Published on June 16th, 2014 | by Allison Carr0
Allison Carr wonders ARE WE SECRETLY WAITING FOR OTHER PARENTS TO FAIL?
Before I had kids I used to be able to read the local news station’s website. More for entertainment than actual substantial news – the stories were formulaic, but I got some kind of pleasure from reading human interest stories in small city. It was like keeping up on the local gossip. If your local news station is like mine, and I’m pretty sure they are all the same, a good 50% of the stories they carry have to do with harm coming to children. Like some auto-accident that repulses you but you can’t look away, I would digest horrible stories of child abuse, child murder and kiddie porn rings.
Now I can’t even look at it.
In a way, I see the positive side to it, Crimes against children are being taken seriously in a way they never have been before. But in another way it seems gratuitous, as if we are all taking daily showers in our greatest fears, like some kind of insurance that we never forget how many awful things could happen to our kids. But I sometimes wonder if underneath that, something else lurks: the sense that we somehow enjoy watching the fuck-ups of fellow parents.
The other day, while busily running errands, I wheeled my son out to my car in a parking lot, loaded him into his car seat, and promptly got a cell phone call. I buckled my son up, jumped in the front seat and took the call. As I was going to back out of my space, the car behind me started honking and pointing to behind my vehicle: I’d left the stroller back there. I jumped out, embarrassed and thanked the man. “There better not be a baby in there” he sternly quipped. Shamefaced I said no, and packed up my stroller and got the hell out. Yes, he was concerned about my child, but underneath it was something else, an almost glee-like pleasure in being able to put down another person’s parenting. Why? Did it make him feel better about his own parenting choices?
Being a parent in the digital age is overwhelming. Part of it I expected – the constant demand on my time, the lack of sleep, the murphy’s law of parenting: everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, especially when you need to be somewhere. But what I didn’t expect was the shear overwhelm I would experience around parenting theory. Like most people, the majority of my news intake comes from the internet, and when I’m not reading the news, I usually end up reading articles on parenting. I often find myself falling down an information rabbit-hole: the French parenting blog leads to an article on lunch room nutrition leads to an article on training a picky eater, and so on. An hour later I’ve rounded the bend on 5 different parenting theories and they all sound like plausible and solid advice. More so, they all paint themselves to be THE answer, in total odds with all other theories. I’m no smarter, and worse, I’ve just wasted an hour I could have spent with my son.
I recently read article about one mom’s harrowing journey after being arrested for leaving her son in a car for a few minutes on a cool cloudy day while she ran into a store. As someone who has frequently left my son in the car (with the windows down) while I run to the ATM, which is literally 10 feet from my parked car, the article gave me pause. Like so many things I read it made me question what I had formerly assumed to be solid parenting ethics.
As I finished the article, below it under ‘suggested posts’ is an another about a father who forgot his son was in the car and left him to die in the sweltering heat while he was at work, all because he had been distracted by a cell phone call.
The article is horrible, and tragic; I couldn’t even finish it. This kind of tragedy is very real ( according to one website, an average of 38 children per year die from being left in the car). I understand the need to publicize anything and everything that might end up saving a child’s life, but I wonder if it is giving us a distorted view of the dangers of child-rearing? For instance, no one ever talks about the risk of simply driving your child in the car, and yet auto related fatalities are the number one cause of death for children 0-14.
Two days after my son was born, I remember sitting in bed with tears streaming down my face because I couldn’t bear how much I loved him and was fully realizing how bad it would hurt if something were to happen to him. “The luckiest I can hope for is that I die first,” I sobbed to my partner. I was completely and utterly unprepared for how wide open my heart was going to be blown by this little being.
Around that same time my sister, who has two kids, remarked with glee ‘you’re in the club now’ and happily dove into all the questions she wanted to ask me about being a parent. We stood on common ground; we both had experienced almost the same emotions, worries, fears, frustrations.
With the near universal sense of responsibility and emotions that most parents share, you would think that we would be the first to rush to support each other. Yet I’m faced with an uneasy divide when I meet with a new set of fellow parents. Can I mention that I finally resorted to using cry-it-out with my son, or will I be judged? Will someone call the cops on me as I dash to the ATM with my son in full view? And these are just face-to-face interactions – forget about internet forums, Facebook threads and blog comment sections. I don’t even venture there anymore.
Why are we so quick to judge our fellow parents? What is so appealing about polemical articles on child rearing theory? Why are we so quick to gobble up the stories about the terrible things that happen to kids and feed that fear? Why are we spending so much time reading about horrible accidents and child predators that we begin to think we see the beast in every parent we witness?
Is it as Brene Brown suggests, that we cannot handle the vulnerability that being a parent brings with it, so we push it down under information-overload, and judgment towards other parents? Did that man honking at me in the parking lot feel angry at me because watching me almost hit my own empty stroller had brought up fears about his own child he didn’t want to think about?
Is it the internet itself? Are we too distanced and not actually spending enough real time with either our kids or each other as parents?
Or is it all part of the same problem? That we are terrified of our own feelings and vulnerability, and looking for any way to escape it.
In the name of being stellar parents it seems that we are depriving ourselves of the one true thing that makes anyone a good parent: support. A network of peers, family members, teachers and neighbors who get how hard, scary and vulnerable parenting can be and know we are doing our best, even when we aren’t perfect.