Parents are stressed out. If you don’t already know this, notice them in a public space and watch them with their children. See how they are trying to tame their children, how they apologize for their children. Watch how they are embarrassed for their children.
When children say they can’t wait to be grown-up, we laugh or we shush them. We tell them to enjoy this time. They don’t know how good they have it. Youth will always be wasted on the young — that’s part of its elusive, fleeting beauty.
Yet it is no wonder they feel this way. Children sense the sangfroid of society. They intuit that our culture does not think highly of them. We ask them to be quiet in the library, and if they don’t comply, even babies, we ask them to leave. We give parents the side-eye when we don’t agree with their choices. We cast judgments like they’re our civil duties. Despite our wealth and power, America does not support parents, leading to stress and depression for many of us, whereas our fellow first-world countries prioritize family and parent-support laws.
Someone close to me recently moved into a new apartment with her two young children (5 months and barely 2 years old). She cares for these children on her own. Moving was tough, like many things when you have two tiny people to simultaneously care for. There was a lot of crying while she got things set up — a lot of movement, a lot of naps disrupted, a lot of upheaval for two young human beings with immature nervous systems.
Did the neighbors knock on her door and welcome her? No. Did they knock on her door and offer to help? No. Did they leave her alone and buy ear plugs? No. Instead, they wrote her a passive-aggressive letter. They sent a noise complaint to the manager (despite it being daytime hours). And perhaps ashamed of their actions, they made all of it anonymous.
It seems you have recently moved to The Highlands, and while we welcome you, there has been almost constant screaming, banging, and heel walking since your arrival. We here at The Highlands pay very high HOA fees in order to enjoy a peaceful quality of life in this serene setting, it is quite a nice place to live as I am sure this is why you chose it too. It would quickly be less enjoyable with persistent noise, nuisance, etc. I know it can take some effort, but we all must get along somehow to try to make it possible that the quality of life stays high here. The walls are very thin so please do your part. Thank you.
– Your neighbors
This kind of neighborly behavior is not unexpected; no one wants to live next to the screaming kids. We believe we are entitled to peace and quiet. American culture is highly individualistic; we count the pursuit of individual happiness as our constitutional right. We prioritize the self. We are taught to ask, “What’s best for me?” We largely ignore other people’s children because they are not our responsibility. They are the other.
In reality, we are inextricably intertwined. We are different fingers of one hand. We are one seeing force, one feeling force, one doing force, though we are tricked quite mightily by the ego into believing in our separateness.
Your neighbor’s kids could become your kids’ peers, or your kids’ teachers, or even your kids’ partners. Your neighbor’s kid could be your future doctor, your future lawyer, your future friend. Your neighbor’s kid could be integral in fulfilling your dream of going to space, or making a discovery that leads to an invention that saves your life.
This neighbor’s nasty note represents the people who see babies as a nuisance rather than life’s purest expression of light. It represents those who build walls rather than bridges. It represents those who look without seeing. It represents a squashed opportunity for connection and community. It represents alienation and bullying. It represents everyone who’s ever marginalized and minimized someone else’s needs and experiences. In short, it represents ignorance.
How did the note affect the mother? It dropped a blanket of extra stress on her new home. Stress that strikes at all hours of the day and night: every time she has to walk quickly across the floor, or the baby has an unmet need, or the toddler won’t go to sleep, or the baby acts like a baby, or the toddler acts like a toddler.
She wants to let it go, but she can’t stop thinking about it. She sent a note of explanation to the management and asked them to forward it to her angry neighbors. She knows she shouldn’t have to apologize for the cacophony of her moving day, but she wants to make peace. She wants to move on. She wants her family to be accepted.
What if people wanted to sit next to babies on airplanes? What if people could pause from their busy lives long enough to smile at the baby, look into the baby’s eyes? They might get a smile in return, they might get a glimpse of unadulterated awareness. If they’re open to it, they will experience their own joy reflected back by this new life.
Parents, we need to stop apologizing for our children. They’re only kids. Everyone else, we need to stop criticizing parents of young children. They’re only human. We need to hold open the door for them, give them breaks when we can. Instead of saying, “You have your hands full,” or worse, “Your kids are a disturbance,” we could be praising them, “You’re doing a great job,” or we could be delighting in their children, “What a beautiful baby” because all babies are beautiful, and underneath the detritus and beyond the illusion of separateness, children are life’s gift to all of us.
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” – Khalil Gibran