Every child is different and amazing in his or her own way. Every toddler comes with a set of challenges unique to his environment and genetic disposition. In that same vein, every parent is unique and sets his or her own boundaries for the children in his or her own life. With Eli, I've read endless amounts of toddler discipline stuff online and let me tell you...not one word of it has made a difference in the way my child interacts with his surroundings. He is his own little drummer and has the most remarkably strong and independent personality. He is, in a nutshell, one tough cookie.
Somehow though, as a new mom, I often get caught up in what I'm going to call "ego parenting". I worry more about what people around me think about me as a mother than I worry about how I'm actually handling my crazy little ball of boy. I think its inevitable, on some level, to worry about what other people think about us. But I realize it has been dominating my public parenting to a level I'm not entirely comfortable with.
Here's a good example. Eli is two, and because of that struggles *GASP* with the concept of sharing. It's nothing new for his age group, but he is so much bigger than other kids he tends to get pretty physical when he wants his way. The other day I was at an indoor play area with him and he was off playing while I sat on a bench and fed Sammy. I scanned the room at one point and couldn't see him. Then I noticed a dog pile of toddlers and of course, Eli was in the middle of the fray throwing punches and being a two year old. I made my way over to the skirmish, but apparently wasn't fast enough because when I arrived on the scene another mom was pulling Eli off the other kids. She threw him at me and said in a very angry and rude voice, "your son was hitting and kicking the other kids!".
Now...I know what he was doing was completely out of line. I know that he was acting in a way inappropriate for social interactions. I ALSO know all the other kids were fine...and were playing happily again as soon as the pile broke up. Instead of sitting with Eli and calming him down and then letting him go back to playing, I made a big scene of taking him away from the group while he was kicking in screaming and then left the indoor park.
Looking back, leaving was a silly thing to do. He was having a good time, save a few seconds of rough play, and I was enjoying being able to sit and watch him and maybe, just maybe, relax for a minute or two. The only reason I made a big show of wagging fingers and talking in my loud Walmart mom voice was so that I knew the other moms there knew that I was a Good Mom. That I was going the discipline the hell out of my son for being...well...a two year old.
I realized that I do things like this way too often. And I think if we were all honest with ourselves as mothers we would all admit that we "ego parent" much more often than we'd like. I decided that from now on I'm going to try interact with my child in public the same way I do in private. At home the one way I've figure out to get Eli's attention is to stay very calm and be very in control of the situation. I move slowly to get him when he's being naughty so as not to excite him into an escalated tantrum. I've found over and over again that the calmer and more in control of my emotions I am when I need to discipline him the better he responds.
The problem is, in public, this method is very hard to employ because we all want other moms to see us Take Action and really lay into our kids when they're misbehaving...especially if our child does something to hurt another kid. We want immediate and dire consequences for every infraction. But I just can't put my son in time out twenty times every time I go to a play date. It's not fun for anyone. I can't be on top of every skirmish or kerfuffle. I try to be, but dang...they're just two year olds. They are going to fight, they are going to grab, they are going to push and shove and except for immediate physical intervention...that gets EXHAUSTING...we as parents can't resolve every incident.
So I guess my point is; moms, dads, let's be a little easier on each other. If you're at a park and another kid is beating on your kids chances are their parents are horrified, or at least acting horrified, and are doing their best to teach their kids how to behave themselves. Instead of berating other parents, both to their faces and behind their backs, let's just agree that we're all trying, that there is no right way to be a parent, and that we all need to give each other a break.
I can't live my entire life disciplining my son. Believe me...if I wanted to I could probably put him in time out at least once every ten minutes both at home and in public. But the thing is, I love this little guy so much I want him to be happy. I want him to have realistic consequences for his actions but I also want him to breath and run around and get dirty and maybe even shove or get shoved so he can learn that somethings work and some don't when it comes to building relationships with those around him.
I think that's enough of a diatribe for tonight. Let's just all give each other a little more breathing room ok? I promise if you come to my house for a play date I am going to try very hard not to judge you as a parent if you do the same for me. At the end of the day, a small fight between toddlers is not the end of the world. We just need to give them never ending love and making sure they know boundaries, but that they also know that no matter what they do we'll still be here to guide them along.