We live in the age of the open letter, especially those from a parent to the woman in the cinema, the couple across the airplane aisle, the elderly man on the pavement.
I’m sorry, these letters say. I’m sorry my child kicked the back of your seat, I’m sorry my daughter screamed without cease, I’m sorry my preschooler rammed your ankles with his scooter.
I’m sorry, but you see… He was bored. She was hungry. He and I were having a bad day and the shopping still had to be done.
I’ve not written an open letter as such here on my blog, but I’ve written plenty in my head. The words have come unbidden as I raged at the glances, real or perceived, I’ve felt when out there in the world in sole charge of my own small tyrants. I count on my fingers the reasons and excuses I have for it all going so horribly wrong: the weeks and months of not enough sleep, the hours and days of worry and wailing and whys.
Please don’t judge me, the letters say. You don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. You don’t know the day I’ve had to this point, you don’t know the effort it’s taken to get these small, annoying people to this place where neither of us want to be, and where you would patently rather we weren’t.
And because I’ve read, and mentally written, so many, I really do try not to judge someone else’s parenting on a snapshot. I know the tantrum in the supermarket could well have its roots in a well warranted “no” or causes light-years removed from anything in the parent’s control. I know that what looks like naughtiness may well be anything but. I try to be the one with the rueful smile of mutual sympathy, not the frown or tut that could make someone’s day even harder than it already was.
But, do you know what? Sometimes, yes, I judge. When I see a determined blind eye turned to the preteens dive-bombing every younger child and adult out of the swimming pool. When I see a big kid zooming at speed, unchecked, on her bike around parked cars and causing pedestrians to skittle out of her way. When I hear a gaggle of old-enough-to-know-betters keeping a half a hundred households awake with a nightly racket apparently inaudible to their parents.
You’re right, I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. Sometimes, though, it’s going to be not a lot. And what we never seem to read are the open letters from those who struggle with the end results of what boils down to little more than lazy selfishness. Not on the part of those who really can’t do much about it, but on the part of those who choose not to. Those who are affected in ways far more serious than simply being annoyed or mildly inconvenienced.
Culturally, it is unquestionably A Good Thing that we are becoming more tolerant and less judgmental. It still should matter though what others think of us. It doesn’t matter more than anything else, it shouldn’t be a stick to beat those who are already doing what they can. But it matters because our actions impact on people around us, and they matter as much as we do.
So yes, I’ll hiss at my kids in public and fidget and flush over their bad behaviour when they’re being a pain. And I’ll retain the right to be pissed off when other people’s kids make my life a pain in turn.
And jf you think I’m wrong for being so judgemental? Judge away.