Yes I Am Judging Her

Here I am, minding my own business at a coffee place, when this mom starts telling her best friend how to parent.  (Okay listening in on another person’s conversation is not exactly minding my own business.  I did consider moving tables.  But then what would you have read today?)

Her best friend’s husband spanks the kids. And then the best friend clarifies that her husband does it VERY HARD. And she says again, almost inaudibly: Very hard.

This mom responds: Good. You need to do that.

When a woman needs to softly reinforce the strength of her husband’s reaction, it’s not spanking. I can almost guarantee it.

And the advice-giving mom goes on to say: Children are like puppies. They can be trained and untrained.

Her best friend nods and tells another story. This time about her child being upset at a sleepover and asking to go home. This mom suggests the best friend tells her son: You’re being rude. You’re not really afraid.

At the end, the advice-friendly mom sums it up by saying: You’re my best friend and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but your son is a brat.

And she goes on to detail how it’s all her best friend’s fault. For not puppy-izing him.

(Multiple people commented on the amount of restraint I showed by not yelling or stabbing her.  Thank you.)

Look, I get that we all parent differently. And my style of parenting is soft and laid back with a lot of helicoptering when it comes to social interactions and water. I, personally, don’t believe in spanking because the idea of teaching our children to not hit or hurt others, then hitting or hurting them seems counter-intuitive, but I have never unfriended someone for it.

I have hurt my children with my word.  I have held E tight to keep him from hitting me — maybe too tight if the situation feels particularly out of control. But I never feel good during or afterwards. I feel broken. I feel wrong.

I am their example of what it means to be a part of our world.

I am their first and strongest vision of humanness.

Therefore, I am also their example of what failures and shortcomings look like. How we acknowledge our mistakes. How we try not to repeat them.

So I have apologized to my children more times than I care to remember. I have walked away rather than scream or hit. I have cried into the telephone. I have used my blog and social media to find humor in the insanity.

They just aren’t dogs or even little adults. They are children. With a small capacity to empathize but a great ability to love.  (Okay, they do sound a little bit like dogs.)

We are their parents. They are completely dependent upon us. For everything.

When we are off and wrong and mean and tired, it is terrifying.

When they are off and wrong and mean and tired, it is annoying.

Very, very, ear-splitting, annoying. Even shoulder-sobbingly difficult. But they don’t feed, cloth or shelter us. They don’t decide when we go to bed, when we eat and if we get to spend time outside.  (Or most importantly, if we get to play on the computer.)

If I want my children to act different, I must be different myself.

Parenting begins with me.

Epilogue: Children don’t only learn by example.  Trust me. But most people, when recalling their childhoods, retell what their parents did that they emulate or run from, not what their parents taught them to do or not to do.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

28 thoughts to “Yes I Am Judging Her”

  1. Oh I am so sad about that awful conversation. My beliefs on parenting are the same as yours. It feels right to empower rather than demean. To protect rather than terrify.
    I’ve sobbed, walked away, and even screamed a few times- feeling sick and like an idiot afterward.
    “Parenting begins with me”. Sounds like a new mantra for me.

  2. how about what kind of best friend tells you your kid is a brat? or doesn’t hear your obvious need for help? if she’s concerned for her kid’s abuse, who knows what he’s doing to her? good god this woman should be stopped!

    but I might be projecting since I needed my best friend to be sensitive tonight and she wasn’t.

  3. We have parents tell us all of the time that they spank their kids. As a teacher, I want to say, “And that’s why your kid acts the way he does. He has no compassion or empathy.” But I have to keep my parenting thoughts to myself. Not that I don’t believe in having discipline. Ask anyone, I’m tough. But hitting, not my thang.

  4. That was a very powerful post. I especially liked:

    “When we are off and wrong and mean and tired, it is terrifying.
    When they are off and wrong and mean and tired, it is annoying.”

    Breaks my heart that children are terrified all over the country, all over the world. They have no voice. Except for their mother (or parent, depending on the situation). And their mother feels so powerless herself.

  5. Ugh, I have had “friends” say horrible things like that to me before and believe me, you learn pretty quickly that they are anything BUT friends.

    As for the hitting, I agree with you completely. I, sadly enough, have slapped my son across the face in an attempt to get him to snap out of a tantrum. It was done with anger and I am still to this day trying to get over my guilt in therapy. Was the lowest moment in parenting for me and went against EVERYTHING I believe in.

    How can I teach him to be kind to his little sister, even when is is angry at her by knocking down is toys if I slap him or spank him when I am angry with him?

