Monday, August 27, 2012

Tiffany' Soapbox: Parents in Public

tiffanys soapboxIt has been quite some time since I had a reason to get on my soap box.  Not because things did not get my ire up, but mostly because I have been to busy doing fun, happy stuff to dwell on any unpleasantness.  But I saw something on Saturday that really broke my heart, and has been weighing on me ever since.  So, I decided to sound off about it.

On Saturday, I was working with a friend who was an exhibitor at a mall.  You know, those little tables/booths you sometimes see selling specialty items?  Yeah, that was us.  So, we spent the entire day watching people at the mall.  Mostly benign, until I saw the following unfold.

A woman was walking along with her daughter (or so I presumed, turns out I was correct).  They were both fashionably dressed, carrying shopping bags full of stuff.  The woman stopped walking near a storefront, Yankee Candle, because she was talking on her iPhone.  It was clearly an unpleasant conversation, one that was getting progressively louder.  As the conversation went on, it became clear that she was fighting.  With the father of her children.  About money.  Not only was she doing this in public, she was doing it in front of her child.

The little girl was clearly humiliated.  She was hiding behind her mother, and pulling her hair to cover her face.  The mother was complaining about how much money she had to spend to get the kids prepared for the start of school.  She emphasized several times that she spent $40 on  a backpack for the little girl.  She was also chastising the dad for not being the one to spend the money.  Then she began complaining about the  weekends he was supposed to have visitation, and blew the kids off for his friends.

At this point, the girl silently slunk away from her mom, into a different store a couple of storefronts down from where her mom was.  But mom was too busy fighting with dad about the fact that she was a superior parent to even notice (how is that for irony).  She finally, loudly, ended the conversation by saying that the dad should continue spending his money on himself, and when his son fails in school because he cannot see the board due to not getting eyeglasses, he would be to blame.  The mom then stormed into Yankee Candle, oblivious to the fact that her daughter was gone.  It took her a full 5 minutes to notice.  And when she did notice, the first thing she said when she found the girl was "How could you do that to me?".  Once again, she was the victim.

I find so much wrong with this situation.  I am quite sure that this mother was frustrated, and perhaps had a valid and legitimate reason to have the above described discussion with the father of these kids.  But not in public.  In general, I find it in bad taste and highly uncomfortable when couples fight in a public setting.  Is it really that hard to say "We need to talk about this, but this is not the time or place.  We will discuss this in private."?

The bigger problem, I think, was her having this discussion in front of one of her children.  Perhaps this guy is a total crap father, but does her daughter really need to hear all that?  I am sure the girl has enough issues if the dad is as absent as the mother claims; listening to her mother complain about having to spend money on the kids is sure to create a feeling of guilt and it was creating obvious shame.  Perhaps this is the therapist in me talking, but people wonder why kids have self esteem issues, and become bullies.  This is a part of the problem.  If this woman was willing to have this conversation in public, my guess is she has the same one in front of her kids at home pretty frequently.  And I am not saying she does not have the right to feel frustrated or voice those frustrations.  I just think she should not do it in front of her kid.  The woman was too wrapped up in being the "better" parent to actually be a good parent.

I know plenty of parents who have these situations.  Absent parents, absent partners, both male and female. And the vast majority of the ones I know handle the situations with class and grace.  It is bad enough seeing your kid disappointed by their dad or mom and feeling helpless about it.  I am sure it creates fury.  And rightly so.  But sound off to your friends, or adult family members, not your kids.  The kids are hurting enough.

The unintentional message in this situation was "Daddy does not love you enough to buy your backpack, so Mommy has to do that.  And now I am mad because I have $40 less to spend on overpriced candles".  No wonder the girl slunk away.  I have a feeling she will be slinking all the way to a therapists office in a few years.