Judgemental Mommy Moment

Today marked Lyd’s sixth day of swimming lessons.  Every one of those six days I have observed another little girl, a little Asian girl about 18 months old.  This little girl has been almost literally dragged by her grandmother into the pool, while the little girl clings to grandma for dear life and has a look of pure fright in her eyes.  Mercilessly Persistently the grandmother continues to make this child spend time in the water.  This child obviously hates it.  A few of these previous six days, the girl’s (very posh) mother has come along with grandma and her daughter.  This mother will put on her (very posh) swimming suit and take her panicky daughter into the pool.  Same reaction as with grandma.  This girl is clearly not enjoying her introduction to the water.

But worst of all is after class.  The grandma insists that this little tyke should have her long (down to the middle of her back) hair washed in the shower after being in the pool.  The child may have been scared before, but she is utterly and completely terrified/panicked about being put under the shower.  And she screams.  Oh, does she scream.  And it is a scream that makes me want to run (fully clothed) into the communal, open shower, grab that poor girl out of her grandma’s seemingly-uncaring arms and say, “Stop this!  Don’t you see that you are traumatizing her?  What kind of a person are you?”  But so far, I have refrained from getting involved.

Until today.

Today Posh Mother went into the water with her daughter, and attempted to do the shower afterwards while her girl was kicking and screaming in terror in a way that was highly un-posh.  The mother didn’t seem to be quite sure how to handle this, seeming not to be as bound and determined as grandma to wash that child’s hair.  I happened to be walking past the showers with my girls at this moment.  My eyes happened to meet Posh Mother’s eyes, and I said in a way that I thought was sympathetic, “She really hates showers.”  The thought running through my mind was that Posh Mother hadn’t been around much to see how strongly anti-shower her daughter was, how absolutely terrified she was of the water, and perhaps if I told her how much her child hated the shower, she wouldn’t make her child go through it.

Totally interfering, I know.  Should I have said it?  Probably not.

But you see, I have a little daughter who only recently has decided that showers are okay as long as her hair is not being washed in the shower, because that is still Too Scary.  And my daughter is at least twice the age of this little girl.  I really felt for this little peanut of a girl, whose name I don’t even know, and I felt that Grandma and Posh Mother were pushing this girl needlessly to do something that she will learn to do in her own time.

Posh Mother responded quickly to my words, saying, “She has to learn sometime.”  She looked away from me, pushing her daughter into the shower, ignoring her shrieks that were her way of begging for mercy.  I turned away as well, taking my girls into the communal changing area, after asking my daughter if she wanted to rinse off in the shower, which she declined.  Every time Lyd gets out of the pool, I ask her if she wants to take a shower.  She always says No, and I don’t push it.  In my mind, in the end, it really doesn’t matter, and it’s not a battle worth fighting.  Yes, sometime, Lyd has to learn that it would be best if she at least rinsed the chlorine off her body when she gets out of the pool, but I just don’t think it’s worth it.  She will when she’s ready.

I wish, somehow, that I could lovingly and compassionately convey that same message to Posh Mother and grandma.  I almost feel like they are emotionally abusing this girl, and it is very upsetting to me to see this every afternoon after class.  As I helped Lyd dress, I pondered Posh Mom’s words: “She has to learn sometime.”  Yes, Posh Mom, she does, but that doesn’t mean she has to learn it like this.  There are other methods for learning to like water that don’t include dousing her in it whether she likes it or not.  That’s like being told to learn to like snakes by being thrown into a snakepit, in my humble opinion.

Today I registered Baby J and myself for the very same Aqua Tots class that this little girl is currently in.  Our two-week session begins next Monday; will this little girl be forced to endure another 8 episodes of forced time in the pool and forced showers?  I don’t know.  And if she is, will I be brave enough to reach out to them in love and attempt to forge a friendship WITHOUT being judgemental?  Or will I simply realize that I can’t solve the all world’s problems, put my energies into raising my own girls as compassionately and lovingly as I can, and hope that my example rubs off on some other parents?  (not that I’m perfect, but hopefully you know what I mean…)

I honestly don’t know which is the better answer, but I hope I can find a happy medium between the two.

