What’s that you say? That you don’t like being judged?
That you hate the idea of a stranger on the opposite side of the room thinking:
‘I wouldn’t do that’?
You squirm with dread that they might tell you so?
A bit of advice then: don’t have kids.
I recently considered this in a cafe, while Toddler was pretending to drive a lorry in one of those tacky ‘ride for 50p’ machines that Toddlers love, and Tiddler was practising Toddling.
Yes. I know. Toddler and – Toddler. New nicknames required. Suggestions welcome.
Anyway, Tiddler was walking up and down, holding onto the fronts of a row of empty chairs in the kiddies play area.
The other occupants of the play area were a woman and a baby. She was supervising hers in a manner fit to feature in a textbook of excellent parenting :-
‘Oh YES! You’re looking at the toy! Shall we describe it in minute detail and discuss every way in which you explore it?’
All three of them were having a great time.
The woman was also having a great time disapproving of me, because I was having a great time drinking a cup of coffee in peace, in a seat overlooking said kids’ zone. When Toddler’s volume increased at one point (she sings nursery rhymes when she drives, because Mummy does) Baby’s Mum looked at me very pointedly to shut her up.
I very nearly sang along.
Then Tiddler fell over. He blinked; he looked around.
‘Oh my goodness!’ Baby’s Mum dropped the toy and ran across. ‘Are you OK?’
Tiddler falls over a lot. He was already back on his feet. He flashed her his most fetching toothy grin.
‘Thanks, he’s fine. He’s just at the falling over stage,’ I said.
‘Do you just want someone to pay you a bit of attention?’ She asked him. I didn’t hear her: I was looking intently at the menu for the price of chocolcate cake.
‘Poor sweetheart. Do you want to talk to me?’ Toddler crawled over eagerly they played together and all was lovely. Neglectful Mummy ordered cake.
I then proceeded to see how many hints about paying my child more attention I could ignore, and found myself to be rather good at it. Her baby didn’t look very happy to be sharing his Mummy, but clearly she felt that Tiddler shouldn’t play by himself, even though he had been playing by himself so very well. So I let her entertain him.
Chocolate cake arrived. I offered half to the kids. I thought about offering hers some too. But her horrified expression, exaggerated for my benefit, suggested they were more organic pumpkin seed sort of people. So I didn’t.
Little things. But little things wear you down unless your backbone is reinforced with Sheffield stainless steel. Mine is, luckily – I’ve had practice. Tiddler is the only Wanna-Toddler I know who is allowed to crawl on damp playground / woodland floors. This makes Tiddler happy, but it does seem to provoke comment.
And these are deliberate parenting decisions that I believe in. There are plenty of other things that I mean to do well, but don’t get quite right. Sometimes the kids get hungry and start playing up before I have made it snack-o-clock. Sometimes they bawl in supermarkets and I still finish my shopping. Last week I was so busy supervising Toddler at the climbing wall that I didn’t notice Tiddler, who had been playing happily with a toy in the cafe area, swiping someone’s unguarded flapjack. The owner of the flapjack didn’t complain when I pointed my error out to him, but he would have had every right to.
What are you thinking? ‘Well I bring my children up properly so people won’t find fault with my choices.’
Or you might be thinking, ‘it’s all very well you telling people not to judge, but I bet you were judging Baby’s Mum.’
And you would be damned right right about the second one.
However you parent, there will always be someone who would not do it like that. I am not suggesting that Baby’s Mum’s methods weren’t as good as mine (quite possibly, they were better). But I still labelled her as either OTT or demonstrative.
And I am definitely suggesting that where two strangers are supervising their children in a relatively safe environment, life is pleasanter for everyone without uninvited criticism.
So Baby’s Mum never found out what I thought.