Thursday, September 22, 2016

Don't be this kind of parent

The file is now closed.
We have, with our youngest's college graduation and move to Boston, now launched four successful adults. All have careers and benefit plans, all still like to come for dinner and go shopping, and I'm feeling good about the mom in the mirror. 

I'm tempted to offer pages from the "worked for us" file, but the "don't do this" file is probably more useful.Some scraps of backstory: 
Remember when Rex, the insecure dinosaur in Toy Story made this comment after trying to scare Woody:

"I'm going for fearsome, but I think I'm just coming off as annoying?"  Put that aside.
Remember the "Cincinnati Zoo Mother" story this summer about the woman who turned away long enough for her toddler to fall into a gorilla enclosure? And, that the gorilla was shot before he could harm the boy? 
It was a sorry and sad thing, and even before the internet blew up over this woman's "neglect" you had to feel for her once you knew the reason for why it happened, which was because that's what accidents do, they happen. 
"It's not about the decision to put down the gorilla," said commenters, which don't get me started. "It's about the fact that the kid got away from the parents."  
Once, I let go of my small child's hand in a busy store and he bolted. I dropped the things I was holding and gave chase while he scrambled up a spiral staircase like a crab, and headed straight for the propped open door. A busy two way street was feet beyond the threshold. I quite literally tackled him before an oncoming car, then dissolved into tears to think of what almost happened.  
Before that happened, I was a good mother. After it happened, I was a good mother. But in today's viral video world, had things turned out differently and had I been filmed with my full arms as my little one wandered off, I would have been shredded by people who simply hadn't made the same mistake yet.   
When I was a young parent, I said things often to suggest that accidents happen to careless people. And I was not short on opinions where less conscientious, poor example-setting parents were concerned. I was vocal about parents who smoked in the car with their kids, or left their kids alone at young ages, or left them in cars to run in to the store, or partied too loud or too late while their young kids were home and listening. 
After that near disaster, I said things like that rarely. 
I bring this up, for two  reasons. First, because I think parents who judge other parents to put their own behaviors in a good light not only don't impress their kids, but wind up modeling  intolerance for their own cohort, a big no-no among kids as soon as they don't need play dates to make friends. 
Second, because very judgmental, intolerant parents run the risk of being the last people on earth their kids will turn to when (not if)  they mess up.  At this moment, many of our young adults are three weeks or so  into the later high school or early college years. With all that yummy freedom, 'tis the season to mess up, magnificently.
I wince to remember those sanctimonious remarks I made as a young parent, when I was going for this:

but probably coming off as this:
If I made a mistake, I would
not want to tell this
 woman about it.

An inexperienced parent wants to appear competent, of course. But I think, when the chance presents itself to judge others, it's a gift we can give our children to remind them that making mistakes is as much a part of life as bad storms and potholes. You get caught in one, but you tend to see the next one coming. 

And "earned" smarts last longer and are more useful than the "lucky" kind. 

Nobody knows what mistakes they haven't made yet, we only know that when they happen, we'll want to reminded by people we love that we're still the people we were before we messed up. 

That is a very good thing for our kids to see in the Mom and Dad mirror. 

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