I’d see children running wild in a cafe, and I’d say to my latte sipping friends “It’s all about expectations. As children, we were expected to behave in public, and so we did.” And my friends would nod in agreement.
If a mother went back to work before their children were in kinder, I’d think of my own mother’s words, “What did they have kids for, if they don’t want to look after them?” and vow I’d always be there for my children.
When a girlfriend hovered over her child in the playground, I’d murmer “helicopter parent.” When another yelled repeatedly at her toddler, I knew that I’d enjoy my kids, and never yell at them like that.
That was, of course, before I became a parent. Then karma came to bite me on my judgmental arse.
I had a high needs baby, and I barely coped. I felt an overwhelming desire to apologise to every girlfriend who was a mother before me, for my silent but unfair judgement of them. I finally understood a little of what they had been dealing with, and they were now looking like superheroes to me.
The first year of my baby’s life were as rough as guts, but things improved and I started paying attention to the appropriate rules for raising a toddler – discipline, consistency and not too many hours in front of the TV. To a large extent, I still shared society’s judgmental view that that the behavior of an out-of-control child was in large part due to their parents.
Of course, karma returned, and my child grew wild.
By the time she was two, she was totally out of control. She would become hysterical at the drop of a hat, and would run for the hills the moment I dropped her hand. She was incapable of playing nicely, and would bite everything in sight. No amount of direction from me got through to her, and when she didn’t get her own way, she’d fly into the most outrageous tantrums, smashing her head against walls, the floor, me.
I was no longer in control of my child, I was simply running around after her trying to prevent the worst disasters from happening. We made an absolute spectacle of ourselves every time we set foot out in public, and at home dumping her in front of the TV was my only refuge.
I couldn’t believe that every expectation I’d had of how I would mother my child had been turned on its head. I was now the ‘atrocious parent’ with ‘that awful child’.
That was the worst of times, and it was soon after that my daughter was diagnosed with autism. Since then, she has had a great deal of therapy, and I have learnt new ways to parent, and things have changed so much for the better.
But even now, at a time when I feel I’m a proactive and competent parent, I still may look from the outside like a slacker who is deserving of harsh judgement.
My child, aged 4, is still in nappies and loves her dummy. She spends hours each day glued to her iPad. When we’re out, I sometimes let her flout rules like wearing socks at the playcentre, or let her gatecrash other people’s parties. At cafes, she jumps around the room and eats with her hands. And when she throws a giant tantrum for not getting her way, I may give in and let her have what she wants.
But every day we are working hard on learning new words and behaviours. I just have to pick my battles and narrow my focus in order to get a result. I’m also doing what I need to keep the peace, for your sake as well as mine.
Strangely, in these moments of bad behavior in public, it’s not the judgement of others that I notice (I’ve learnt to tune it out). It’s the echo of my own judgement, from the time when I used to be the perfect parent. I feel sad for how I used to be.
But I know better now. I have been that ‘bad parent’ who flouts the rules, has no control over their child, and seemingly doesn’t care. I know that there is always more to the story. Whether it’s a child’s disability or simply an off day, you never do know…and nor is it any of my business to judge. I have faith that, with but a few exceptions, every parent is trying their best to raise their children. Sometimes they’re succeeding, and sometimes they’re floundering badly and looking like the worst parent in the world.
They won’t get any judgement from me.
Fiona Amarasinghe is a Melbourne mum, married and with a young daughter who is equal parts delightful and difficult to parent. She has autism and energy to burn. When not chasing after her, Fiona works as a kid’s party planner and entertainer, running her business Easy Breezy Parties from home.