Monday, July 16, 2012

Watch Your Step

Parenting is fraught with dangerous ground and treacherous paths.  In the course of a parent’s lifetime, one will make innumerable mistakes and will pay dearly for her mistakes in the form of children’s misbehaviors and bad habits.  The opposite is true as well.  The more we do right, the more we will be rewarded for our efforts by our children’s small victories and stellar trajectories.  During this course, we will encounter fellow parents who prove to be amazing mentors who give us valuable tips on everything from surviving sleep interruptions to serving broccoli with no whining.

In any line of study, there are also false teachers.  In parenting, these are other parents who insist on ways which really only work for a very specific family dynamic, or will just plain give you whack advice that is best ignored.  Some will display parenting styles that will shock and amaze you, and not in a good way.  Simply put, they will serve as a warning that if you engage in said parenting tactics, you might have some trouble down the road.

Like the one woman who invited a bunch of my friends and I to her home for a playdate and stood idly by as her daughter took a dump in the yard.

Seriously.  The mom sat and watched as her daughter took off her pants and pooped next to the French doors that led into their home.

The child was potty-training.  She told her mother that she had to go potty, and wanted to go in the yard.  The mother beamed at the youngster's initiative, said “Sure, baby,” and the child pulled down her bathing suit and shadoobied right there in front of me, my child, and about three other child/parent pairs.  The mother laughed, praised her child, waved her away, and went right back to telling us about the underwear she got at La Perla or something.

The rest of us stood there with our mouths hanging open before we moved to shoo our own children away from the stinky mound that her daughter had just made.


Color me shocked.

I was aghast.  I no longer cared about her fancy pants or was jealous that I couldn’t afford to drop a G on underthings.  Her kid just laid an egg in the yard.

I wondered if I was being a tad conservative.  Maybe I missed something.  After all, I only had one child, and he was young at the time.  Was this was how everyone was parenting nowadays?  Is this a new hippie mom thing?  Are kids supposed to run around, taking potty breaks wherever and whenever the need arises, and I’m supposed to look on with tenderness and wonderment, never mind the reality of having to not only scoop dog poop out of my yard, but also human waste?  I wondered if allowing children to act like animals was the new parenting trend.

Then I realized that I wasn’t uptight.  This woman treated her children not as children, but as pets.  They were domesticated animals who are kept to be amusements for their masters.  Forget table manners and please and thank you and here, let me hold that door for you.  Those things are obsolete.  Watch this, my kid will poop in the yard!  Isn’t it hilarious?  Her expectations of what she was to be teaching to her children were set so low that she wasn’t teaching them anything at all. 

I stepped over the pile of princess poop and left the playdate a little dazed as I reinforced to my then-toddler that children do NOT use the backyard as a toilet, no matter what he had seen that day.  I explained to my son that we use the bathroom, even though he was in diapers at the time.

To be fair, this woman was only a friend of a friend of a friend; I didn't know her at all, and our paths never again crossed.  But I think about her and her children a lot.  Was this one incident just an exception to a relatively normal upbringing that she gave to her children as they grew?  I sincerely hope so, but what I took away from this incident so early in my parenting life was this:

Sometimes parenting can be a minefield which leaves you dirty, bleeding and scarred, and sometimes you will wade through waters that will leave you breathless yet victorious, but common sense goes a long way.

And if you let your kids poop in the yard in front of strangers, one of them may use your parenting style as a cautionary tale on their blog.  So be careful, and do better next time.

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