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Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Perils of Public Perception


It may surprise you, that despite the fact that I write a weekly parenting column, I tend to keep my parenting opinions to myself. It's easier to make and keep friends that way as I sometimes get the feeling moms avoid hanging with me fearing I’ll judge their parenting style. I try to stick with critiquing my own children or myself. 

It's safer that way.
 
In any case, I was recently asked to give my advice on how to make a toddler sit still. Knowing full well that two and three year olds inherently fidget, I asked the mother what her expectations were for her child. Mom reported that her son sits for a couple of books and songs at library story time but wished he would be still for the entire presentation.
 
Immediately I thought, perhaps the stories are boring, or age inappropriate or maybe he had gas. I mean there are any number of reasons a child gets antsy, none of which are necessarily wrong.
 I encouraged her that it sounded as if her wee one was behaving appropriately for his age and that she shouldn't worry. I predicted that as he gets older he will sit longer and that until then to keep attending activities that give him opportunity to practice participating.
 
Mom agreed with me except that she expressed concern about what the other mothers would think of her son's subpar sitting skills.
 
In other words, she was tempted to alter her parenting style based, not on her gut instinct, but instead on the perceptions of others.
 
This is a common trap, one that I admit falling victim to the entire first three years of my twins' lives. 
 
I was determined, with five children under the age of eight years, that I would look like I knew what I was doing. Never would anyone have a reason to look at me with pity and suggest I had let myself go, or I was in over my head. I knew I was outnumbered but I worked feverishly at making sure I never looked out of control.
 
What a grave disservice we do to our families when we care more about how we look as a parent than how we really are. How sad when I think back to those days when I refused to ask for help for fear of looking weak. How ignorant of me to pretend to be well rested when really I needed someone to give me a break.
 
Did all this pretending help my kids? Did it even help me? No! I was too busy putting my energy into how I was perceived instead of focusing on what really needed to be done.
 
Insert screeching halt. That, my friends, was an enormous problem.
 
I wish we lived in a society where we all could be free from the worry of judgment, but that is an unrealistic desire. For as long as people walk the earth judgment will be alive.
 
I suggest that perhaps, instead of engaging the fear of perception, we should do what we think is best and right. What if a mother followed her gut instinct and common sense about what her child needs instead of considering public opinion? Perhaps we would take the power away from others and thus their opinions would have no validation in our lives.
 
It is tough to be a mom. It is even tougher to be a mom out in public. I know first hand. As someone who has spent her fair share of time worrying about judgment, I now vow to do my best to live a life of grace. I wish more people knew that about me. Perhaps then the mommies wouldn't avoid me when they see me coming. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so. That's why!

Stephanie, a local parent educator, is a mother to five children all of which are sadly, currently too old to participate in story hour at the library. Questions or comments can be directed to ssikorski@mr238.org

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