Parenting Scared Of Shame Is No Way To Parent

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 
parent in public
Lisa5201/ iStock

About 15 years ago I lost my 3-year-old in a department store. It was the longest five minutes of my life, but thanks to some kind strangers who helped me loudly call out his name, we found him hiding in a clothes rack. I was trembling, and with hot tears running down my face, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and thought it was all my fault. I was immediately comforted by those same strangers telling me things like “It happens to everyone. Little ones are fast!” and “Don’t beat yourself up about this,” and “You’re a good mom. Relax. He’s fine!”

I was telling this story to a new mom recently when she shared something so shocking and brutally honest that I truly felt sorry for this new generation of parents. She said, “Sometimes I’m afraid to leave the house because if something like that happened to me, I’m afraid the strangers wouldn’t be so nice. I’m afraid of how I would be treated, how they would instantly blame and shame me. Hell, they would probably take my picture and their Facebook status that night would be ‘This shitty mother lost her kid in Target today.’ It’s scary out there — not for my kid, but for me.”

Sad doesn’t even begin to describe that comment. Disheartening, tragic, and pathetic are more like it. Since when have we become scared to parent in public? Are social media hate, shaming, backlash, blaming, and all the perfect parents out there now actually keeping parents from leaving the house these days? And when they do leave the house, are they more concerned about what may happen to them than what may happen to their kids? They sure are.

I often wonder when my boys go out for bike rides in the neighborhood if someone will stop and ask them where their parents are. Will a concerned neighbor who sees them playing at the park without an adult snap their picture or call the police? If they get hurt and need to ask for help, how soon before I am blamed for not being there?

And when we’re out in public together, and they’re accidentally get hurt on a playground, at a theme park, or anywhere else for that matter, will my parental supervisory skills automatically be questioned? Of course they will, and then in an instant I will go from receiving empathy to defending myself against allegations and accusations.

Parenting scared is no way to parent. Kids kept inside homes because the world is seemingly some tragic and dangerous place is no way to raise confident and courageous kids. Only now, the fact we’re keeping our kids inside our homes because we’re afraid to parent out in the world is a twisted and somber irony. The consequences of helicopter parenting children go beyond the damage it allegedly does to our children; now it has seeped into our view of modern parenting. “Watch 24/7 or you’re an unfit parent! Accidents don’t happen! A parent wasn’t doing their job!”

Bottom line, they’re your kids. Parent them how you see fit. Don’t parent scared, doubt your decisions, question your intentions, or entertain all the statistically improbable what-ifs in life. It will just leave you exhausted and bitter.

Yes, it takes a village to raise kids, but when some village members bring pitchforks, it’s time to send them to another village. Don’t let them for one second keep you from exploring your village. Your kids deserve to experience the world without you fearing to allow them to, without you fearing that you’re not a perfect enough parent to let them, without you fearing shame from strangers and social media. That type of fear should never be in any parenting equation, because it will never, ever add up right.

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