Thursday, March 08, 2012

Talking about things I don't understand...again

I’m not a parent. I’m reminded of this anytime I enter into any conversation about parenting. It’s fair to say that I am not qualified to offer advice on certain aspects of parenting, like being one.

Still, it stings a bit when someone posts online, “My little daughter won’t stop crying. What can I do? This question is for parents only. If you don’t have kids, I don’t even want to hear what you have to say.” And yes, that’s happened. A few times.

The thing is, I do know a little about that, because I cared for my baby sister. I had to help change her diapers, bathe her, dress her, feed her, discipline her, console her, read to her and clean up her vomit. She was often entrusted into me at a time when I was barely allowed to cross the street. Some aspects of child care don’t require an understanding of the sacred bond between parent and child. (Though I can understand why those unfamiliar with that fact would balk at the idea of a 31-year-old single man doling out advice on calming children.)

It’s tough to make any headway on the issue, given that most people divide the world into two types of people: parents who know everything, and non-parents who know nothing and are immature for even trying to understand, awwww.

Again, I understand what I don’t and can’t know. But if nothing else, I should be allowed to say this: some people are just terrible parents. Not most. But some. (Also, many people are wonderful parents. We non-parents notice and appreciate this too.)

I’m not talking about the kind of haughty judgments that the author of this Huffington Post piece made before having children. It’s hard enough to keep nutritional and disciplinary pledges when you’re only looking after yourself — a comeuppance was inevitable on that. I’m also mindful that every parent loses control of belligerent children at some point. We all have bad days. When I encounter a child in public, I’m always quick to smile or make a silly face, and I take any bad behavior in stride.

But there’s that systematically bad strain of parenting that’s clear from the get-go. When the discipline has high production values and the child seems neglected, whether physically, emotionally or intellectually, and if all of that is immediately and viscerally apparent, then something is wrong. And it shouldn’t be wrong of me to notice it, any more than not being on meds precludes me from noticing when someone’s off theirs.

(It’s those kinds of people who mar parenting for me. As if beating a child in public is something I’m too naive to understand now, but will want to do once I’m a “mature” parent. These are the people I’m supposed to learn from?)

And I do notice, not because I’m eager to one-up parents, but because I live in this village as much as they do. And I love kids. I want to see all of them grow up happily, so that they can be vibrant citizens and parents. I don’t bring a parent’s perspective, but I (and others like me) do bring a perspective, one we hope isn’t always dismissed out of hand. We care too.

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