(I want to add this: It wasn’t long, not even a full minute, after the girls and I got into the changing area that Posh Mother arrived with her little, shivering, drenched daughter in tow.  I think the shower idea was scrapped.  Was this due to my words?  I don’t know.  But it seems the little girl was granted a short shower today.  I am glad, for her sake.)


12 thoughts on “Judgemental Mommy Moment

  1. How sad for that little girl. My almost 6 year old has always been hesitant around water. We skipped swimming lessons until last year. She still was fearful and didn’t “pass” the level. This year she is like a fish. I am so glad I waited and didn’t push her. Who knows if she would be swimming like she is right now had I forced her.

    Tough place to be in. I hate feeling like you want to help, but really can’t.

  2. Oh, Em, I am so against that! While certainly not posh in any sense of the word (or asian, for that matter 🙂 ) I would be the mom in there making her kid take a shower (of course, I would have five of them, three playing with the control knobs and pretending to be pirates, one splashing everyone in sight and giggling infectiously, and the other screaming her head off because I was washing her hair). It’s important that the kid learns to obey Mom, not Mom give in to kids’ irrational fears. (If your kid runs in the road and there’s a car coming, should you wait until she feels like getting out of the road, or count on her knowing she needs to obey Mom right away and come immediately when you call?) While perhaps a public pool is not the place to work on this, I feel this is very important. This is one of my “soapbox” issues – the home should be run by the parents, not the kids. Of course you should try to make your kids happy, but not by giving in to their whims.
    Sorry if this seems harsh, but like I said this is one thing I feel very strongly about (kind of like your “soapbox” issue – natural childbirth). The results of one are so much better, it’s frustrating to see people do the opposite.

  3. Sorry, I should have explained that I am one of those people who try my best to find the kindest explination in any situation. My feeling (from the brief description you gave) is that Posh Mommy has a pool in her back yard, and Grandma is worried and wants Little Girl to learn pool safety as early as possible. In that situation, I would find Grandma’s actions perfectly understandable. I would rather have my grandchild unhappy than dead.

  4. I’m not sure how being sensitive to your child’s emotions, rational or irrational, means that you have given up on a parent-run home. Children need to be able to express their emotions, whether those emotions make sense to us adults or not, and trust that their parents will find ways to help them deal with those emotions in a way that helps the child to grow and mature. Parenting is not black and white: each child is a unique gift from God, and s/he needs parents who recognize that child’s particular strengths and weaknesses and then trains and guides that child accordingly. Irrational fears are not the same as temper tantrums (and are not whims), and should not be treated the same way.

    I have no doubt that Grandma and Posh Mom have the best of intentions for putting their little girl in swimming class. But I do fault them for their narrow-mindedness in thinking that there is only One Right Way to get a child used to the water, and I fault them for giving zero respect to the emotions of their precious little girl.

  5. But Emily, you are doing the same thing – assuming “there is only One Right Way to get a child used to the water”. And I’m sure they don’t have “zero respect for the emotions of their precious little girl.” I’m sure they would much rather not be causing her distress; but they obviously have a reason for doing it (whether you think it’s a good one or not).
    As for “being sensitive to your child’s emotions,” like I said, it’s great when you can make your child happy, but that can’t be the be-all end-all in your home. A child needs to know that they need to obey their parents, even if they don’t want to. I know that doesn’t sound “sensitive” but that’s what God intended (“Children, obey your parents, for this is right” )
    And honestly, I don’t think “Children need to able to express their emotions.” Part of helping them mature is teaching them to control their emotions, not say and act however they feel like. Letting children be goverened by their feelings is not going to make them profitable members of society (or good Christians – how will they know how to stop themselves from sinning if they’ve never had to control themselves?)

