I remember the first time I caught myself doing it.
My firstborn was a toddler, barely a year. I was at the post office with her near Christmas, waiting in the holiday lines to send a package. I don’t remember what she did exactly, but it required correction. I squatted down on her level, acutely aware of anyone in my peripheral vision who might be discreetly watching me parent, and explained what I needed her to do and why, just a *little* too loudly, in terms far above a 13-month-old’s grasp.
That was the beginning of justifying my parenting in public.
Raising kids brings up ALL my insecurities and magnifies them, so when I’m out around other people, I’m naturally very conscious of what my kids are doing, how I’m responding, and how I might be coming across to people within earshot.
Misbehavior is always the worst, obviously. Online parent-shaming is sort of a national hobby. I’ve read posts with titles like “How to Discipline Positively,” “How NOT to Discipline your Child,” and (my favorite) “Seven Reasons It’s Your Fault Your Kid is a Brat.” Everyone has an opinion and has read dozens of blog posts to support it as the best and only way to go. When my child misbehaves, the consensus seems to be it’s my fault: if I were more effective, she wouldn’t be acting out. Maybe she needs more discipline. Maybe she needs more love. Maybe I should cut out dairy and gluten. Whatever it is, her naughtiness is a problem rooted in my lousy mothering. So I’m already in the hole, at least a little. But NOW I have to respond to it, and that’s where my specific mothering style feels especially scrutinized.
So I do things as I should. Calm. Kind. Compassionate. All explained about 20% louder than necessary with about three times as many words as my kids need, just in case someone nearby doesn’t understand I’M MAKING THE RIGHT DECISION HERE, AND THIS IS WHY.
Fast forward 5 1/2 years. I’m running around with a total of four now. When we leave the house for any reason, I count myself lucky if I’m correcting *only* one kid at any given moment. Here’s what I’ve learned about disciplining in public:
Just kidding; that’s a lie. My kids totally care. They would love for me to parent differently in public. Today at Sam’s Club, that same first born (now 6 1/2 and apparently the self-appointed spokeswoman) told me, “How about this… We’ll start obeying ONLY IF you get us ice cream.” Um… no.
But the cashier? The person in line behind me? The lady browsing the shelf over there? They don’t care. Or if they do, they don’t get a say. I’m busy raising four little people WHILE SHOPPING, so imagining judgment from the people around me and responding to said perceived judgment is a poor use of my mental resources.
Here’s the bottom line: some people—not all, or even many, but some—judge parents they don’t know. There’s not much I can do about that, but I don’t have to let them be the boss of me. I don’t need to appease Ms. Judgypants by guessing how she might want me to parent in this moment, then doing it while explaining; my responsibility is to my family and to God. She can gasp or roll her eyes or clutch her pearls. Shoot, she can even tell me about it (my stock response to random parenting tips is “Okay, thanks” and carry on) but she doesn’t get a say.
My kids need me to be consistent, but the shoppers in the produce department don’t really *need* anything from me. I’m still doing my best to be kind, consistent, and compassionate in discipline, not to appease strangers, but because that’s how kids learn to be people. My desire to have my parenting understood and approved by every bystander was…insane. Also, counterproductive. The littles can tell when I’m putting on a show (the too-loud voice and the deluge of words are a dead giveaway) and they don’t take me seriously. I’m learning to parent as I normally want to, possibly *quieter* rather than louder, and ignore the others. This makes them more receptive and focuses me on my actual job rather than my insecurities.
It’s still lame when my kids misbehave in public (duh), but letting go of the pressure I imagine from strangers makes it much simpler.
Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and mama to four babies six and down. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps hiding in her bathroom with some coffee.