Where Did the Village Go? (A Word For Mothers of Spirited Boys)

Today I saw a mother, just like me, being judged the way I have been so many times before. Today I saw a mother trying her absolute best being bullied by another mother. Today I felt the shame and sadness of being a mum with an overactive preschool boy through another mother’s eyes. I have written about it before and I suppose it will probably be a discussion topic for generations to come, but today I was reminded that our community is no longer a village, and to be honest it made me really sad.

The details aren’t important, and I don’t feel the need to paint a vivid picture of the surrounds or specific details because we’ve all seen it, felt it or, (or perhaps been the perpetrator) before and they semantics really don’t matter. Suffice to say a boy around the age of five was climbing a very small muddy embankment and jumping off it, (which, let’s face it, is what boys do), while his mother was waiting in line. Let’s call her Sue. The mother standing in line behind her took issue. Let’s call her Sandra. The conversation went something like this;

Sandra: “Can you stop your son from doing that please?”

Sue: (Surprised, confused), “Sure, is there a sign or something?”

Sandra: “No. But some people need to be told how to parent their children.”

Sue: “I’m sorry?”

Sandra: “If you won’t parent him then I will.”

Sue: “Please stop, you’re really upsetting me.”

Sandra: “Please stop your child from destroying tax payer property.”

At this point Sue turned away and began ignoring Sandra, and when her other son asked why the lady was angry she responded, “Let’s just mind our own business and hope she learns to mind hers.”

My son has been that boy and I have been that mother. The judgement of other parents has in no way helped him to grow up faster or me to be a better mother. I suspect the person putting themselves in a position to judge me thought it might make them feel better to say something, but I doubt it did.

I think Sue handled herself admirably. I’m sure she was absolutely fuming being put on the spot and undermined in front of her two children. I’m sure it stayed with her all day and night, and possibly the next day too, and I’m sure Sandra had rolled her eyes and forgotten about it by the time she got home.

While I think Sue’s response was perfect for the time and place, I have a different version, away from the tender ears of ‘spirited’ children, who often have very sensitive souls.

Sandra. I, too, am the mum of a ‘spirited’ boy. Call it what you will – some people say active, some use words like rambunctious or energetic, often through an ascerbic tongue. I do not need to be told how to parent my child. Remember the old adage, you never know what is going on in a stranger’s life? What you don’t know is that he is in trouble a lot and I have to use my cautions and warnings carefully. I have to ration them out because I don’t want every word I say to be negative. What you don’t know is that I am picking my battles and this one, though it may seem earth shattering to you, doesn’t make it to the priority list. Because once I have picked a battle I know I can’t lose it, and because I don’t want our lives to be a constant battle. In this moment, he’s not hurting anyone or anything, and though what he’s doing may seem mildly annoying to the parents of non ‘spirited’ children it’s actually a pretty calm moment for us.

And what you really don’t know is that I am exhausted from over parenting every minute of every day. Micro managing a pre-schooler is much harder than you think. The look you just gave us, the rolled eyes, the heavy sighs and the not so under the breath comments – in this case the blatantly disrespectful criticism – are noticed by both my son and I. And they hurt.

And while we’re talking, Sandra, how is it that you expect me to parent my son with authority if he’s sees people like you disrespecting his mother? Undermining her parenting decisions? Did you really think your comments and gesticulations would help in some way, or was there something in your own life perhaps that I don’t know about that has driven you to be so unpleasant today?

You haven’t walked even an inch in my shoes. You don’t know my child nearly as well as his parents do, and you don’t know that I’m doing my utmost to raise him to be the best person he can be. Not because it makes your life easier, or even because it makes my life easier. I make the decisions, (and they are decisions), that I make because he and his sister are my highest priority – my life’s greatest work, in fact – and I want what is best for him. While I do my best to consider others at all times and to teach my son to do the same, your personal comfort for a few brief moments will never compare to my mission to parent him as best I can.

And to Sue, who is probably still feeling the sting of being judged as inadequate by a fellow parent – it gets better. We are nearly out of the ‘spirited’ phase and life is getting much easier. The minute before your son was climbing the hill mine did the same. I asked him to stop – and he did. Six months ago that would have lasted all of thirty seconds before he was scaling the hill again. And had I dug my heels in and picked that battle I probably would have won, but then I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Sometimes ‘spirited’ boys just need to climb hills and jump off them.

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