It’s like our kids are our membership cards and they enable us to commiserate with each other about everything we go through as parents. Which is why most parents feel a bizarre kind of kinship when another parent’s kid is flailing on the floor. Because we’ve been there too, so we get it.
We’ve all felt the pain and the mortification and the intense stares when our kid is the one throwing a fit over Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Or because they just weren’t ready to leave yet. Or because they don’t wanna take a nap. Or tie their shoes. Or stop punching their sister in the head.
Every one of us out there raising kids has been that mom or that dad of the kid flipping the nutty in the checkout aisle at Target. We’ve also been that couple trying to enjoy a peaceful, quiet dinner while the kid in the adjacent booth is drop-kicking the back of our seat because they wanted mac and cheese.
And I don’t know about you, but watching another parent’s kid freak out is a learning experience. It’s actually one of the best ways to evaluate ourselves as parents. I mean think about it, if you’re rubbernecking someone else’s kid’s tantrum, then you can watch how they handle the situation, and that’s going to make you feel either really good or really bad about your own parenting skills.
Like just the other night, Dave and I were out grabbing a few things at the market when we saw this little boy literally wailing on his mom from inside the carriage. He was smacking her in the arm and taking swings at her head, ranting about I don’t know what. And the mom just kept reading her grocery list. Never said a word. Instead, she just let him wail and took two simple steps backwards so her son couldn’t land anymore punches. And I was dumbfounded — partly because I would’ve explained to my son why his behavior was so not ok, and partly because I thought it was pure genius of that mom to simply move out of range. Problem solved.
I don’t know, maybe it’s because we’re not expected to do anything about someone else’s kid when they’re melting down that I consider it such a unique perspective. In an odd way, watching another mom deal with her kid is kind of educational because it gives me the ability to see how she parents her kid against how I’d parent mine in the same situation. And that can be an incredible eye-opener.
Because dealing with kids when they’re freaking out is an art form that takes an enormous amount of skill and patience and creativity. And some of us are way better at it than others. Some of us are just born with a good set of natural parenting instincts that allow us to diffuse situations the majority of the time. While others just react … and not always well.
Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve gleaned plenty of useful parenting techniques from watching other parents handle tricky kid situations. Things like tone of voice and types of consequences and behavior modification. And I’ve rejected just as many that were complete failures, like screaming in a kid’s face or grabbing their arm or not doing anything at all. You know, stuff that made me feel like “Mom of The Year” for never doing them.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that it isn’t human nature to see someone else’s kid behaving badly and feel a little better about our own kid. Or see another parent over-react and flip out on their son and feel better about our own parenting skills. Cause those reactions are normal. It’s just who we are and how we think as parents.
And yeah, it might be ever-so-slightly shameful to have those thoughts, but it’s the reality of living in a world with so many different types of kids and just as many types of parents. Everyone’s curious about how everyone else does the job.
If nothing else, watching another parent’s kid lose it is validation that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes it takes seeing someone else’s sh*t show to realize that our own sh*t show is pretty damn good.
— Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety: 18 Myths That Have You in Knots — And How to Get Free available on Amazon.com and at select bookstores.