Parenting as a Collective Responsibility

I had Banana in the sling and the Bear told me that her ‘listening ears’ were turned on. We were going grocery shopping. As usual, the Bear wanted to look at everything. And I really don’t mind. Grocery shopping is an outing, a field trip, a break from the house. I let the Bear touch things in the grocery store. I know… gasp… she touches things! We’re not talking throwing the fresh produce across the floor here. But she does pick up things with interesting labels or fingers the fennel and asks what it is. I see it as harmless curiosity. She always returns the item to its rightful place and, for the most part, listens to me as she explores.

As we’re heading down one aisle, I turn to coax the Bear to follow me. A woman looks at me and tells me that I shouldn’t let my daughter touch things, “People have to buy these things,” she seethed. I responded with an eloquent, “uh.” And then turned with the Bear to keep shopping. I was stunned, my heart pounded.

I played over the incident in my head for days afterward. What was it exactly that bothered me so much. I could think of a zillion reasons to justify letting my daughter touch items in a grocery store. But it wasn’t the fact that we disagreed that got under my skin.

Then it hit me. It was because her anger was directed at me. By addressing me, she was essentially saying, ‘you are the one in charge and therefore your daughter’s behaviour is your fault.’ By addressing me, it became a critique of my parenting as well as the Bear’s actions.

I started to think about how parenting is generally observed as an individual pursuit rather than a collective aim. For the most part, our culture holds on to the sentiment that individuals are responsible for raising their children, not the community. When things happen, it is the parents that we find it easiest to point the finger at. And mother blaming is especially prevalent.

Roll back the clock a few weeks. We were on the way home from the library. It was the end of the day; I was tired and still needed to start dinner. The Bear was refusing to stop jumping off a stump from a recently felled tree. As I was pleading with her to please come, an elderly woman crossed the street. She looked at the Bear and said, “I think your mother is calling you. I think you’d better go.” The Bear immediately got off the stump and came to my side. I gave the woman a thankful smile and we were on our way. I wasn’t offended or hurt by her interference.

So, how is this story different from the one in the grocery store? Because the parenting was directed at the child rather than the mother.

We all know the saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ I believe that this belief should be manifested in each individual relation with children. I would rather have my neighbour tell the Bear to stay off the street when she is outside playing than have my neighbour tell me about her concerns.

Imagine if that woman in the grocery store had turned to the Bear and asked her to please stop touching the items. The Bear would undoubtedly have listened to her. I may have disagreed about curbing the behaviour, but I would not have been defensive about my parenting strategy.

We all have different styles when it comes to children. But I would rather a pluristic approach to child rearing than one where only the parents make the decisions. I opt for people reprimanding and praising my child than leaving that sole responsibility up to me and my husband.

So, I welcome you to try out your parenting techniques on my children. I may not always agree with you, but at least I know that I’m not alone in parenting. And, most importantly, I will know that you value my children and their growth.

Incidentally, Lenore Skenazy wrote a great piece on ParentDish about a librarian hesitating to have a child left in the children’s section of the library. Skenazy alludes to the same issue – parenting should be about community. The more we individualize it, the more fearful of ‘community’ we become.

2 Responses to “Parenting as a Collective Responsibility”

  1. 1 Michelle April 1, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Geez, was that lady at the grocery store concerned about fingerprints on her olive oil?!?

    Like you, I generally appreciate when others, especially friends and family, address my children directly, rather than taking the issue to me. Honestly, I sometimes take this as an indirect critique of my parenting (or perceived lack thereof), but I want my children to understand that they are part of a larger picture. Not only do they have to behave appropriately and respectfully to, and around, family and friends, but wherever they are. Similarly, I expect others to treat my children (and all children) with respect and kindness. Unfortunately, not everyone shares my views. Why, oh why, can’t the world just agree with me?!?

    Hope you don’t mind my constant comments!! Parenting issues seem to get me riled up 🙂

    • 2 Mama Tortoise April 1, 2010 at 6:46 am

      Love the comments, Michelle! They are like payment for writing the blog.

      You bring up a good point – children have to learn to handle different sources of authority, parents will never be the only source.

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