I parented out of shame tonight. It felt horrible.
We were at Chick-fil-A. (Yes, again! Quiet with the judgey eyes, you.) A mom three tables down had two boys too (7 and 4). They were immaculately dressed, for starters. Spotless matching shirts. Shoes without a shadow of dust, let alone mud. Suede shoes, I might add... no waterproof Crocs for this family. And socks. (Who actually wears socks these days? Socks might as well be pantyhose in our family of barefoot crazies.)
Just for the sake of comparison... E-Money was wearing a T-Rex shirt that he has refused to wash for three days and a pair of pajama pants printed with dragons and knights. So... You know... Of course, I feel like I have "Hillbilly" tattooed on my forehead in front of Princess Kate.
At this point I haven't even heard her speak. But I was about to...
I'm not gonna mince words here, she was a Nazi. When her boys skipped (yes, skipped, like little lambs) from the bathroom to their seats at the table, she grimly demanded that they return to the bathroom door and WALK to the table. By the way, I overheard this while sprinting toward the bathroom after my child, holding his muddy Crocs in one hand and pulling his brother in a high chair covered in mashed fruit with the other. Good. Very good, Blair. Top marks.
She got up about six times to tell them not to squeal with joy (in the sound-proofed play place that we love so dearly because of that very feature), not to run in the PLAY place, not to JUMP in the PLAY place... need I go on? I have never heard so many corrections come out of one woman's mouth in the space of half an hour in my life.
Instead of registering, "Hmm, this is abnormal, and bless her heart, but I'm glad I don't have to drink whatever's in her koolaid" I pretty much did the opposite. I let her tense personality infect me. I saw her shoot my little hoodlum side eye. I saw her raise an eye brow at us. I felt tiny. I lashed out. At my baby.
"Eames, put your shoes on! Now! No, you cannot go play. Eat your dinner! NOW."
Usually our time at CFA is a time of freedom for both of us. That's why we go. I don't make him finish his meals before he plays. He has to do that at home. In the magical world of CFA, he comes and goes between our table and the play area happily. The joy in his eyes is beautiful. He runs! He makes friends with new kids! He lives his big self without inhibition. Then here comes mom, succumbing to judgment and squashing his joy for no good reason except that I was feeling shame because of stupid comparison.
I instantly saw the confused hurt in my son's eyes. I instantly recognized where I'd gone wrong. What a foolish move. That's not how I parent. I'm a very disciplined parent. He is a very responsive child. But when it's time to be free, it's time to be free.
I course corrected.
We spent the rest of our time there embracing and enjoying our liberation from perfectionism.
At the end of the evening, that 2 year old hunk of burnin' love took his "money" (the book in the kid's meal) and marched bravely up to the counter and said, "I would likka ice cream pwease. Here mah money." He made the trade... and probably lined up a date for prom while he was at it.
When you're strict where it matters and free where it doesn't (which is, believe it or not, most things), I think you end up with kids that take a lot of responsibility for themselves, operate out of a position of security, charge into life with joy.
Shame makes us rule followers. Love makes us brave and beautiful.
The same love Jesus shows me, I want to show it to my kid. I think it's working out.
At least for today.
Don't judge me tomorrow when you see him hurl himself down in the grocery aisle and cuss a blue streak in baby language.