Treating Kids Like an Inconvenience

The glass is half full. Don't treat the kids like an inconvenience.

Yesterday I went grocery shopping with the Bear and Banana. It’s spring break, which meant the normally quiet grocery store had the marks of kids all over it. As I tried to persuade Banana to not stand up in the cart while I simultaneously scolded the Bear for stealing nuts out of the bulk bins, I was relieved to see the rest of the customers in the store dealing with their own shopping-with-the-kids issues.

However, there was definitely a theme – mothers (yup, I didn’t see any fathers) all had that same look on their faces. It was a look I recognized immediately – the ‘let’s-get-this-done-fast-before-I-have-a-meltdown look. The Moms all looked tired, weary and, well, unhappy. Most of the kids were just being kids; I didn’t see any outrageously awful misbehaviour. But the Moms generally critiqued every minor moment of indiscretion: “Don’t touch that.” “Be where I can see you.” “Do NOT ask me for candy AGAIN.” “Get down from there.”

I am not sitting in judgment of these Moms. Trust me, I’ve been there. When the morning coffee hasn’t quite sunk in and I’m bothered by something else, it can feel like every action by the Bear and Banana is only done to irritate me.

The thing is, how we feel about parenting is twofold. One, we absorb all the social cues as to how we are supposed to be acting and try desperately to be THAT parent. And two, we have ownership over how we relate to our kids.

So, while most of the mothers were going through the motions of grocery shopping, they were also managing how they were being perceived in their parenting role. As parents, we are attuned to how we – and our children are an extension of us – are supposed to be acting. This can make a task like grocery shopping exhausting: thinking about our task, managing the kids’ behaviour and unconsciously managing our image as we know people are watching how we relate to the kids. No wonder parents find the simple act of grocery shopping a mental challenge!

But on to the second point about how we parent. We may not have much [immediate] control of the outside world, but we can control how we feel about it and therefore relate to it. Specifically, how we relate to our children. In sort of a the-glass-is-half-full kind of way, we can consciously decide to enjoy the time we have with our children. If we don’t, we only resent them and treat them as an inconvenience.

I was thinking of this as I stood at the checkout line. In front of me was a mother of two boys who struggled to keep them nearby as she paid for groceries. And behind me was a mother of three who commented to me that she was already sick of spring break even through it was only Monday.

I looked at my girls (who are by no means angels) and watched as the Bear dragged a screaming Banana away from a candy display near the exit doors. People were eyeing them. I decided not to say anything. I could have easily got myself worked up about how they need to stay close by and how the Bear doesn’t need to wrestle Banana every time she wants her to do something. But I decided that I didn’t care, it just wasn’t worth the effort.

Is this slow parenting? Resigning yourself to not really caring anymore? I didn’t want to look or act like the other mothers. I don’t want to be a miserable mother. I don’t want to view my kids as an inconvenience.

Let them be kids. Enjoy the show, everyone.

8 Responses to “Treating Kids Like an Inconvenience”

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  3. 3 maggie April 17, 2011 at 5:10 am

    I think treating your kids like an inconvenience is one of the worst things a mother could do. I’m fifteen and my mom has always treated me like an inconvenience and its definitely taken a toll on our relationship. I feel like she resents my very existence and it makes me feel bad about myself. The only good part of this is now I know how NOT to act when I become a mother.

    • 4 Mama Tortoise April 19, 2011 at 6:01 am

      Hi Maggie,

      It’s great to hear from someone with a different perspective. It’s hard for parents to be both individuals AND parents. I think this is especially true for mothers. One should never treat their child like an inconvenience, but one might want to reflect on how mothers have a difficult time trying to be their own person away from the role of mother.

      THanks for your comment!

  4. 5 Pam March 29, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    It occurs to me that if the years between birth and age eight are the most important for a child in terms of their cognitive and physical development, doesn’t it also follow that this is the most important developmental time for social skills? We don’t often think about the skills that are required for simply getting on with other human beings.

    In the same way that I can no more learn to read or do math FOR my child, can I learn social skills for them. We must learn skills by doing things. Parents do their child a disservice when they don’t allow them the freedom to explore social mores on their own. After all, we acquire skills through repeated practice and practice means that we experience failure and through that failure we learn. It’s okay to fail.

    Of course you would intervene if there were the presence of danger, and you do need to teach them about learning to recognize danger, but by and large standing back and letting your child figure many things out for themselves is valuable life experience for them.

    • 6 Mama Tortoise April 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Great point, Pam! Social skills do need to be practiced and learned. And often it’s the uncontrolled environments that offer the best opportunities. I should make stickers for my kids jackets – “I’m not mis-behaving, I’m learning how to interact with my environs!”

  5. 7 Michelle March 29, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    That’s definitely not ignoring your children! That’s teaching them to manage themselves and work with/around each other. Micromanaging kids only makes everyone involved even more stressed and anxious. For the most part, all kids exhibit the same behaviours at some point…wandering, touching, yelling, etc. If we believe that this is a reflection of our own parenting, then of course we have to “show” our peers that we can handle things and that this is most definitely NOT how we raised our kids. Who in their right mind would actually teach their kids to misbehave? No one. It’s kids being kids, testing us and the limits.

    • 8 Mama Tortoise April 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm

      Thanks Michelle. I know this, of course, but it’s always interesting to look around at all the other Moms and watch how they are parenting. Hard not to compare yourself to others (at least I find it hard not to compare!)

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