OK, OK. I know we don’t need yet another post on the boy who fell into the gorilla pit. But on the heels of that, another story of an unruly child, this time a boy who knocked over a Lego sculpture worth $15,000, has come out.
Cue the sanctimommy outcry, yet again: “Who was watching that child?” “Parents today need to mind their kids and teach them rules!” “Kids are out of control!”
The media has now realized that any story of a child misbehaving will sell, which means they run more of these stories, which means that it appears we have an epidemic on our hands.
Remember the song “Kids” from the musical Bye, Bye Birdie? This is how it goes:
Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today
Kids, who can understand anything they say?
Kids, they are disobedient, disrespectful oafs
Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers
And while we’re on the subject
Kids, you can talk and talk till your face is blue
Kids, but they still do just what they want to do
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
This song was written in the 1950s.
Every generation thinks there is something the matter with kids today. The only difference is that lately, we’re blaming the parents. Parents, says your friendly neighborhood sanctimommy, should have the superhuman ability to control every single thing their kid is going to say and do at every moment of every day.
One might argue the internet is to blame for the rise of the santimommy. Anonymous commenting has allowed us to hide behind our computer and spew all the pent-up aggression from our actual, real lives. But the ironic thing is that even with Facebook commenting, which reveals your identity (and now you’re often even required to be logged in through Facebook to comment on a post on another website) the problem persists. We know who the sanctimommies (and daddies) are. They’re no longer anonymous. And they’re continuing to do it anyway.
This shows the breadth of the parenting experience. While one mom (um, me) might say, “Yeah, I could totally see my wild child doing that” other parents who, presumably, have demure, malleable children say, “My kid would never do that.”
This irks me. So what if YOUR kid would never do that? Do you think that’s because of your awesome parenting? It may be because you lucked out and have a kid whose instinct is to follow direction.
Now, this is not to say that there are not parents who don’t look after their kids. Yes, of course there are parents who are not giving their kid the attention that they should. But how do we know what happened in these incidents? Were we there when the kid got into the gorilla pit? Were we there when the kid knocked over the Lego sculpture? No. So why are we jumping to conclusions?
I have also heard a few parents, who I know personally, say that there’s no way “it only took a second.” This boggles me, because, uh, yeah, it only takes a second for a kid to dart away. Then the panic ensues. While you are frantically looking for your child who was just by your side a moment ago, he has snuck to the front of the crowd, and the people are blocking your view so you can’t see him climbing over the fence. In those minutes you are looking around, your kid is on the other side, through the bushes and down into the moat.
Why people are questioning how quickly it could happen is a mystery to me. It takes a second for a kid to slip out of sight. What follows is that they’re getting into mischief while you’re running around like a crazy person trying to find them. Even more understandable is the Lego exhibit. One whack of a kid’s arm and the whole thing could topple. I can’t even stop LM from knocking over other kids’ towers when they play with blocks.
So whether your own kid would do such a thing is not the point. The point is that other kids may, and can. But what about the notion you should watch your kids? Let me tell you, when you have a strong-willed kid, it’s hard. If I am not physically connected to him, I can’t even turn my head for a moment. This is stressful. There have been times I forgot to get my keys out of my bag before we left wherever we were, and then I was stuck because I couldn’t reach in without letting go of LM’s hand or turning my head away in a parking lot, which I knew wouldn’t be safe to do. This created some awkward maneuvering.
OK but if that’s what your child is like, shouldn’t you just be prepared to be attached to them? Shouldn’t you just get a leash? Maybe, yes. I take all the precautions I can. But we are human. When you have a child like that, who, as much as you try to teach him the rules insists on pushing every conceivable boundary, it’s exhausting. I am already working that much harder than the parents of the so-called “easy” children. I’m not infallible, and I’m tired. If I make a mistake, I just hope it doesn’t have the kinds of dire consequences as these stories did.
And chances are, a lot of the sanctimommy parents have had those moments—but luckily, nothing bad happened, so they’ve forgotten. And then, somehow, these reasonable, nice people turn into assholes, blaming and judging and getting on their high horse like they are the Perfect Parent. Honestly, I am at a loss at this attitude. What gives you the right to assume what happened at the zoo that day, or at that Lego exhibit? Why are you playing into the media’s contention that unsupervised children are now suddenly a huge problem? Why don’t you realize that this is the same argument that’s been presented about children since the generation gap began in the 1950s?
I have to tell you, I live in constant fear of what my kid might do. Remember my post about the tragedy that didn’t happen? I see these things in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I’m scared to go outside with LM because he’s unpredictable. I can’t trust him. And I’m trying my damnedest to teach him the rules, so don’t you dare tell me I’m a neglectful parent. You just don’t know how hard it is.
The most insightful take on the gorilla incident came, not surprisingly, from The New York Times. The Well Family editor, KJ Dell’Antonia, writes:
For parents who are raising a risk-taking child, the story gives us pause. We know most trips out of the house require extra precautions. Closed doors and barred gates are like beacons to some kids, just waiting to be breached or climbed.
Who does that sound like to you? (Here’s a hint.) She goes on to quote an expert:
Those are children who are more likely to react to their environment, to become highly stimulated and to struggle with impulse control. “They’re high energy, they’re intense, and they’re very committed to their goals.”
This is LM to a T. So while all these other parents are saying, “How could this happen?” I know only too well. I just pray it never happens to me.
Would you admit to being a sanctimommy? What do you think about strong-willed children? Do you still blame the parents for their actions?