    Once again, you are forcing me to sound harsh – it’s not like I hover over my children, waiting to condemn them (I’m a benevolent dictator 🙂 and my kids and I have a lot of fun) but they need to know that God put me here to take care of them, just like he put Daddy here to take care of us, and just like God takes care of all of us. And part of my having that responsibility is making sure they do what’s best for them, even if they don’t like it, and even if I don’t feel nice when I do it. That’s why I’m the grown-up. I know I have to do what’s right even when my emotions say it hurts (as it would seeing my girl cry in the pool, or taking a shower). But like I said, I would much rather see her cry now than have her drown and be gone forever because she didn’t know how to be safe around water.

  6. I don’t believe that making children obey “in all things” means that you can’t take a gentler, slower approach where you follow your child’s cues. While I daily have occasions where I ignore my child’s protests in favor of making her do what I know is best, I believe it is important to be sensitive to how my child may be feeling at any certain moment, recognizing how those emotions might be having an impact on her behavior, and taking that into consideration when I make a final decision on how to proceed. Yes, children need to learn to control their emotions, but I absolutely believe (from my own experiences and from Lyd’s experiences) that irrational fears fall into a category all their own. I would never expect my child to ignore her fear and obey me simply because I told her to do so. If it’s imperative that she do what I’ve asked, I will help and assist her to accomplish the task in some way that alleviates her fear. Because I know that if I were in a similar situation where I had to simply ignore my fear, I would not be able to do it, so I don’t expect my child to, either.

    Lyd has many irrational fears. When I have tried to make her “obey!” and punished her for not doing what I wanted, it has unfailingly been a dismal disaster for everyone involved. But when I’ve relaxed and acknowledged those fears and adjusted my parenting tactics to allow her to feel more comfortable, I have seen her overcome some of those fears at her own pace. Those moments have been triumphs for both of us, and the pride Lyd feels in overcoming her fears by her own choice and volition (and under my gentle guidance) is heartwarming to see. I firmly believe this is an example of a parent-run home that also fulfills the Biblical mandate of “not exasperating your children.” I am in charge, and as that leader I am guiding and directing her in a way that takes into account her individual personality, and moving at a pace that’s comfortable for her.

    Yes, there are going to be times when, as the parent, I have to do what’s best for my children, even if they don’t like it. Of course. But my point is that Christian parents don’t have a command from God to point-blankly ignore their children’s emotions in an effort to make them obey. I would argue that Christian parents are instructed TO be conscious of their child’s emotional state. (“Do not make your children bitter,” & “do not exasperate your children.” ) I am not ruled by my emotions, and I’m hopefully training my children not to be ruled by their emotions either, but we ARE emotional human beings, created that way by God. Even Jesus wept! 🙂

  7. I was discussing this with a friend, and I suddenly realized that, as usual, you and I are backing into opposite corners shouting at each other, when in reality we are mostly in agreement. Obedience is important to both of us, and we both recognize that every child needs individual treatment; I’m perhaps a little more “old school” and you’re a bit more “California” but we’re both trying to raise our beloved kids to be responsible, God-loving people. So I declare truce! (so I can go spend time with my kids 🙂 )

  8. I’m more “California”? Hey, I resemble that remark! 😉

    I appreciate your desire to declare a truce, Ruth. I’d like to resolve this, too. I agree with you that we are probably more alike than we are different in our parenting styles. But there’s one important point that I want to make clear not only to you, Ruth, but also to the other people reading this blog. And this is not just the “California” side of me talking:

    While the Bible admonishes children to obey their parents, parents are equally admonished not to exasperate their children, and not to make their children bitter. One cannot merely say “Children must obey – no matter what.” It’s a two-way street. Just like marriage. One can’t just say “Wives must submit” without also, equally, mentioning that “Husbands must love their wives as they love themselves.” It’s like the Biblical truth and love. You can’t have one without the other, and focusing only on one to the exclusion of the other will always cause problems.

    And, finally (because after all, this is MY blog!) I want to reiterate to anyone reading this that I firmly believe it is wrong to continually force a small child to do something of which they are completely terrified. It borders dangerously close to abuse. The adult may have the child’s best interests at heart, but if the child is being emotionally damaged by the experience, then it is the responsibility of the adult to find a different way to achieve those best interests. The end never justifies the means.

