Growing up, my mother was, for lack of a better term, a hard-ass when it came to manners. She was very by-the-Miss-Manners-book about it all, teaching me how to properly interject in a conversation when I needed the immediate attention of an adult, how to properly get the last bit of soup from my bowl, how to address my elders, and so on. While I may have found it tedious and slightly annoying during my childhood, I’m incredibly thankful to her for instilling those behaviors and standards in me. So, naturally, it was, and still is, my goal to instill the same manners in my own children.
I take great pride in the work I put into my boys. I love that I can take them to any store or restaurant and not have to worry about their behavior. I love that I don’t have to fork over my phone or tablet to get them to behave in public. I love that, for the most part, they are well-mannered and listen when given instructions. But, here’s the thing, my kids are one and two-and-a-half. They’re going to have meltdowns and they aren’t going to be good listeners all the time. They’re toddlers, and toddlers are ticking time bombs you have to skillfully and artistically learn how to disable over and over and over again. So, while my boys are better behaved than some, they are by no means perfect, and they are by no means the best behaved kids in the world.
We had a visitor awhile back who stayed with us for a bit of time. It just so happened we had some growth spurts and teething going on, not to mention the kids were readjusting to their regular schedules after being out of town for awhile. Plus, you know, tiny people are unpredictable. Anyways, while I know it came from a place of love and a desire to help, our visitor continuously did something that was extremely hurtful - told us to parent like one of their other married/parent friends. Instead of asking us how we handled things or what kind of consequences we gave, our visitor would implement what their other friends did with their kids, explaining to us how wonderful those kids were and how great it was that they were being raised in that way. I know deep down, as I said before, that our visitor didn’t mean to be hurtful, but still, it really sucked.
No parent wants to hear how much better someone else’s kid is than theirs. Or how much better another parent is than them. So, here is my plea to all my peers out there who haven’t yet had, or have decided not to have, children: please, please, PLEASE stop telling your friends how to parent their kids. Until you are in the trenches, you’re never going to fully understand the battle. And while you may be fortunate in knowing a couple who just so happen to be raising perfect angels, not all of your parent-friends will be so lucky. There’s nothing wrong with admiring someone’s parenting style, or how well-behaved their kids are, but it’s not your job to go out into the world and try to make everyone else be exactly the same way.
Our visitor didn’t realize that, even if we did everything exactly the same way as their other friends did, we would never get the same results with our kids. We are different people. Our marriage is a different relationship. Our relationships with our kids are different. Our kids are different. Our support system in different. Our schedules are different. Nothing except for the fact that we are all human beings and we all have offspring is the same. And while parenting habits and methods do play the main role in it all, all these other little factors also impact the big picture immensely.
Unless the child is exhibiting unsafe behavior, or the parent is, or your opinion or insight is asked for directly, it’s not your place to give your two cents. This isn’t meant to come off as harsh, but more as a desperate plea. Treating your parent-friends this way is so, so hurtful. It was damaging to my relationship with our visitor and caused me to have a lot of resentment towards them, and even towards their other friends we were being compared too. It caused me to doubt my abilities as a mother and even to look at my boys in a negative light. Where I used to take pride in how well they behaved, I now felt frustration that they weren’t “as good” as the kids they were being compared to. I’m thankful to the friends and family who told me, and continue to tell me, that I’m raising them well and the strangers we meet in our day-to-day lives that compliment me on how well-behaved they are. Without the affirmation I received I probably would have exhausted myself trying to be someone I never will be and force my kids to be someone they never will be.
So please, just please, build your parent-friends up. Support them, encourage them, admire them, but don’t compare them. So many of us are doing the best we can. So many of us are running on not enough sleep or food or personal hygiene. So many of us struggle with depression and anxiety. So many of us need to be told we’re doing a good job. So be that friend. Say those words. And enjoy these tiny humans we created for who they are, not who you wish they could be.