This is the start of a new series, Other People’s Parenting, in which I out myself on how I become Mrs. Judgy McJudgerson when I’m out in public.
It’s hard for me to admit this but when it comes to other people’s parenting I’m a busy-body. A nosey-parker. I am incapable of minding my own business when I perceive a child in need. It’s impossible for me to ignore it and just pay attention to my own kids and maybe focus on fixing the deficits in my own flawed parenting. Why can’t I keep to myself when I’m out in public, particularly when I see really crappy parenting? Why? Especially when it embarrasses my tween and my husband, both of whom have developed a sixth sense where they can actually feel one of my nosey-parker episodes coming on?
If we’re at a playground, for example, and we see a crying child without a parent, they know that my attention will veer away from my own children, and I will begin to look around for the parent with a Mrs. Judgy McJudgerson look on my face, and I will not stop it until that parent appears. When they do I will watch their response to their child out of the corner of my eye, and I will judge it.
I know that in general, moms are quite possibly the most judgmental group on the planet when it comes to other parents. But I take it to an extreme, I think, when I’m out in public or reading what parents do to their kids in the news.
Did you read about that dimwit mom who left her child at Chuck E. Cheese last week after her daughter’s fifth birthday party because she just plain forgot her? Apparently she didn’t realize her mistake until it was time to get ready for school the next morning? Oh, how I judged that mom. I’m sorry but I can find no reason why a parent would forget their child at a Chuck E. Cheese late at night and not figure it out til the next morning. Was she drunk? High? I don’t care that she had 9 kids – that’s no excuse, either. Oh boy did I judge that mom.
Back when I had a career, B.C., that’s Before Christ, I took the Myers-Briggs test – it’s a personality test based on Jungian archetypes that employers like to give their employees so they can see what motivates them and what pisses them off. You answer a bunch of questions and you get assigned a type. My type turned out to be ENFJ (Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling and…wait for it: Judgemental!). Jung has an explanation of what this means, and I’ve got one too.
His: ”ENFJs are the benevolent ‘pedagogues’ of humanity. They have tremendous charisma by which many are drawn into their nurturant tutelage and/or grand schemes. Many ENFJs have tremendous power to manipulate others with their phenomenal interpersonal skills and unique salesmanship.”
Mine: ENFJs are busybodies who can’t mind their own business. They embarrass their tweens in public and judge other people’s parenting without mercy, sometimes even overlooking the needs of their own children in their eagerness to correct the shocking unfairness of all the crap parenting they see in the world.
I think the reason I’m hyper-vigilant when it comes to bad parenting is because of an ancient feeling of helplessness that permeated my childhood. I was pretty much left to fend for myself by my alcoholic parents. Now as a “grown-up,” I am in control: if there is a neglected child, I feel an overwhelmingly protective need to do or say something. Add to this the fact that in all the years of my childhood, no one – not a single person, ever intervened or said anything to my parents that I know of until I was 15 and a friend’s mom yelled at my mom that she was an alcoholic and wasn’t fit to be a parent.
But mostly, the whole world of adults was struck mute. And I found that unbelievable.
After my parents died, people trickled out of the closet to tell me what a shame it all was – that they had seen it all, had known. I don’t know how I felt about all these people knowing that my parents were alcoholics, yet not doing anything to help. I always assumed they didn’t know. I’m not saying they needed to call CPS – just a kind word to me from one of them might have reassured me that I wasn’t crazy, that someone else saw what I was going through.
So now as a “grown-up,” I’m Peter Pan – I’m the mom at malls, amusement parks, playgrounds and restaurants unconsciously judging and secretly feeling outraged at bad parenting. I wish I wasn’t like this, but I am. For example, a few weeks ago there was the incident with the camouflage dad at the mall.
Crappy Parenting Situation #1
And there was another incident where a boy at a weekly class we go to had a black eye and was standing outside in a t-shirt in nearly Arctic weather.
So I asked him how he got his black eye. “Did your brother head-butt you?” I joked. “Did you get elbowed on the monkey bars?” Most kids have an epic story to tell about how they got a black eye. He said nothing.
He didn’t feel comfortable talking about it so I went back to my car, and Fi and I fretted about him some more. I tried to stop myself but I couldn’t – I went back inside the classroom to tell his mom her son was freezing.
I was pretty much a bitch at that point, to be honest. I announced to the room, “Can I get your son his jacket? It’s 42 degrees outside and he’s only in a t-shirt.” But the mom didn’t care. You know what she said?
“He’s being punished.”
I went back outside and looked at him. He looked really forlorn (and fucking freezing). I said, “You don’t want to tell me how you got the shiner?”
He said no.
“Honey, did someone hit you?” I said.
He didn’t say anything. This said everything.
