I’m absolutely certain that every parent, at one time or another, has asked the question above and perhaps many variations thereof: What do others think of my parenting? What do others think of my children’s behavior? What do others think of how I reacted to my children’s behavior?
Sometimes thinking about what others might think of our behavior regarding our children can be a positive thing. I often find myself striving to be more grace-filled and that my temper happens to be just a little less quick to show itself if someone else is watching me. If only I could pretend that another person was watching me all the time! Somehow, knowing that God can see me all the time doesn’t have the same effect which is a shame.
However, being concerned with what others may think about our parenting and about our children’s behavior, more specifically, can be extremely detrimental in other ways.
I honestly think that the biggest “risk” that gentle parents run is the “risk” of looking like “bad parents” to others. The risk of looking like our children are completely out of control or even *dun dun dun* SPOILED!
Now, first of all, I truly believe that if parents are judged at all, they should NOT be judged based on their children’s behavior, but on their responses to their children’s behavior. As Lucy already put it so well, we cannot ever hope to completely control our children’s behavior – they are not us – they are separate human beings. BUT, we can control our responses to their behavior. We can react with patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control. Yes, even when our children are being impatient, unkind, rough, and completely out-of-control, we can still control ourselves while removing our children from any bad situations to prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
We can let our responses be rooted in grace and in the understanding of our children’s developmental stage. We can seek to understand the process by which God created children to grow into adults so that we can help them along the way and teach them what they need to learn ways that they can understand.
The act of hitting children, by its very nature, ignores their developmental stage and doesn’t teach them anything about growing up or behaving properly. It teaches them that if they do X they can expect their parents – the people in their lives who ought to love and protect them the most – to physically hurt them.
Other punishments that are more related to the undesirable behavior can be more productive, but often they teach just as little as spanking does because they have no concrete connection to the behavior and young children are unable to think in the abstract yet. This is why the idea of “sharing” is so difficult – especially for toddlers and preschoolers. The concept of, “If you have it, it’s yours” tends to work better, in my experience, since they can actually understand the idea. They also can’t hold ALL the toys, nor can they have much fun while hoarding several in their arms at once.
There’s a huge problem with judging other parents based on their children’s behavior as well. Often when children are acting “spoiled” it’s because something not age-appropriate is being expected of them. For example, I attended a book group a few weeks ago. This group is for gentle and attached parents to come together and discuss parenting books and strategies to add to our parenting toolboxes. It’s a wonderful group!
Now, this particular meeting was very loud and it probably looked like we were the most permissive bunch of parents on the face of the planet, but the walking children present were 5, 3 (x2), and 1 (x2). It’s not age-appropriate to expect children of those ages to sit still and be quiet during an entire book meeting so we just worked around that fact because it’s much more important to us that it be a child-friendly event than that we get to discuss our book in relative silence.
One of the 3 year olds was being particularly exuberant that night, but her parents are certainly not permissive. I know them very well and they set quite reasonable limits. However, at some point during the meeting, their daughter reached her limit. Punishing her and expecting her to be quiet at 8pm at a meeting that held no interest for her wouldn’t have accomplished anything positive. Her parents would’ve gotten frustrated because she wasn’t reaching their goals for her and she would’ve gotten frustrated too because, well, it’s frustrating when people expect you to do something that you are developmentally incapable of doing.
Instead of being punished, she ran around happily (and a bit noisily) and was allowed to do so as long as she wasn’t hurting anyone else and as long as the discussion was still able to continue in a reasonable fashion.
Permissive parents wouldn’t have set any boundaries, and yet her parents were getting up frequently to guide their daughter’s actions. I remember that they took her out at one point because she had gotten too loud for a discussion to take place at all and she needed to calm down a bit. It may have looked to some other people like permissive parenting of and catering to a spoiled child, but to someone who knew what her parents were doing and who knew that she was behaving in exactly the way a normal 3-yo would in that situation, it really wasn’t.
Her parents remained calm, took her out when she got too disruptive, and kept everyone safe by removing her from the situation when she started to get excited enough to possibly hurt herself or others.
Many of the frustrating, obnoxious, and messy things that young children do are normal things that they eventually grow out of. I didn’t have to spank my 3 and 5 year olds in order to get them to stop pulling books off my shelves – they eventually just stopped doing it and I no longer have to redirect them away from the shelves! My 5 year old was rather well behaved at the book discussion despite the fact that it was a late evening meeting and a boring one for her, at that!
The difference between my friend’s daughter, my 3 year old (who was also fairly exuberant – though not as much, probably because she’s several months older than my friend’s 3 year old), and my 5 year old? Two years, that’s what. We have very similar parenting styles, very similar boundaries and goals for our children. Once my friend’s daughter and my 3 year old are 5, I’m sure that they’ll have the same age-appropriate skills that most 5 year olds do.
After all, I clearly didn’t spank any behaviors out of my 5 year old because she’s never been spanked. She has, however, quite nicely grown out of many behaviors that are unacceptable to most people and that were completely normal at the time she exhibited them. By minimizing her negative impact on others and helping her to control herself before she could do it by herself, I allowed her to naturally grow out of those behaviors instead of forcing her to before she was ready.
So… who cares what people think about your children’s behavior! Other people are coming to the situation with their own ideas, baggage, possible oblivion about normal child development, and almost certain unfamiliarity with your child and your family.
Instead, care about what other people think about *your* behavior. How are you reacting to your children’s undesirable or anti-social behavior? Are you reacting with grace or are you reacting with anger?
Consider allowing the question, “What do others think” to be a positive force in your interactions with your children instead of allowing it to negatively affect how you view your children’s behavior and reacting accordingly just in case someone might think that you’re a “bad” or “permissive” parent. Have more patience with your children out in public – treat them with even more grace – and then bring that patience and grace into your home as you consciously make it into a habit.
I’m writing this partially so that I can remember because it’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to yell or scream or feel like hitting in the moment. Being a parent is wonderful and miraculous! It can also be infuriating and frustrating and oh so repetitive… but our children are growing. They’re learning. They’re mostly learning by watching us. Modeling grace and kindness and patience, regardless of what other people may think, is one of the best gifts a parent can give their child as they both grow in understanding.