    I truly believe you can’t. I am reading a great book right now that points on all this stuff, “The Monster With-In, the Hidden Side of Motherhood”.
    http://www.amazon.com/Monster-Within-Hidden-Side-Motherhood/dp/0520267133/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290518910&sr=1-2

    It is really great and looks touches on the ambivalence all mothers feeling towards their children.

    If you are interested, I would love to pop it in the mail to you after I am finished and we could compare notes and have our own little book club. Would love to find other moms interested in exploring their thoughts on this.

    Great post Alex[a] keep up the good work!

    1. Please do! I’d love to read it.

      And thank you for your honesty. I hope that other moms who have gone over their edge reads this and says: I did that but I don’t have to do it again.

      You are an amazing example to all of us mamas.

  6. This was a great post. Yeah I am amazed at conversations I hear or what I see people do with their kids. I was a spanking mother, until I realized one day I was discipling my child for hitting me in the face by spanking her on the arm I felt super stupid for telling her to stop hitting me as I am hitting her. So now I don’t spank unless it is something extremely bad or could hurt her. But I am trying to not spank at all and instead use strong words, take toys away, and when she gets older do time out. It is amazing the things you learn as you raise a child and how much you grow with your child. I had so many thoughts of how to parent before I had a child and now my eyes are wide open and thoughts are so different since I have a 2 year old daughter now. And I do believe that friend (so called) should have been more sensitive and helped her friend more then just calling her kid a brat. I would have gone off on my friend if she spoke to me like that. I believe you can be honest with your friends but be helpful at the same time. Super Great Blog Post!

  7. I keep trying to explain to my husband that when our son is afraid, it is not because he needs to push through it. It is because he simply cannot understand what’s happening or that he is safe. Because he does not yet understand the world around him.

    They’re not adults in miniature. They’re children. They need us to guide them, not force them.

  8. *sigh*

    @ Sue – I hope your research is teaching you that there is very little -if in fact no – long term consequence to a child that is slapped or spanked in very rare instance in their life in response to extreme behavior. Because there aren’t.

    Spanking routinely as punishment is many light-years removed from an isolated instance of physical discipline in response to behavioral extremes. Spanking as routine punishment desensitizes a child to the need for physical restraint, dehumanizes victims, destroys empathy. Spanking your child immediately and forcefully because your child understands being swatted long before they will understand the irrevocable consequence of running out into traffic as a way to negate that behavior does not ruin anything in them.

    The problem with “I’ll never spank” is exactly the one you’ve described. People equate refusing to engage in corporal punishment with never engaging in physical discipline. They are not the same. And if something extreme happens that necessitates the isolated use of it – trying to interrupt a self-cycling tantrum, running into the street, biting other children – a guilt-storm follows that tends to undermine discipline in general because of an instinctive tendency to over-correct.

    If you feel your are perpetually fighting off the urge to strike your child, then yes, I think therapy is a wise choice to help you with that. If one hysterical tantrum prompted a slap to try and interrupt it, and you’ve let that become the way you define your parenting, I think the guilt monster is making off with your parenthood and you shouldn’t let it.

  9. I’ve never had kids. But my sisters and many friends have kids whom I love as much as if they were mine… I’ve witnessed some really good friends act so poorly as parents and so often had to refrain from saying anything. Who am I to judge, I’ve never had any! But sometimes I wish I could speak my mind, in a gentle way, and let the friend know they are wrong. How would you react if a really close (childless) friend criticized you? Would that be wrong? Or a waste of time because you already know how and why it’s wrong?

    1. I am pretty open to gentle suggestions especially when accompanied by other ways I rock. I’m also fairly good with the STOP IT ALEX.

      Most people? I think that unless the child is in danger (and the emotional danger line is so hard right?), you will probably keep the friendship by staying quiet. And yes, people may use your childless-ness as an excuse to ignore you.

      What about humor? Sometimes that works well: Like DUDE! Are you sure telling him to punch that kids was like IN THE PARENTING HANDBOOK?

      If you are close enough, you can get away with it. But probably just once. Hope that helps!

  10. I comend your self control! You are much better than I am I would have lost it at the point of telling the child that they weren’t affraid. This was something I delt with a lot when I was teaching and a director. Parents would bully, make fun of, and deny their child’s fear or sadness and then wonder why their child was getting kicked out of our program. I wanted to yell at them that they were the problem, they were the reason their children had no empathy or regard for other people. (Grunt, huff, screach) ok my soap box is put up now. I hate people that feel that it is their place to tell their friends how to parent! The ONLY time I ever tell people how to parent is if their child is in danger or I feel their child is being miss treated.

  11. It appears that at our house, 2.5 years of age is when the rubber meets the road with parenting. Lands alive, as of late we’re busting out all of our moves. I’ll be honest that I’m truly finding out that parenting can be…um…hard. Teaching boundaries and respect and consequences and follow through, boy oh boy.

