Thoughtful Thursday: Parenting in Public
Thursday, January 25, 2007
This week, a story hit the news about a three year old having a temper tantrum and being removed from a flight. The parents wanted time to hold her and calm her down, or to be allowed for the mother to hold the child during takeoff. Airline rules require that children over age two be secured in an FAA approved car seat during takeoffs and landings. After several minutes of toddler tears, the family was escorted off the flight; they were given free roundtrip tickets anywhere in the US as well as refunded the cost of their tickets. The family flew home the next day, vowing to never use that particular airline again.

And then the media and armchair experts pounced.

Obviously, public opinion holds, the parents were horrible, lousy, and too permissive. How could they lose control of a three year old?

I have a different perspective. I've been there, and done that. My child, later diagnosed with a neurological disorder, could have been that little girl.

I wasn't there, so I don't know exactly what went on, or what the parents were doing about it. It's clear that the child was overwhelmed - whether because she was used to getting her way all the time and suddenly was expected to obey, or because she lost it from all of the disruptions, strange foods, odd smells and sounds, and general chaos and differentness of a vacation.

I'm inclined to give the parents the benefit of the doubt. I try to do that, if I can. I might mention to my husband what bad parenting I saw at the grocery store, but not because a child is crying. I only judge when I see the parent say "no" 5 times, then put the Cocoa Puffs in the cart anyway; barely mutter a vague warning at their monkey child who is climbing the banana display, but not take any action or bother to look up from their cell phone conversation; or tell their child to "shut the $&@* (heck) up before I kick your *%$ (punish) you". I think this is also why I love watching Nanny 911 - it's rubbernecking for moms. It's such a disaster you can't look away.

I've been in that desperate spot, when your kid has a mind of his own and is acting like he's possessed. I always wanted to scream at the onlookers, who were tsk-tsking at him - You're making it worse! My other kids are normal! I'm not a bad mommy!

A worse phenomenon are people who interfere as though they are child's advocate, insinuating you are the worst child abuser they've ever seen. I've met up with my share of those, too.

Once, at McDonald's, my two year old decided to pitch a fit. She wanted a drink of my soda, not her own milk, and I uttered the Big N word (no). She thrashed, wailed, threw her drink and food. I got her out of her chair, put her on the floor (rubber mat and padded, in the Playland) and told her I'd talk to her when she was done whining and screaming. Then I went back to talking to my sister-in-law. (You know, the whole ignore a fit thing. Plus I wasn't planning to spank her in the company of 20 strangers and their kids.) Another mother, experienced in pop psychology via talk shows, approached me to provide therapy.

Here's a snippet of that conversation:
OprahMom: She feels abandoned by you because you got up to get more ice and didn't include her.
Me: No, she's two and throwing a fit because she didn't get her way.
OprahMom: You can't let her just lay on the floor like that. It's not safe or clean.
Me: It's probably cleaner than the Playland equipment. They do mop the floor occasionally.
OprahMom: Now she feels like you don't care about her at all. You have to meet her needs.
Me: She'll get over it.
OprahMom: But...
Me: Look, when I start parenting by popular opinion at McDonald's, you'll be the first to know.

I think I scandalized my new sister-in-law when I ended the conversation by turning my back on the woman and starting to eat. By this time, daughter dear got bored with the fit and decided she would like her milk in her own cup after all. As OprahMom was leaving, I noticed that her 5 year old had a mohawk and an earring.

Now, back to the little girl who lost it on the airplane. As I said before, I don't know the circumstances contributing to her fit. Maybe it was bad parenting. Maybe she ate too many french fries in the terminal. Maybe she's a brat. Maybe she's got a mood disorder.

If I were the parents, though, I would not have insisted that the entire plane continue to wait on her while she stabilized her emotions. Teaching a child that the world must stop simply because you have a problem doesn't teach anything but a whiny, martyrdom attitude. Frankly, I'd have jumped at the chance to deboard and catch another flight without penalties. Getting free roundtrip tickets in the bargain as well? That'd tempt me to pinch the baby to make her cry!

That's where I feel the need to point out their error. They are the reason this has become national news (you don't think the airline advertised this situation, do you?). They are the ones so firmly entrenched in the culture of me that they can't have compassion or empathy for the flight crew, the other passengers, or even the other flights scheduled to leave and arrive.

The parents' big complaint seems to be that they were not allowed to hold her or calm her down. I think that's wrong -but that's exactly what the airline offered. A chance to go to a calm, neutral environment, where they could take their time without pressure (and without the strange noises, smells, and glares of angry adults who don't remember what it was like to be three years old). No, the parent's real complaint is that they didn't get exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it, how they wanted it.

Perhaps if any parenting is obviously to blame, it's the little girl's grandparents, who did not teach their children, the girl's parents, to think JOY (Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last) but raised spectacular examples of the "me" generation.

Your thoughts on the matter? Have you ever been approached and taken to task by a clueless stranger because you were being too strict, or too permissive? How do you handle children whose parents let them do whatever they want and don't discipline them?
posted by Milehimama @ Mama Says at 1/25/2007 09:36:00 AM | Permalink | |