How to be a rubbish parent
3 years ago
Tamsin Oxford Professional writer and editor Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, UK
Do you feel comfortable telling a friend how to go to the toilet? Perhaps you are fine with letting your mate know that her dress makes her look like Genghis Khan (as some are wont to do)? Or are you OK with turning to a work colleague and insisting they are eating a banana in completely the wrong way?
These are the social skills of a sociopath. Nobody says to their friend, ‘Let me come and show you how to wipe your bum’ and yet there is a smug wave of people who believe that telling you how to raise your child is a completely acceptable thing to do. From mothers in-law who wait for you to leave the room so they can tell your partner why you are doing a terrible job with the grandkids, to the friend who suggests that your parenting skills are just not as good as theirs because you only have one child to their two, they corner you with unwanted nuggets of so-called wisdom.
Complete strangers think it perfectly reasonable to point out how someone is failing catastrophically as a parent and have the gall to look affronted when their advice isn’t met with profuse thanks. Let me start out by saying – we are not grateful. It’s rude and, unless our children are gnawing on yours like wild dogs at a carcass party, please don’t do it.
Recently a dog owner told me that I was handling my daughter’s fear of dogs in the wrong way and if I just left her alone with the pooches she would get over it. Right, so to help her recover from an inexplicable phobia I should lock her in a room with dogs the same size as she is because everyone knows that this whole thing came about because I am a terrible parent. Yes. Allow me to lock you in a room with a couple of amorous tarantulas that aren’t deadly so you can get over your fears.
The worst part is that every parent has one of these gems to share. The first is the expert.
‘The other day a close friend told me how I should be telling my son off as he’s going through a hitting phase,’ says Rachael, ‘She told me what tone I should use, how I should remove myself from the situation and how I should crouch down while talking to him. What I really wanted to do was to suggest that she crouch down next to him next time he thumps something and see how she likes being smacked in the face. But I’m too polite.’
Then there is the patroniser.
‘My nephew has a language development disorder and it has been a tough, tough time for my sister and they’ve done really well, but the number of people who felt it was useful to say that their little darling had a great vocabulary because they talk to them all the time was staggering,’ says Stella, ‘What is going through their heads? Can they hear what they are saying? Is my sister supposed to suddenly realise that’s where she went wrong. She never talks to her son. She is a stay at home mum who is with her son 24/7 and the reason his language centre is underdeveloped is because she had no idea she was supposed to talk to him.’
It isn’t just helpful female friends. The men are at it too.
‘I got heartily sick of my male friends, those that already have kids, telling me that I would not know what hit me after the birth of our first child,’ says Richard, ‘I know. I knew then and I know now and I didn’t need telling.’
It’s not all kindly and supportive advice either. The real gem was what happened to Sam.
‘My son had a friend round for a playdate and there were the usual tears about halfway through, brought on by over excitement and all that,’ said Sam. ‘The other boy’s mum looked at me and told me, with a straight face, that perhaps the reason my child was so over emotional was because I was quite a loud person and I should tone my personality down for his sake and his future growth.’
Glynis sums it up very nicely indeed, ‘Being told how to raise your child is very different from being told how to roast a chicken. There’s a whole range of emotions involved in being a parent and thoughtless comments or criticism of your parenting skills can really hit home. Most parents often feel unsure of their parenting anyway and when someone taps into that vulnerability – ouch!’
Parents are all bumbling along making mistakes and kind of getting the general idea as they go along so if you really want to give them something useful, bring wine. If we need help, we’ll ask.