I have a real problem with parents being told what they should and shouldn’t do by other parents. Aside from the obvious, of course (I think we can all agree that letting a toddler juggle knives on a bouncy castle is a little ‘off’). Each parent is different, as is each child – it’s almost as if they are little people – and just because you’ve successfully managed to get your kids to sleep, eat broccoli and recite Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech before their second birthday doesn’t mean others are “doing it wrong” if their children are awake in the night, repulsed by greenery and addicted to Justin’s House.
Kids develop in different disciplines at different paces – Elsa didn’t walk till 18 months but has been talking in full sentences since an early age – it’s not a race. The word ‘should’ is one of the most dangerous when it comes to parenting because there is no gold standard, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. For example, reading the insults that fly around Facebook and Twitter from parents, shaming other parents for breastfeeding/not breastfeeding/breastfeeding for too long/not breastfeeding for long enough is a real shame because, in fact, someone else’s situation is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.
It also completely contravenes the unwritten Parenting Code of Conduct that most of us sign up to when we have children, although as I’m about to write about it, it will soon become the non-unwritten Parenting Code of Conduct. It’s not a strict set of rules – demanding that people should not tell parents what they should be doing is all kinds of Donald Trump-esque doublethink – but more an instinctive collection of actions that develop once your kids are born. As ever, your contributions to the list will be gratefully received:
Public Tantrum Support
You’re in a shop and a toddler is kicking off. Pre-children, you may have rolled your eyes and haughtily imagined any kids you might have in the future would never behave in such a way. Once you have a toddler of your own, you realise that there isn’t much you can do to avoid a public meltdown other than never leave the house. Like a snotty, tear-filled Buckaroo, there is no predicting when your grinning, giggling treasure will suddenly channel their inner-Damien and kick off as if you’d just told them that Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the X Factor aren’t real.
This is just the way that toddlers’ brains are wired – it’s tough to handle all of the strong emotions they are constantly experiencing – and it’s unlikely any parent will get away without bearing the brunt of an inopportune tantrum in Tesco at some point. Even Gandhi’s parents must have had to deal with a public meltdown or two from their lad in the early years, although I note that Richard Attenborough decided not to feature that bit in his film.
Once you’ve been through that yourself, you realise that there is no way you can really help, but you can at least show solidarity with the harassed parents, usually through the medium of the sympathetic head-tilt-and-smile manoeuvre.
Lost and Found
I have been on both sides of this equation in recent weeks, so I can vouch for it entirely. Walking the dog a fortnight ago, Elsa and I spotted a discarded toy giraffe in the street and wanted to reunite it with its owner as swiftly as possible. Having experienced what happens when small children lose their possessions, I couldn’t let other parents go through that – we had to find them. We placed it on top of the road sign, photographed it and posted it on a local Facebook group, where the parents saw it and retrieved the slightly soggy toy that evening.
I guess this isn’t just a parenting instinct – it’s about acting like a normal, decent person – but envisaging the crisis caused by the missing giraffe based on my own experiences certainly made me more proactive in helping reunite them. It was also fun to be able to tell Elsa about the happy ending in the morning.
I don’t believe in karma, but we certainly benefited from a similar gesture just a fortnight afterwards. Jill and Elsa had been for a walk and only later on in the day did they realise that Elsa’s prized Little Bird coat must have been lost on the way. Cue panic. As it happened, some kind person had lifted off the rain-soaked pavement and displayed it on a bollard by the main road in the hope it would be found. It wasn’t some cosmic payback, it was merely the Code kicking in.
The introduction pretty much covered this and, as discussed, this part of the code seems to be the most, um, flexible. However, I think when you realise how difficult every stage of parenting is, you are less quick to judge the efforts of others. Well, mostly.
What else can you add to the Parenting Code of Conduct? How do you find yourself showing solidarity to others? Leave a message in the comments.
Here are some of your additional suggestions:
- If I say “I’m tired”, don’t try and top it – WE ARE ALL TIRED.
- Always offer up your wet wipes to another parent in need.
- If a child says “hello”, don’t ignore them, no matter how grumpy you are,
Keep them coming…