I’ve never estimated how many times I have heard friends who are parents tell me they are afraid to bring their children around me because they presume I would reflexively judge them and their children. It’s as if I walk around with a notebook labeled “Ways Other Parents Stink”. I usually laugh heartily at my friends who make comments like this around me, assuring them that I have better things to do than judge other parents. Really.
The irony is that when I am in public with my children, I am the one who is anxious. Now, I know darn well how silly it is to worry about how others perceive me and my children, but the truth is that I have a goofy fantasy that everyone else is judging MY parenting. After all, the fantasy goes, people are walking around with THEIR notebook labeled, “Ways Dr. Paterno Can’t Even Raise His Own Kids Right—Why Should We Listen to Him?”
My poor kids. It must be tough having a child psychologist as a parent.
I took my new puppy to the office this past weekend for the first time—mostly as a trial run for a couple hours to see how she would respond. When I walked out of the office to find a good patch of grass for puppy to relieve herself, a friendly looking couple approached, joined by their gorgeous Airedale. As soon as they neared us, my dog went berserk with frenetic excitement. She behaved as if she had just consumed 14,000 cups of coffee.
I was a bit embarrassed, even while I knew I shouldn’t be. Puppies behave like puppies, after all. I struck up some conversation with the couple, who seemed genuinely interested in my puppy. Within a couple minutes, I had learned that they were in charge of the Park District obedience training class. Immediately, I became self-conscious.
What if they saw how ignorant I was with my puppy? What if they noticed how clueless I was in getting her to calm down and be reasonable? What if they thought I was a terrible dog owner? The thoughts raced. I was not happy.
Then it hit me. This must mirror how others feel when they learn what I do, especially after they find that I have written a book on parenting! I understood how a person could develop such a rich, albeit irrational, fantasy.
Luckily, my kids are generally pretty great. Roughly translated, they are just as obnoxious, demanding, goofy, and ridiculous as any other kid is. They are also very respectful, kind, considerate, and obedient. So if any of you sees me out in public with my children, know that I’m not taking judgmental notes about you in my notebook. Just make sure you hide yours; it would make me very anxious.