    Amen. Please stand and sing “Create in Me.”

    I will now return to my happy northern California lifestyle, replete with avocados, granola, sandals, yoga pants and baby slings.

  9. Woah! You just opened another huge can of worms, girl! You don’t want to get into the “wives only have to submit if their husband is being loving” and “children only have to obey if their parents aren’t exasperating them” discussion (I do believe we’ve already been there).
    But I was surprised by your “emotionally damaged” statement – I thought you didn’t fall for psychobabble. Color me disappointed.
    Ah, well, it’s not like we haven’t disagreed before 😉

    And I’ll go back to my old-school Midwestern lifestyle, with my home-grown rhubarb, eggs from my own chickens, milk fresh from the farm, overalls, and potty-trained-at-two kids! 🙂

  10. Sigh.

    I want my readers to know that:

    “Wives only have to submit if their husband is being loving,” and “Children only have to obey if their parents aren’t exasperating them,”

    is not a correct statment of what I believe. Like Ruth said, she and I have been around on this before. We have different methods of interpreting the Bible, and haven’t yet been able to reconcile the two methods. It seems that she and I have yet to find a way.

    There are people I love who have been abused by their parents, and it has affected them profoundly even into their adult lives. As a result, my “abuse radar” is set to a more sensitive frequency than it used to be. I’m not going to say that making a small child do something they’re terrified to do IS abuse, but for me, personally, it’s just too close for comfort (which is what my original post was about.)

  11. I have read most of the above-posted comments, and would like to offer my “big mouth”:

    1) There is a BIG difference between making your child happy all the time and trying to understand her emotions. Just because you acknowledge that she is frightened and creatively think up a way around her fear while also teaching the right way of doing something is not, in my opinion, being a bad parent. (Hm, actually, sounds like being a great parent, to me… ) On the flip side, making your child happy all the time usually involves doing everything they say blindly and not really listening. A great example of this is the stereotypical working parent who buys their child everything they ask for thinking they have done their service, when what we all know the child really wants is time and attention from parents. Do children really know what they are saying? No. You need to be an interpreter for their words and actions, and then decide on the best course of action.

    2) What is an irrational fear? Is being afraid of the water truly irrational? People drown all the time! Water can kill us! I find it a very real and rational fear.

    3) Westendorf, I appreciate your situation with several small children and understand your need for control. (Jon and Kate plus 8, anyone? Some people think she is nuts, but I know she NEEDS to be like that in order to run that household.)

    4) In conclusion, the above arguments seem to me to digress like the old (and inaccurate) apologetics which eventually have Jesus turned into a lesser god or golden boy or something. The argument starts off all right, but in proving the point, it ends up going too far. Let’s please not make issues larger than they are. We all have our own soap boxes, but at the end of the day, we are the queens of our own castle, and nobody else’s. What works beautifully for us may turn horribly sour for the next gal. That is why there is more than one way to skin a cat 😉 .

  12. Just reading some of your posts from before…

    You know, the “strict” parenting style just doesn’t work for some parents and/or some children. I used to watch children reacting “poorly” out in public and think, “Hmm, if that were my child I would do this and the child would behave beautifully.” But I don’t do that anymore. I can’t. Because now I’m the one who has the child out in public behaving differently than what’s expected. I’m the one that people now watch and think what they would do differently if that was their child. I find myself being much less judgemental of the kids (or the parents) in most situations because I don’t know the background of that situation. Yes, there are parents who do not do a good job parenting their children. But I think to really know the intensions of the parent, you need to know the family’s situation. I know if people would come talk to me at the store, I could give them an explaination for why I have to do things the way that I am doing them. I know people are judging me, and yes, that can be hurtful to me if I ponder the fact that people may consider me a poor parent, but I know that I am doing the right thing for my children and in the end that fact is what lets me sleep at night. (Well, as long as the kids are sleeping, anyway… )

    So, anyway, did my comment actually have anything to do with your blog or am I just venting on your page?!? 🙂

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