At some point in the year or two before T joined our family, I distinctly remember encountering a father with his two daughters at a grocery store as he was explaining to them why they couldn’t do something that they were doing or trying to do. What caught my attention was not the act in question (clearly… since I don’t remember what it was) but it was how long-winded the father was. He was very calm & using great detail — & I thought “wow, that’s a weird way to discipline your kids!?”
Mind you, I’m not an overly judgmental person. Even before my baby days, I usually chalked up my own reaction to others’ parenting decisions as “well, how would I know anything about that!” And now, especially, I really try to let others do their parenting in peace (not that I don’t have some inevitable evil thoughts now & then… I mean, no one’s perfect, right? especially when we all think we’re doing it the “right” way…).
Anyway… back to the dad & two girls… I think I was just taken aback & probably thought the girls couldn’t possibly be understanding anything the father was saying (they were quite young, at least one was a toddler). It was half “that’s an interesting way to go about it” & half “I definitely won’t be taking that approach when I have kids.”
Well, for all I know, it could have been Alfie Kohn himself, who wrote my now-favorite book on parenting, Unconditional Parenting. Which is one way of saying… I’ve eaten my words (or thoughts, in this case…) & am now that parent.
In fact, I realized this as I was in a grocery store (ah, the irony… wait, that’s not really ironic… ah, how fitting…). T refused to sit in the cart so he was making trouble at my heels. We were in an aisle with bulk foods & there I was, crouched down next to him explaining why he couldn’t put his hands, the scooper, or anything else in the bins of flour. “It’s food, we don’t play with food.” “Your hands are dirty.” “Other people are going to eat that; they wouldn’t appreciate your germs in their food.” Etc.
A man sans child looked annoyed. I’m sure he was saying to himself “I would never discipline my child like that.” And maybe he won’t. Or maybe it was “Just stick the !@#$@# kid in the cart where he belongs!”
Would it have been easier to just stick him in the cart? Well, that depends on whether or not he was ready to get back in the cart (i.e. whether or not he would have screamed bloody murder or not…) Maybe it would have been easier.
But toddlers, I’ve learned, do not take well to being contained for no good reason. And, often, you can reason with them.
I am certain that if T finds himself next to a bin of flour in the next year or so, he will try to put something in it. In that sense, my reasoning with him didn’t work. (He also tries to stick his hand in my mouth every morning… & no amount of reasoning gets him to stop that…) But maybe he caught onto a couple of those words & maybe he sensed that I was respecting what he needed right then (i.e. not being in a cart) while setting some limits (i.e. protecting the food supply for others!).
If nothing else, I felt like I was treating him like a real person. That’s what was right for us in that moment. I’m sure T understood that much. I could care less what man sans child (or anyone else, for that matter) was thinking.