    My pastor said something (and for the life of me I can’t remember the exact context) a few weeks ago that was along the lines of this: As a parent you’re doing the hard work and laying the road so that you’re 3 year old doesn’t turn into to a selfish 13 year old who then won’t turn into a narcisstic 33 year old. We’re parenting *now* for *later*.

    I have to remind myself of this when I’m carrying Ezra like a purse because he won’t walk out of Target on his own. Sigh.

  12. The whisper. Oh my. That scares me. I think the problem with physical punishment is how easy it is to get dangerously out of control. Raising kids is hard. They are annoying sometimes. And as parents we have to our heads and not turn that frustration into something worse.

    I agree with Lori. I have a clear an sharp memory of the ONE time my mom spanked me (I ran out in front of traffic and she was hugging and sobbing and swatted me.). It did not ruin me or our relationship. However, someone dear to me was routinely ‘spanked’ and has scars, both outside and in. There is a difference.

  13. Hmmmm…and these people later wonder why their kids hit other children and why their kids dismiss other people’s feelings instead of validating them. As they say, “What goes around, comes around.” Thanks, Alex, for your courageous comments on this issue.

  14. Ugh, what a terrible conversation to ease drop on. Although yes, I would have stayed put and listened too. That mom, the judge-y one, is terrible. She’s not helping anyone with that kind of “advice”. And the other mom, needs to talk to her husband or find some help. Before things get out of control.

  15. Something is definitely very wrong here. If a mother feels her husband is spanking the kids too hard then that is a huge red flag. This woman obviously needs help. Maybe her kid is a brat because he’s being abused by his father and his mother is allowing it to happen. Look, all kids are brats at some point. It’s their nature. This so-called “best friend” should try and help… how about asking what she can do to help the situation. How about asking if there is anything wrong at home? I’m so glad I wasn’t there to hear the conversation. I’d be having nightmares about that poor child.

  16. Awesome blog. You hit the nail right on the head. Working in the foster care system, this sort of thing comes up DAILY for me as I talk with my “kids” in the group homes whose parents used such tactics as you descriebd. Lets just say I could go on and onnnnn and onnnnnnn.

  17. I was spanked, so I started out my parenting career as a spanker. It only took a few times of seeing the terror on my son’s face to remember that terror, myself, and find alternatives. Now they’re 15 and 17 and it looks like everyone is going to live through my parenting.

    But this isn’t a to spank or not to spank debate. It’s a jerk friend debate. I vote that yes, she is a jerk. Now where’s my sticker?

  18. it’s all so baffling. my 2 sisters are rock-solid, homeschooling, evangelical christians whose religious beliefs place a heavy emphasis on obedience and conformity in the children. i vividly recall my oldest sister explaining to me, before i had kids, that her oldest son was “a handful” and even spanking didn’t work with him, until their pastor explained to them that they weren’t doing it hard enough. and yet, even though i didn’t share their religious beliefs i always admired their family because they seemed to be truly committed to each other, the children really loved each other, and now as adults they remain very close. one big difference, i think, is that both my sister and her husband were totally hands-on with the kids, and my brother-in-law (unlike some stereotypical conservative men) clearly enjoyed his kids and made time with them his highest priority (after church). while i don’t subscribe to spanking either, i think the context in which it occurs matters a lot. i will never forget being at my other sister’s house for a visit one night when her one-year-old twins didn’t want to fall asleep. her husband stalked into that room with a WOODEN SPOON and smacked those babies in their cribs to teach them not to cry. that was twelve years ago and i can still hear it in my head. he had virtually no interaction with those kids except to discipline them, and today, i’m pretty sure they hate him. as do i.

  19. GAHHHHH!

    Yes. They BOTH should be judged. UGH.

    Years ago, when the girl was maybe a year or two old, one of my cousins asked me how often I spanked her “a good one”. I looked at him in revulsion and said, “Why would I spank a baby? What could she possibly have done?” And he had no answer. Because there is no answer.

    Having been raised with “spankings”, I swore I would never touch my child. And I haven’t. When all else feels like shit in my life, at least I can look at that and feel like a success.

  20. I needed this today. Thank you! With three young kids, sometimes I do lose it out of frustration, and then once things calm down, I call my sister crying because I feel like my whole day of mothering boiled down to a big fat F- craptastic five second screaming fit (ironically, screaming to let the kids know I won’t tolerate their screaming). I need to remind myself that I have the self control and maturity to walk away. And I also need to remind myself that mimicking them in a hissy fit is as counterproductive as it gets.

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