This is not a post about whether or not it's okay to spank your child. This is about the attitudes about how children should behave in public and the perception that poor parenting is always to blame when a child isn't exhibiting perfect behavior.
I've made no secret of the fact the kiddo has a couple of developmental delays, one of which is a speech delay. He's always been an incredibly bright, happy, and well behaved child, but no child is ever perfect 100% of the time, and when he was a toddler and unable to effectively communicate his desires and needs, there were moments when he would become so frustrated with his inability to make us understand that he would tantrum. Sometimes these tantrums happened when we were out in public and there would be much screaming and crying and occasionally flailing as I tried to keep him from running away from me.
One day, after a long day on a family outing, exhaustion combined with a lack of positive reinforcement caught up with the kiddo (then three years old) while we were in the middle of Best Buy. The catalyst was that he wanted something and we failed to understand him. Unwilling to play the "Show me what you want" game, he had a meltdown right there in the middle of the family portion of the DVD section. Naturally this meant I could almost hear several dozen necks creaking as other customers slowly turned to stare at the Terrible Mother and Bratty Child who had dared to spoil their evening of milling around a public place. Per usual, the responsibility for getting the kiddo to calm down and use his words fell to me because, well, I'm mommy and had previous experience with this sort of thing prior to becoming a parent. (Any trace of bitterness directed toward my ex is not exactly imagined.)
It didn't take long for me to realize that the kiddo was way overstimulated and not going to calm down until he was completely removed from the situation and allowed several minutes to cool off. I'd been down this road plenty of times, though not always in public (minus an incident at an IHOP) and knew that I was going to have to carry him out the door whether he cooperated or not. On the way out the door some "enlightened" individual snidely remarked, "Well somebody
needs a spanking!"
Had I not had my arms wrapped around a squirling and wailing child, said individual would have gotten an earful with regard to context and how hard it is to raise a child in this world without asshats regularly making commentary about what they think is wrong with either your child, your parenting, or both. Instead, I walked away to four years later bring it up again after reading through comments on a Shakesville post
regarding CNN's LZ Granderson's most recent column yet again shaming parents (mostly mothers) for failing to properly
beat their children into submission
control their children in public spaces. And as with all pieces I've seen in this vein, there is never any sort of understanding that some children can't help but lose control, that parents can't always maintain absolute control of a situation, or that sometimes kids are, well, kids
and act accordingly and none of this is necessarily a reflection of a parent's inability to rear a child. Never is any consideration given to children with social and/or developmental disorders. Never is there any consideration for the fact that the other 99% of the time the child is otherwise well behaved and is just having a bad day. No one ever considers that the only way for a child to learn how to behave in public is to, get this, actually get out in public
. No, the child is always a selfish brat and the parent (again, usually the mother) is entirely too permissive and never sets any boundaries.
I'm not exactly a stranger to spanking, but in the situation I described spanking would have only served to increase the kiddo's already-high anxiety. Even worse, it would further confuse a child whose biggest crime was lacking the proper tools to express his anger and frustration in an appropriate manner. And when I'm already feeling embarrassed, when I already see several pairs of eyes on me and hearing the mumbled, "What's wrong
with that kid?" the last thing that helps is a suggestion that I must physically punish my child for something he has little control over.
Look, I've been the adult in a restaurant where someone's kid decides now is a good opportunity to show mommy and daddy they have a well developed set of lungs. And I'm not saying that there aren't places where you should reasonably expect to be child-free (ask me about the time I was at an R-rated horror movie with a three-year-old in the audience). Those times are frustrating and perhaps real examples of bad parenting choices, but context is always important. That child throwing himself to the floor and kicking and yelling might have never done that before and the parent is as bewildered as you are annoyed, perhaps even more. And I assure you, that parent is absolutely embarrassed and wishing she or he could crawl into a hole and emerge twenty years later after the child has been through college and has children of his own.
In public places where families and children go to, kids are going to have moments when they're more like devils than angels. Adults have them too, but we allow them the excuse of having bad days or [Insert Noun Here] Rage of one sort or another. And sometimes that child and parent are navigating over communication hurdles most people never have to worry about. Sometimes that child is actually terrified, confused, and lost, or might not even know what they feel and only know that it's scary and please won't somebody help them? One bad moment is not necessarily a reflection of an entire life.
Empathy, how does it work?