“Are you okay?” I said.
He shook his head no.
“Listen,” I said. “If you ever need any help, I’m here every week.”
I talked to the teacher about it, and she told me she would keep an eye on things. I have since watched this mom in action and looked for other signs of distress in her children – the boy seems fine now, and just because she has a hundred kids and her car is plastered with in-your-face bumper stickers that I may not agree with, just because she chooses to punish her children in a way that I find appalling – it doesn’t mean that he is being abused. I hope I did the right thing by just letting him know that I’m there.
Crappy Parenting Situation #2
Parenting situation #2: So last week we went to get Ella a haircut. In the parking lot, I heard a little girl who appears to be the same age Ella – 7 – say, “But my legs hurt,” to her mom. The mom was walking pretty quickly but she did lean into the girl to ask her what hurt exactly, so it seemed okay. But then suddenly the mom was beside me asking for money and telling me that she had run out of gas. I recognized immediately that this mom was a drug addict.
And oh the emotions I felt in an instant. Standing there, watching that little girl have to deal with the unending burden of a drug-addicted mother.
I had the other-worldly experience of seeing all of us: this desperate drug addict who was dragging her poor child along with her on her quest for More. My seven-year-old holding my hand looking at her seven-year-old holding her hand, the two of them appraising each other the way seven-year-old girls do. Fi squeezing my hand and doing that Morse-code SOS thing she does because she knows this is an emotionally tricky situation. She feels sorry for the little girl and is Morse-coding me to do something, like scoop up that little girl, kidnap her, and take her home with us away from the drug addict and her own bleak future.
And I could see myself saying No to the woman.
It all happened in the blink of an eye. Ten eyes really, if you count all of us looking at each other.
The woman saw that I was a lost cause and quickly found another mom who was driving a car. She stopped the car and gave the mom the same story about running out of gas. The woman listened to her a lot longer than I did, before saying no and driving off.
I gripped my girls hands tightly and yanked them across the street, away, away…
Ella: “Why did you tell the mommy you wouldn’t give her any money?”
Me: “Because I thought she might use it for bad things.”
Ella: “What bad things?”
I don’t think I even knew where to begin to answer her or if I even did. I was relieved to walk into the children’s haircut place where I sat down in the lobby to lose myself in Us magazine while waiting for Ella to get a haircut.
But it wasn’t to be. Because I am a nosey-parker parent and I can’t find the Off switch.
Crappy Parenting Situation #3
Parenting situation #3 started even before I plonked my ass in the chair and had a chance to escape by reading about the latest celebrity cheating scandal. Twins had come in – a boy and a girl – seven or eight years old, along with their nanny, their tall mother, and the younger sibling who was getting a haircut. The boy began trying to play the video game but didn’t know how to use the console. He politely asked – several times – if someone (meaning, his nanny) could show him how to use it. But she didn’t seem to hear him. I could just see his helplessness go around and around. This went on for a while. So busy-body me, I signaled to Fi that he might need some help using the game player. She showed him how to use it, and the world seemed right again. But as soon as the video began to work, the sister took the controls from the boy, pushed him out of his seat, and began playing the video game.
The boy began to whine that it was unfair.
The nanny, who had not been paying attention (obviously, otherwise maybe she would have helped him use the thing in the first place – see how judgmental I am?) asked him what was wrong and he began to whine louder. Finally the mom came over. Without even understanding what had happened, she scolded the boy for “not waiting his turn” while is evil twin sister sat there hogging the remote and smirking.
Me in the background eyeballing the whole scene. Judging the shit out of all of it.
The boy looked at his wimpy nanny, who was obviously disempowered by the mom and was not allowed to make any real decisions. The nanny too told him to wait his turn, then suggested wimpily to his twin sister that it wasn’t nice to butt in like that and hog things. The sister totally ignored her. Fi whispered, “Mom, did you see that? That girl isn’t nice.”
The boy totally lost his nuts then – I mean, who wouldn’t? He was surrounded by monumental incompetence, parenting by watered-down committee, and a mean sister. The mom came by again and got really mad at the boy for feeling upset. Then the mom stomped off to go hawk the haircutter again. The nanny turned around and looked at me – nosey-parker mom that I am sitting behind her and watching it all like a Roman watching prisoners get fed to the lions – and she smiled and shook her head.
“Are you the nanny?” I asked her. (See? I can’t shut up, can I? Why can’t I just shut up?)
“Yes,” she said, laughing almost. “I sure am.”
“Must be hard,” I said.
“You have no idea,” she said.
What I wanted to say was, so grow some balls and make that girl play fair and give her brother the God damned remote, but all I did was smile and look out the window…looking to see if the drug-addicted mom was still out there with her little girl. But they had disappeared.
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