It's always easier to parent someone else's child. And it's always easier to know exactly what you'd do, if you were the parent. Of course, you aren't the parent, and thus, not always aware of the extenuating circumstances. Not always aware of what's been tried in the past, what hasn't worked in the past. And today, I'm just putting it out there - maybe instead of jumping to conclusions and criticizing other parents, we should all just take a deep breath, step back, and acknowledge that we're all just doing the best we can.
My six year old son has extreme separation anxiety. He becomes incredibly anxious and fearful when he's going to be separated from me, and to some extent, from his father. He's been that way from the moment he was born, and there's little I can do to prevent it. The reason I know this is because he's not my only child. I have three of them, one is mildly shy and reserved, one is outgoing and friendly, and one is terrified in new situations and takes a good long time to warm up. That's how they were when I got them. I am absolutely certain that so much of personality is there from the very beginning.
Jessie started dance class at two years old. She'd been home with me full time, but was delighted to dance off with the other little girls, and has been in "activities" from a very early age. She started summer camp when she was four. While she certainly didn't like going to kindergarten, she was content while she was there. Shy, sure, but participating and comfortable.
Julianna believes that everyone in the world is her friend. Literally. If she sees another child, she happily announces that she's her friend and will immediately go to play. She can be a bit shy at times, a bit reserved, but overall, she's enormously outgoing compared to her older brother. She's thrilled to betsy to see her grandparents, absolutely loves going off for the day with her Auntie Becky and Aimee.
Sam simply is who he is. He's pretty sure that the world isn't entirely safe, and sometimes he's nervous and scared when he's forced to interact too much with too many people.
This week, he wanted to go soccer camp. It's Monday thru Thursday, from 9-12. He was certain he wanted to do it, and his best friend Harrison signed up as well. Monday, he chickened out right before we left, and only went once I promised to go up to the field and hang there. After a half hour or so of clinging to me and saying he didn't want to do it, eventually, he jointed the group and had a great time. Tuesday was even better, he joined in right away and was great.
But there were a couple of issues, Harrison had had some problems with other kids taking his ball and he got upset, and Sam was very concerned last night about how to handle that. Then I told him that I wasn't going to sit there for the full three hours, it's too much time for me to be trying to entertain the two other girls, and Jessie needed to get dropped off somewhere mid-morning. I'm sure those two things played into the fact that he lost his little mind about going to camp today. He just didn't want to go. And there was no talking him out of it.
It's hard for me. I mean, it's obviously hard for him as well, but as a parent, you want your child to thrive. You want him to be bold and adventurous and excited about playing with his friends, and it's hard to watch him be terrified and worried and anxious. It's even harder to admit that there's not a damn thing you can do to change it. So I was already at a disadvantage, after forty five minutes of trying to get him to participate in camp, and finally giving up. Which is why, when the mom in the minivan next to me looked at me and asked if I knew that I was doing the wrong thing by letting him go home, I was initially just dumbfounded. Really? Really? She honestly thought to herself that the best way to help, when no help was asked for, was to tell me that I'm doing it wrong??? I just stared at her for a minute, and then asked if she really thought she was being helpful. Because really - what was the motivation there? Take a mom who's clearly, visibly upset, and patiently tell me that I'm doing it wrong. She pointed out that I was only reinforcing bad behavior, and that what I should do was just leave him there. I started to answer her, to tell her that this was something that we were working on, and it's one thing to leave him at school, with staff that's specifically trained in dealing with small children, but there wasn't a chance in hell that I'd leave my hysterically sobbing six year old in the care of five coaches - who were already handling sixty other four, five and six year olds. That leaving him there would require at least one coach, probably two, to hold him back from chasing me out of the parking lot - and that it wasn't worth ruining everyone else's camp experience to further traumatize him in the name of giving him a great summer experience.
So I walked away. I just walked away. She was still talking, but I was past the point of trying to justify my parenting to her. Because in the end, I did what was right for my son in that situation. It might not have been what was right for her son, but you know what? I don't get to parent her child. I don't give her advice on how to handle her most challenging parenting problems. Because that's not how I roll. I don't give unsolicited advice, and if I did, I'd never start off with "you know you're doing that wrong." I really, really wish that she had paused and thought before informing me that I was a crappy parent. I really, really wish that she had smiled at me, told me that it'd get better, that we all have days when our kids are miserable and unhappy - because we do. I know enough other moms, I've dealt with enough other kids to know that my son is far from unique. He may be a bit more extreme, in this one area. But he's a great kid - and you know what? I'm a great mom. Shame on her for insinuating otherwise.