It was cold.
Colder than it had been so far this year.
As a mother, I make my children take jackets with them when it gets this cold. If they are still quite young, I take it upon myself to help them get the jackets in question on their bodies and zipped or buttoned up before we exit our vehicle or whatever store/public place we may find ourselves in when we venture out of the house. If they are older, I just make sure they have their jackets with them. Ok, I do nag a little, and that’s part of what brought me to write this post.
We were leaving Super Store in Charlottetown and my twelve year old daughter was wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Everyone, myself included, had their jackets on, most often accessorised with warm scarves and gloves for good measure. My daughter had her jacket tucked under her arm as we walked to our vehicle, hot chocolate held in the other hand. Her wild hair was blowing in the wind, she was laughing at some crack my husband had made. She was the picture of a happy, free pre-teen girl without a care in the world.
And then The Lady walked by.
Late 50’s, well dressed, possibly well-to-do… and apparently not impressed that a kid was outside without a jacket on.
It was just a glance as she passed us. But it spoke volumes. And in that instant, I changed.
I was embarrassed. I felt ashamed. The glance reflected on me as a parent, on my “inadequacies” in this woman’s eyes. So I suddenly got after my daughter to put her jacket on.
Some of you are reading this thinking, “Well, of course you did—she SHOULD have a jacket on and not tucked under her arm when it’s cold out. What kind of a parent wouldn’t make their child put their jacket on in cold weather?”…
My inner voice contradicted my actions completely. And I felt ashamed of myself afterwards for letting a stranger’s judgemental glance affect my actions and my trust in my daughter and respect for her. Yes, you read that right. Because rationally, if a twelve year old who is not mentally challenged gets too cold while walking from the store to a vehicle in the parking lot, they will put their friggin’ jacket on. Do I really think my daughter is too stupid, at twelve, to do such a thing? But I let this person’s possible opinion on my parenting interfere with extending love, trust, and respect toward my child. In short, I valued a stranger’s opinion on my parenting over respecting my daughter as a capable human being.
We do this often as parents.
I think we have placed such a high level of priority on academic achievement, athletic ability, and plain old appearances that we have neglected the importance of allowing our children to grow and develop and learn how to make decisions for themselves. How often have you seen a young adult in their 20’s who has completed university still relying on Mom & Dad for financial support, for advice on the basics of life, etc.? They have never learned how to make their own decisions or been trusted enough to gradually steer their own lives. It is an unhealthy sacrifice our culture has made in exchange for “higher education”. I do not want to infantilize my children, my teenagers, my future young adults. The only way we can learn to make good decisions is by actually making decisions to begin with—and that has to start somewhere.
We recently let our fifteen year old son make an important decision that he had been contemplating for over a year. He has learned to do research on such things, to weigh out pros and cons, and take his time. He showed us such responsibility in the face of this decision that we chose to respect him and allow him to make it. Again, this could have easily boiled down to letting the opinions of others regarding our parenting take precedent over our respect for him as a person approaching adulthood.
It is amazing how much more at peace I feel internally when I know I have chosen my child over keeping up appearances and fending off judgement. It boils down to trusting our instincts as parents as respecting our children as people—seeing them as people—in the face of the scrutiny that surrounds us. There is a feeling of freedom in that. A feeling of weight off our shoulders when we simply choose to step out and not “play the game”.