If You Don't Have Kids, You Just Can't Know

Recently, I've read a few articles about moms dealing with rambunctious and tantrumming kids in public and getting not-so-kind reactions from non-parents in response (this one and this one, specifically). The articles are good reading, but the comments? Whoa. Almost 70 comments on the first one and over 11,000 comments on the second one. Apparently everyone has an opinion about how kids should act and how parents should react in public.

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Don't worry though. This post isn't about how kids should act or how parents should respond.

I've been thinking since reading the above-linked posts about some of the hostile comments, both from parents and non-parents alike. There were lots of ugly ones ranging from some variation of: 1. "Spank them!" to 2. "Don't bring your kids in public. Ever. And by they way, definitely don't take them on an airplane until they're at least five, you inconsiderate jerks with kids!" to 3. "If your kid has a fit and gets loud in public, take them home right away. Who cares if you have a cart full of groceries you've just spent an hour accumulating and no food in your house? If you don't take them out of the store immediately when they're loud, you are a bad parent," and everything in between.

Another general theme of the comments that stuck with me was this: "Just because someone doesn't have children doesn't mean they don't know about children and how to deal with them."

I agree with this statement. I know lots of people who don't have children but are really great with kids. I was a psychologist, so I know plenty of people with extensive knowledge about behavioral principles, discipline, and child development who don't happen to have children of their own. There are lots of great teachers and other people who work with kids and do a great job of it even though they don't have kids.

But that's not quite what this post is about either.

The comments that stayed with me went beyond simply stating that people who don't have kids can be knowledgeable about them. They added assertions that people without children know what it's like to deal with a difficult child, have better ideas  how to handle them, and should not have to "tolerate" bad behavior from others' children/"brats." There was plenty of resentment that parents are overly "permissive" or "spoiling" their kids when they "let" them act up in public. Some of the comments were quite hateful (i.e. "because YOU decided to breed, does not mean the rest of us should have to suffer your obnoxious children"). One even compared children to chimpanzees!

For the purposes of this post, I'm going to gloss over the fact that there certainly are some parents out there who do not correct the misbehavior of their children and can be frustrating both to people with kids and without.

Because that's not what this post is about either.

I'll get to my point (finally).

My gut reaction to the ugly comments about non-parents knowing about children and what it takes to discipline them was this:

Yes, absolutely, non-parents can be very knowledgeable about children.

BUT, no matter how much you know about human development, reinforcement contingencies, and/or various strategies of disciplining kids, you cannot know what it is like to be a mom in the moment your child is acting out in public until you are a mom in that moment.

I have certainly had to learn myself that having all kinds of knowledge about kids/development/psychology didn't qualify me to judge parents in the trenches or even to be a mom myself. Knowing about something is very different from living it in the most highly invested way possible.

Unless you are a parent, you can't know how humiliating it can be to have your child throwing a totally unforeseen fit in public.

You can't know how frustrating (or panic inducing) it is when sometimes in the heat of the moment your mind goes blank and you can't think what to do to calm your child down, or when you know that all the things that are coming to mind are not the most effective strategies.

You can't know what it's like to look back on a teachable moment and realize that you totally screwed it up.

You can't know the thoughts, fears, and insecurities that run through a mom's mind when her child is acting inappropriately.

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