Opinion: Parenting in Public is Perilous Business

Filed under: Relatives, Opinions

They're watching you ... Illustration by Christopher Healy

There's nothing quite like spending 16 days straight with six family members and an additional guest to throw your parenting skills into stark relief.

Turns out, I'm a yeller short on patience who likes to bribe her kids with sugar and gives in to ridiculous demands from those under 4-feet tall in order to SHUT THEM UP ALREADY.

Good times.

Every summer I travel 3,000 miles round-trip with my family in tow from Flyover Country to the Very East Coast to spend time with my siblings, their kids and my mom. It's always great fun -- obviously, because I've made that insane road trip four times now -- but it's also very humbling from a parenting perspective.

Usually, I'm pretty good for about three days: I calmly issue time-outs, I say please and thank you when correcting naughty behavior, I tell my kids they have to sit and stay at the dinner table if they want to eat, thank you very much.

Then things start to devolve. Quickly.

Early wakings and late bedtimes, plus the added stress of being away from our normal daily routine and highly controlled environment conspire to bring out the worst in me. The house we stay in is an elegant one, and there are plenty of ways for small people to get into mischief there. There's little to no baby-proofing, and every corner seems specially designed to create a gaping head wound. I spend every waking moment worried about damage to a person or property.

Plus, my kids are littler than their cousins, and they want to keep up with them. Heck, who am I kidding? I want to keep up with them. I want to go to the boardwalk instead of putting the kids in the bath, I'd rather get ice cream and eat sandwiches at the beach than stay home for nap time.

So I push it. I push it because I live far away from my family of origin and I feel like I have to pack in 12 months' worth of good times into two weeks. I push it because we drove all that way, we are going to have some fun if it kills us.

Then I start to resent it. Then my kids start to unravel -- and then so do I. That's when the yelling starts, and the caving to demands, and the bribes. That's when I say things to my kids that I wish I could take back, and when my kids start to say things like, "Gimme a minute, I'm tired!" when I ask them to do something.

Worse, then I start to feel like I'm parenting under a microscope because my family members are watching from the bleacher seats.

I know in my head that no one is judging me (well, my sister is, maybe a little, and she'd be the first to admit it). My own mom had three kids under 8 by the time she was 28, and I know she understands what it's like to try and maintain order and sanity in an environment that's beyond your control. More than once, she's taken me by the shoulders and looked me in the eye and told me that it will get better.

That doesn't really help when I have a major meltdown over the fact that my 2-year-old won't listen to reason. Did you hear me? I said that I want my 2-year-old to listen to reason.

You get my point.

We're home now, after a harrowing 1,200-mile, two-day ride in our filthy minivan -- and just when did a 1,200-mile road trip become a "vacation," anyway? This year, I brought home more than just the usual seashells and saltwater taffy as souvenirs.

I also took home an image of myself parenting under pressure and in public, and it wasn't exactly postcard quality.

Jo Parente is the ParentDish nom de plume, a pen name, used by our editorial team when we want to spill our dirty little secrets but still keep our dignity, and families, intact.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.