When Parents Lose Their Cool: People Are Watching

| August 16, 2010 | Comments (5)

Parents lose their coolWe were on our annual family get-away in Southwest Michigan, visiting the Children’s Museum in St. Joseph when a dad behind me in line chased his two year old son toward the stack of t-shirts for sale yelling, “No!” He caught the little guy before he even reached the display, grabbed an arm, and gave him four or five swift spankings. I probably stared a bit too long. But, seriously?

It’s not that I’m surprised people are spanking their kids. (*Please* do not make this a platform for the “to spank or not to spank” debate.) Whether or not spanking is acceptable isn’t really the intention of this post. The intention is to focus on that moment in time: the dad’s role and my role. It’s that simple.

The thing that shocked me was the relatively small crime that resulted in a spanking and the blatant way the dad followed through with it. There was no guilty look over his shoulder to see who might have witnessed the interaction, no “kids can really make you crazy” nod at me when he was done, it was the most normal of public spankings one can imagine. However, for me, public and spanking just don’t seem to go together and in that instant I judged this man.

Granted he was entering a children’s museum with three young boys on an overcast day that was probably intended to be spent at the beach. The place was packed with disappointed, germ-freaked parents reacting with a little more stress than normal since their vacation was clouded over. So, I could give him the benefit that being there in the first place was cramping everyone’s style. And let’s imagine that this little boy had been a terror all morning, had already thrown a sippy cup full of milk across the room, knocked over a five foot display of t-shirts, and pushed his brother down the stairs and the poor dad reached his brink the moment I happened to look over and catch the monumental spanking. And maybe he was a single dad and was tired from staying up all night with the kids and had no one to lend a hand and their dog had just died or he lost his job or was recently diagnosed with a life threatening disease.

Pile every sympathetic situation on this guy. None of it changes the fact that in this one moment in time I took a look at this guy, judged him, and then continued to give him a sideways glance as we criss-crossed each other in the Children’s Museum. He probably doesn’t even remember it, but it will be the only thing I will ever know or remember about him.

Small moments in time when we’ve lost our cool or are tired and weary or just zoning out, when we might physically or verbally spank our children or just have to get one last tweet or text in… people are watching. And judging. I see it all the time: Summer in Chicago is ripe with parents overheated, overtired, and overextended as they try to fit every last activity into a blink and you’ll miss it summer.

I was wrong to judge that guy in what could have been a low point in his parenting career. I’m sure he’s an OK dad. If he had just shown a trace of regret or embarrassment I would have given him a pass.

I’m sure if I saw a slide show of my parenting low points, I’d see a ton of me staring at my cell phone or saying my son’s name in way too sharp of a voice or an giving an exasperated look. But, now I know the next step should be a sheepish look over my shoulder, otherwise someone may judge me for that moment of parenting, thinking I’m unaware.

Image courtesy of Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Category: Travel

About lisahannemaniac: Lisa is a the lone female in the house she shares north of the city with her talented husband, adorable preschooler and toddler boys, and attention-craving rescue dog. She's been pregnant for about four years, expecting her third child in October 2012. Admittedly not a mom pro yet, Lisa enjoys daily parenting blunders, works full time in fundraising, enjoys reading and cooking, focuses on healthy feeding, strives for green living, plans to start running again soon, and tries to maintain a social life. Check in on her life and her writings about her often nutty, always overbooked life at Hannemaniacs . View author profile.

Comments (5)

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  1. Lisa says:

    While, I have to agree that a two year old a minor offense and a spanking is simply too much, I also believe that there is way to much gult put on parents for being strict and thus otherwise well intentioned parents have been turned into push over for fear of being judged and are raising a generation of nasty kids. I get stares regularly for raising my voice at my kids but 1, as you mentioned no one has a clue what happened before we got there. But 2, yes I do occasionally lose my cool and over react but typically I am simply doing what I feel is needed to get my child to behave properly in a given situation and often my raised voice is because of a safety situation which doesn’t warrant the sugary sweet pleas I hear from parents WAY TOO OFTEN. I have pretty much taken the stance that people can judge me if they feel the need but they are often the same people who’s kids I have to tell my kids to stay away from because they’re rude! My job is to raise productive adults in our society not make a new best friend of my kids!

  2. Garima says:

    How true.. we tend to judge way too soon without realising it. And agreed, spanking and public dont go together and neither to spanking and kids… but I have come close to spanking myself at OMG…. Please dont do that! 😉

  3. Shari says:

    We judge parents who spank in public because if he’s willing to smack his child in public, what is he doing in private? It’s a consequence of our more open society where we hear all these stories of “happy in public” and “abusive in private” families.

    I was in a doctor’s office once when a father got on the floor and punched his son in the head because the child didn’t move quickly enough. I did say something to him because he was clearly out of line. I also told the doctor what happened. Sometimes you have to decide whether it seems like discipline or abuse.

    In my world, leaving your chair to punch your 7 or 8 year old son in the head was enough that I felt compelled to say something. My only regret was that I later wondered what the man did to the boy when they arrived home.

  4. Cindy Fey says:

    Hi Lisa! As a friend and a big fan of your writing, I have to respectfully disagree with one of your points. Your heart’s in the right place to give that guy the benefit of a doubt. I would guess he could care less if anyone judged him or not.

    Contrary to what I think you imply in your last sentence, I’m not going to be a better parent if I waste any time wondering “what will the neighbors think?” When I lose my patience, what my kids need is someone offering to help me, not shooting me disapproving looks.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  5. Dwana says:

    Great post!

    Playing devil’s advocate, there have been too many situations to count where I’ve judged the opposite – “that kid needs discipline now!” So MANY parents let their kids run WILD. Its despicable … and dangerous.

    I have on occasion said to unruly children, who are acting out while I’m trying to eat – or enjoy an outing – “You are behaving poorly” while the parent nods in agreement!

    I suppose we all need to return to “it takes a village” mentality so today’s kids don’t end up where I work – Cook County Criminal Court Building. I have queried many of my clientèle and many have never had a good talking to – let alone a good spanking.

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