Friday, January 27, 2012

bad parenting: how much slack should we cut parents?

There's a post over at BlogHer that has provoked quite the storm of responses this past week, essentially for provoking moms who feel the author Issa Waters (of the blog Love Live Grow) isn't cutting them enough slack when she argues that "parenting isn't hard." But the claim is rhetorical, for Issa immediately states that, "okay, sometimes it is hard." Her point is that we cannot excuse abusive parenting with the dismissive "parenting is hard." Excerpt:
Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.

Parenting is the very act of caring for these smaller people. It should not be synonymous with treating them in abusive ways.

Spilt MilkSay I’m in a McDonald’s. In a booth near me is what appears to be a romantically involved man and woman enjoying a meal together. Near the end of the meal, the woman accidentally knocks her soda over and it spills over the table and floor. The man leaps to his feet and yells, “Oh my god! I told you to be careful with that!” He grabs her by the arm and drags her out of the booth. “That’s the last time you get to have a medium drink!” He shoves her off to the side while he starts to clean up. “Go stand by the door, we’re going home right now!” After an initial little gasp at the spilled drink, the woman remains silent, body slack, eyes averted.

I would be horrified to witness this scene. I would worry about the verbal lashing, and I would worry about the physical aspects. Probably most people would be concerned on some level. However, when I witnessed that scene with, instead of a woman, a 10-year-old child, no one batted an eye. It doesn’t even stand out. Doesn’t register. Some might even consider it “good discipline.”

But, it’s not. It’s just abusive. We would not say about the man, “Well, relationships are hard. He’s probably just having a bad day. Cut him some slack.”

On a “bad day”, I might grumble at my partner, Joshua. I might be a little curt, a little snippy. I would not pull his body around, hit him, yell at him, say belittling things at him, or order him about. We have a loving relationship together that doesn’t include those kinds of actions. Likewise, parenting is between parent and child but is still supposed to be a loving relationship together. People who are mean and abusive to children don’t have a parenting problem. They have an abuse problem.

A flood of commenters critique Issa for not cutting parents more slack. Some applaud the post. And a few share their own experiences with abusive parents, such as Emma:
I grew up with a mother who yelled and had difficulty controlling herself emotionally under the stresses of her life. As an adult I can sympathize with her situation: it wasn't easy. I get it. As the object of her aggression (mostly verbal) however, I can report that it was only spending a substantial portion of my time and income in my 20s and 30s on therapy that sorted the fallout for me of living with that kind of uncontrolled reactive parenting.

So thanks, Issa, for calling it out. I'm with you. (And what a great example you offer.)

I have a daughter now and meditate every morning, even if only for 5 minutes, to calm myself and prepare to focus on my time with her, whatever it brings. Some of the days are challenging, absolutely, but staying calm allows me to learn which situations we can avoid entirely next time and what kind of responses work for both me and my daughter in those circumstances. Yelling is not one of them.

Having myself grown up with a verbally, emotionally, and at times physically abusive mom, the post struck a deep chord with me. Sure, I can explain my mom's abusive behavior in light of her anxiety and "nerves," her bouts of depression and anger, but none of us can excuse or explain it away. And sure, though I strive so hard to stay calm and patient with my daughter, I have my moments of vibrating with irritation. There are times when I lose the kind and compassionate voice; where I sigh at her in a way that I fear she experiences as being shamed, or when I overreact (the worst) to some little accident or spill or some other stupid little thing.

I can explain those times in terms of feeling stressed and depressed, frustrated with the never-ending-not-enough-time situation in which I constantly find myself, and the trying times of parenting in general. And I appreciate the understanding look in the face of my fellow mama friends when I confess those times to them. Weighed by shame, I take all the blame for my bad behavior and always apologize profusely to Lilly, stressing I was in the wrong, that I will try harder, to be better. But I cannot excuse these lapses. Here I second ShoreBookworm who concludes her comments with this:
We all have our moments, because we are human. That does not mean we should be ok with it. There are no excuses, there can be no rationalization. Every lapse should come with a vow to try harder next time, because we are the grown-ups. That is not being judgmental, it is having high expectations. Because our children deserve it, they deserve our very best. Even if there are no guarantees, we still have to try.
I heartily recommend you check out the post and its storm of comments over at BlogHer:
No Excuses: Parenting Isn't Hard


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. Parenting is definitely hard and it is the very act of caring for these smaller people. It should not be synonymous with treating them in abusive ways.



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