It’s a confusing time to be a parent.
As I write this, my children are playing in another part of the house. I can hear their conversation, muffled by the walls, but besides reminding them to eat and mediating the occasional dispute, I have hardly interacted with them today.
As a mom in the new millennium, this means I can pat myself on the back for allowing my children to learn to work together, for using their creativity and ingenuity independently, and encouraging their budding independence and self-reliance by letting them choose and make their own lunches. Yes, these kids are being raised the old-fashioned way. It worked for us, it will work for them! They’ll grow up confident and capable.
Simultaneously, I can turn those pats on the back to pounding fists of guilt. I should be making memories with my children. I should be in there preventing them from dissolving into a Lord of the Flies anarchy situation. I should be leading them in activities and projects to ensure they don’t lose any of their hard-won education over the summer months. I should have made homemade, organic, balanced meals. Yes, these kids are sorely neglected. They are sure to grow up with no understanding of rules and nutrition. What would my Facebook friends think if they knew my kids were free-ranging today?!
Just this morning on Facebook, I read stories of parents a little older than me, or a generation ahead of me, who had taken a “Mama don’t play” response to their children’s bad attitudes. Being a teenage brat in the department store fitting room? Fine. I’ll be waiting for you in the car across the street. Slip away in the grocery store after I told you not to? Ooops, I left without you (to hide around the corner where I can keep an eye on you), and you’ll be waiting an hour or so until I come back. One eleven year old threw a fit about the restaurant her family had chosen for dinner, so they went out to eat without her.
Those parents were determined to let their child experience the consequences of their actions as children in reasonably controlled environments, so they would learn to control themselves and use proper manners. And commenters were eating it up! They were lauding their parental wisdom and cheering their actions.
On the other hand, there were the news stories online of tragedies happening, unexpected and horrible accidents. The parents were quickly blamed. They should have been more vigilant. They should have known better. Why were they in this situation to begin with? Why didn’t they prevent that?
I see videos of parents shaving their kids’ head as a shaming discipline tactic, followed by videos of a father about to shave his son’s head then saying “Just kidding, give me a hug…I would never do that.”
I see images claiming “I am afraid of a world run by people who were never spanked as a child” and images announcing “If I raise a spoon, you will know I am cooking…I will never spank my child.”
Everyone is sure their way is right and all other ways are dead wrong.
Pick your side.
Choose your team.
You’d better choose correctly or your children, indeed the entire future of humanity, will suffer.
Like all mothers, I have worried that my child would get lost, sick, or hurt. As a millennial mom, I also worry how my actions will look to outsiders. If I choose this course of action, will I be chastised on social media? Is there a chance I could be in trouble with the police? No, I would never endanger my children, but could they be taken by CPS because I was allowing a natural consequence?
When I was 12, I was babysitting, but I can’t leave my 12-year-old daughter to watch her siblings while I run in to grab a gallon of milk, no matter what the temperature or whether the car is on or locked or whatever. I think, Maybe I will just send her in to buy the milk… Oh, gosh, what if something were to happen to her in the store or parking lot. They would say she was too young to go in alone, that I was neglectful for allowing her to do so. What about child traffickers?!? Maybe we don’t need milk after all…I wasn’t going to buy raw, organic, grass-fed milk anyway so I’m probably doing them a favor.
“Children used to play outside!” they say. “Kids today are overweight and lazy because they don’t play outside.” So I let them go outside and imagine the passersby, “Look at those kids in the street. Where is their mother?”
Free Range. Neglectful.
Overstimulated. Summer lag.
Modesty. Body Shaming.
There’s two ways to be wrong on every choice.
The other day, I saw a middle school aged-girl wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The t-shirt was loose and hung down mostly covering her shorts. That drew my attention to the shorts which I noticed were so short that I could see the part of her leg where it ceases to be a leg, if you catch my drift. My brain began to form a reaction. “Whoa! That girl’s shorts are way too short….wait… am I body shaming? Should she be allowed to wear her shorts as short as she wants them if that is what she prefers?”
I don’t even know what I am “supposed” to think anymore.
One thing is for sure. If we can’t make up our minds, we certainly aren’t able to teach our children.
No one wants to think that something bad could happen to them or their children. When bad things do happen, we look for reasons. We want to “otherize” the victims. We want to say it could never happen to us because we are smarter.
But all this blaming and shaming has left parents in an awkward position.
If my child is rude, I can be scorned for not controlling her or I can be scorned for disciplining too harshly or I can be scorned for disciplining too gently. It takes a shrewd mom to check the surroundings, consider the odds, and play to the crowd.
It’s risk management for the 21st century mom.
Assess the situation, what is best for your child and least likely to illicit public scorn…and act quickly.
Tell ya what…I’m going to assume the best about you.
If your child is rude, I’m going to assume he is a child still learning his manners.
If your child is playing outdoors, I’m going to assume you’re near a window peeking out regularly and that you’ve taught him to get out of the street when a car passes by. He probably even knows to come home when the streetlights turn on.
I’ll even take it one step further. If you’re a parent and you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume that you love your kids. You want the best for them. And you’re doing what you think is best in any given situation, at any given time. And, if you make a mistake? I’m going to assume you realize and regret the consequences of that mistake and don’t need me or anyone else pointing it out.
I’d appreciate if you’d grant me the same grace, and maybe together, we can change what it means to be a millennial mom.