A friend recounted how he publicly reprimanded a parent in a restaurant for allowing her 2-year-old child to scream, cry, and create general mayhem about the dining area as only a 2-year-old can. “Please control your child!” he chided, after numerous attempts at making known his displeasure to the offending family.
I shuddered a little as he shared this, partly because I agreed, and partly because I didn’t.
I used to get annoyed when I encountered such situations, too. “Tsk,” I would go, ensuring I was audible enough to be heard. I would also remind myself that if I ever had a kid, I would make sure I have control over whatever situation my child would spring on me in public. But now that I have a 3-year-old kid, I look back and realise I was talking serious cock. At the toddler stage, a child has barely learnt to walk, much less understand or accept being taught the rules of engagement in a public venue. But before you argue, “The child is not to blame, it’s the parent that’s the problem!”, think about it; wouldn’t the same learning curve apply to a newly-inducted parent having the same trouble grappling with how to control his or her child on the fly?
It’s Tough Having Kids
You need to bear in mind – particularly when a very young child Is involved – that families going on outings in public spaces is a notoriously difficult, nerve-wracking first step – at any level – in planning, preparation, and on-the-job parental training. Think too much, and we might end up thinking ourselves into not going out at all. Get the logistics wrong, and we’re in for a messy, unsatisfying misadventure. And if our parenting chops aren’t yet up to par for public scrutiny… well, we might land up being confronted by my dear friend here.
But go out there we must. There’s only so much we can do at home, and there is so much for our child to see and experience out there. At some point, the test must be taken; parents have to know whether they’re ready to venture into the great beyond, and if not, how better to prepare themselves for the next attempt.
The Audience is Watching
Said friend also noted that the mother gave him the classic retort, “Do you have children of your own?”
I acknowledge that it’s a below-the-belt remark (it ranks just below “Why you so busybody?” and “You so clever, you do lah!” and just above “@#&%$#!!!”), and I will even go so far to say the question serves absolutely no constructive purpose other than to aggravate the situation, regardless of how it’s answered. So what if said friend is childless? It doesn’t change the fact that a disturbance was caused, and with the parent’s child, no less. And what if the person who sternly rebuked the parent has 19 kids and counting? What would the parent have to reply with then?
The “parent vs non-parent” comparison is conceptualised into parents’ minds the moment parenthood smacks them in the face (from a dad’s point of view, that can be anytime between the wife saying she’s pregnant to sometime after the delivery of the child when you’ve finally caught a few hours’ sleep and it’s dawned on you that you’re a friggin’ dad). Parenthood is a drastic life-changer; we know once we’ve been smacked that everything we once thought we knew pre-children pretty much gets thrown out the window, and as the person directly responsible for the creation of another life, there is absolutely no turning back.
What parents who actively subscribe to this don’t realise, though, is that the world goes on; there’re still truckloads of people out there who don’t have children, don’t yet have children, or don’t plan to have children precisely because of situations like this. More importantly, the social construct of public venues, together with their unspoken rules and unwritten (and sometimes written) regulations will persist. Challenging another to step into your shoes as a parent doesn’t induce empathy; instead, you effectively deny the reality around you that you and your child need to live and survive in.
Why Blame? Just Deal With the Situation
Incidents like this can easily be avoided with a very simple four-letter word: care. Let’s be specific though, because we might say if the parent cared enough for the fact that her child would one day have to come out and face the public one day (and soon), she may know well enough to provide the proper education in behaviour and discipline. But as I said, when placed in a high-stress situation (like emergency parenting, so to speak), this might all be talking cock, because you can’t indulge in a lifelong learning process with a toddler in times of urgency. As parents, there will be the moments where our abilities are stretched, our mettle tested and our options seemingly exhausted.
To: The Parent
There are textbook solutions to bank in on though (if parenting ever becomes an academic module); pick out family-friendly places where the staff will happily help you entertain your child or provide weapons of mass distraction to keep your kid occupied. Or bring your own weapons of mass distraction for your child – colouring books, toys, load up cartoons on the iPad/iPhone (as a last resort, for the techno-skeptic parent). Or, short of ending the night early, take the kid out of the situation if need be; pacify or discipline him out of public view.
Most importantly though, watch your attitude. Not for the sake of the public, but for your child’s well-being, because your child’s emotions and behaviour directly reflect and/or respond to your own. Get angry, and your child will get angrier; elect not to bother, and your child will find ways to make her presence even more felt. But if you pay attention to what your child really wants (more seasoned parents have a wants-list memorised ranging from hunger to fatigue to a cuddle to a toy, but most likely it’s your attention in the first place), and everyone will stay calm and enjoy their dinner.
If you, the parent, take away nothing else from this post, take away this: you’re as much a student of the world as you are the teacher of your child. Take a step back and stay aware of your surroundings; the people around you have a knack for letting you know something’s wrong.
To: Everyone Else
And to the people around the parent with the rowdy kid, don’t get annoyed; in all likelihood your Irritation, tsks, shushes, and stern rebukes aren’t going to solve your problem (yes, it’s your peace getting disturbed, therefore it’s your problem too). Besides, what many deem to be a public annoyance might just be a cry for help – from child or parent alike. Instead, put aside any judgment you may harbour – and care. Ask if you can do anything at all to help, maybe coo at the kid, give him a sweet or jingle some keys, make funny faces or prance around like an idiot if need be, whatever you think might work to just make the child change his mood. You’ll end up changing more than a little kid’s mood.
During times when I faced dealing with my overly enthusiastic/fatigued/hungry/demanding son, I know I would have appreciated a forthcoming, helping hand (sometimes I get that helping hand, too). Half the time, the child would immediately fall silent, having suddenly been confronted by a stranger being, well, strange (the same reaction might apply to the parent as well). The other half of the time, your caring might actually work to calm the kid down and avert certain public disaster.
Granted I may not be speaking for all parents here, but kindness begets kindness. Even if they are inclined to refuse, as long as you approach with kindness of heart, they will reciprocate with a kind refusal.
It takes a village to raise a child; in Singapore, we’re all a part of the village. Take a step forward and offer what you can to ease the situation, and you (and the kid’s parents) might even learn a lesson or two.
Because, looking at the state of the world today, we all need to have a little more caring in our lives.