Another blogger had a post up last week questioning whether cultural norms had influence over the public behavior of children. She noted that when driving through her suburb she couldn't help but notice that the children of some families who were - how do I say this the right way? - not white- were better behaved in public. Aside from my distaste for the extreme overgeneralization about culture and how it is that you can identify simply from the color of a person's skin whether they've been in the You Ess of Eh one, three or ten generations (don't get me started, really. To quote David Banner, you won't like me when I'm angry.) what really put the burr under my saddle pad was the smug tone of many of the commenters who had really well behaved children in public and of course that was the result of their fabulous parenting skillz. And they all had anecdotes about seeing other parents who were clearly Not Good Parents because, well, you know -- THEIR CHILDREN DID NOT BEHAVE WELL IN PUBLIC. Because CLEARLY, if your children don't behave properly in public YOU ARE NOT A GOOD PARENT.
So by this assessment, when my bipolar ADHD (and one with sensory processing disorder) children managed to sit quietly through an hour and a half long mixed English and Spanish with a confirmation thrown in Catholic Wedding, I am an EXCELLENT PARENT. And when I took my kids to the grocery store and my son wouldn't stop running and shouting alternated with crying and begging for a hot wheels car, I was a TERRIBLE PARENT. Because obviously both of these situations speak volumes about my parenting skills, and my children's special issues, which are invisible to people who don't know us, have NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.
When people smugly assure me that their children are well behaved because they are amazing parents, honestly, I want to smack them. I would like to see someone who has never in their life had to manage a child in the middle of a bipolar rage take both of my children and successfully manage a two hour shopping trip through Wal-Mart. You'll get a very special prize if you manage to make it through the store without a fight, a tantrum, happy yelling, angry yelling or a complete on-the-floor screaming meltdown. Or all of the above.
Look, there are days when my kids do great in public. Sometimes the stars align, the angels sing, God smiles down on us from heaven and the lions and the lambs lay down together in perfect peace. We go to the store, we go to a birthday party or family barbeque and they have a good day. We have a whole day where my kids don't try to kill each other. We have a day where no one loses their shit. Those days DO happen, and isn't it great if someone who has never met me before and probably will never see me again meets my kids on those days? Because they will just know that I'm a Good Parent.
But on the bad days...
Look, SG is a dad. His son is grown now, but by all accounts, his son was a pretty easy kid to raise. He is great with my kids - he doesn't lose his temper, he never yells, he doesn't get all bent. He's Mr. Calm and Easygoing 99% of the time. He's not excessively permissive, he doesn't reward poor behavior and he expects good behavior. Even so, if we are at the store and he is with us, there is no guarantee of good behavior. Expecting my children to behave perfectly all the time is absolutely impossible.
I have two points I wish to make here, and they should be obvious, but clearly according to the folks over at this other blog they are not, so here we go.
1. Good parenting sometimes has very little to do with good behavior. I have good kids, they are loving kids with a social conscience who want to please their parents and do the right thing. They are also children with multiple diagnoses and invisible illnesses. It is impossible for them to be perfectly behaved all of the time. One of the hallmarks of a bipolar is the inability to modulate their voice. I know bipolar adultswho still haven't figured out how to keep their voice from rising dramatically in volume when they are in a manic phase. Children with ADHD are at times unable to manage their physical energy, and ADHD meds are time-bound. They often don't last until dinnertime, and frankly sometimes on weekends I don't give them those meds because when they're not in school, the focus isn't a hard requirement and I like to give them a break when I can. You CANNOT assume that a poorly behaved child is simply a little asshole and the result of piss-poor parenting. You can't. You can't see autism. You can't see bipolar. You can't see ADHD. You can't see Aspergers, or Sensory Processing Disorder, or RAD or Tourette's or any number of childhood illnesses that originate in the brain and don't result in a pure physical marker that easily identifies that this is a child coping with illness. YOU CAN'T. So stop being an asshole and judging me and my children in public, 'kay?
2. Similarly, you cannot, when driving by a family whose skin is a different color than yours, without actually stopping and talking to that family and asking them a lot of personal questions (which are none of yo' bidness) determine whether they are culturally acclimated, whether they have lived in this country for a short period of time or were born here, what parenting techniques they employ with their children and whether the culture you are assuming they come from is actually the one they are from.
I have found over the years that there is a wonderful community of parents on the Internetz who have kids a lot like mine, who don't overgeneralize, who support and console and cheer for one another, and who, when they are driving through their rich neighborhood or shopping at their local Wal-Mart, make no assumptions about children or parents by the behavior they witness. When they see a frustrated mom coping with a screaming kid, they are more apt to give her a smile or a sympathetic glance - or even to put a hand on her shoulder and say "I'm sorry you're having such a tough day, I know its not easy."
I have also found that the Internetz are chock-full of smug know-it-alls who lead Perfect Lives and have Perfect Children and are basically assholes. Because you don't have perfect children, you are an inferior parent. Their children are well-behaved, ergo they are Better Than You. Eventually you get to a place where you can mostly discount them as ignorant, but occasionally you will have to write a long, pissed-off epistle of indignation just to get it off of your chest.
I feel better now.