Strangers With Compliments

Once you become a parent, you get deluged with a lot of advice. Whether it's what carseat to buy, whether to breastfeed or what kind of birth you should have, everybody has an opinion. Perhaps the most advice you get, though, is about how you should parent.

This is where one of my biggest personal pet peeves comes in. Not only do people tell you how you should parent your children, but they back up their unsolicited advice with the classic whammy--- strangers with compliments.

See if this is familiar...

"I'm very strict and people are always coming up to me in public and complimenting my children."

"We use Attachment Parenting and strangers are always complimenting our children on their behavior."

Apparently, this is the gold standard by which we should judge all parenting decisions -- will strangers praise my children if I do this?

There are several enormous problems with choosing your parenting style based on strangers with compliments, however. To name a few....
My kids have been complimented by strangers many times over the years. They tend to act pretty darn good in public and my husband and I work really hard to keep them happy and occupied in restaurants and other public places. And yes, it's nice when an elderly lady comes over and says how polite our children are or passengers thank us when we get off a plane for having such well behaved little ones.

But there have also been times when my kids were less than perfect, and that was okay. There was the time at the Nebraska capitol when Jack (then 4) had a meltdown over not getting to buy something at the souvenier shop. He was not happy. His sister got a cool ring, his friend got a cooler ring, and I think he had enough money for a small rock (not even a cool one). It was the end of a very long day with lots of being quiet and acting good. He was over it.

My friend and the rest of our kids went on ahead to the van and I waited on the capitol steps with a very loud, very angry Jack. He yelled at me. He cried. He said it wasn't fair. I talked quietly and patiently to him and stayed with him until he was better. In the meantime, a lot of people in expensive suits walked by and gave us looks. I smiled. Some smiled back, some didn't. I didn't really care about what strangers in Nebraska thought about us. My 4 year-old boy was learning a whole lot of important things, like how to handle frustration and unfairness, how fits won't get you cool rings no matter how loud you get but your mom will still be there and sympathize. It was his only real public temper tantrum and it was a doozy, but when it was over he held my hand and we walked to the van talking about it.

Two years ago, my kids and I went on a vacation to Maine with friends. We ended up at a swanky gourmet restaurant early one evening. I had 3 young children and an infant to keep quiet and happy in a very small restaurant. The restaurant was wonderful. We had appetizers with edible, organic flowers on the plates and we tasted things we'd never dreamed of. The sweet waiter brought each of my kids a flower to munch. My kids loved it. They happily talked about their flowers, laughed and tried to act very fancy.

The whole time, I kept trying to hush them. "Quiet voices," I'd remind them with a smile. Elbows off the table. Shhhh. I bounced the baby, kept my hand on Jack's knee, kept eye contact with my girls. Finally, my friend Sue looked at me and said "The people at the next table are 3 times louder than your kids. Relax!".

I realized that I was so concerned about making sure my children were behaving well that I was denying them the right to enjoy this wonderful experience. They didn't have to act mute to be good! They didn't need higher standards than the half drunk businessmen at the next table who did indeed drown out my little kids' happy chatter.

Kids who are well loved tend to be well behaved, especially when we set good examples ourselves. It's great to have great kids, and even nicer when outsiders notice just how well we've done with them. Let's let go of that as a yardstick, though.

We all have a responsibility to be considerate in public, whether we're businessmen or 4 year-olds. We all also have a right to enjoy ourselves. And we all have a right to an occasional bad day.

When deciding the right way to bring up our children, there's a whole lot to think about. We want them to be kind... Moral. Curious. Brave. Creative. Passionate. Dependable. Honest. Strong. Loving. Resilient. Self confident. Happy. We want the world to be a better place because they're in it. Impressing strangers with their table manners can be on the list, but let's not put it quite at the top.

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All works on this site Alicia Bayer unless otherwise noted.
Don't take it - that would be rude.