Sorry, Shame is not Part of Parenting

Writing for The Guardian, Madeleine Somerville opines that parents who offer earplugs to fellow airplane passengers are doing something horribly wrong and that “no parent should feel they have to placate judgmental passengers”. She goes on to say that shame is inherently part of parenting:

Feeling embarrassed at child’s behavior is a basic component of parenting. Children are wildly imaginative, endlessly entertaining and capable of the purest love I’ve ever known, but any parent will tell you that they are also thoroughly unsocialized and mostly uncivilized.

She’s a bit confused about shame versus embarrassment but what bothers me more is that she mistakes the lovely gesture kindness to strangers as some sort of public admission that children are broken for not behaving properly and that it’s somehow the parent’s fault. The logical conclusion: all children behave appropriately and that parents never have to apologize or be embarrassed.

You know as well as I do that’s nonsense. Go to a child-friendly restaurant and you’ll see some kids are well behaved and, while noisy, curious or boisterous, aren’t running around, yelling and making a nuisance of themselves. Props to those parents! Other parents are oblivious and smile indulgently when their child is behaving outrageously, quick to say “oh, my little Johnny. He’s such a cut-up!”


The fact is, there are some behaviors that are not appropriate for public exposure, and there are some children whose parents haven’t taught them how to, for example, behave at a restaurant, coffee shop or, yes, on a plane. And it is indeed the responsibility of the parents to decide either that they can’t go out to eat until little Johnny is past that developmental stage, or come up with a plan that acknowledges that others at the venue certainly didn’t sign up to be in the midst of madness and chaos preschool.

All three of my children learned early on how to behave in public places because when they were unable to restrain themselves, I’d take them outside and we’d wait until they cooled off and could be calm, quiet and respectable again. Planes are problematic because sometimes a little one just feels poorly and there’s not much you can do about that, but even then, if one of our babies would have been a screamer on planes, we would have simply driven on more holidays. Easy. It’s called parenting, and it’s called being considerate of others.

Which is what baffles me about what Madeleine has written. In her world there’s no reason to be considerate because kids are just being kids and other adults need to just cope. Specifically, she says that decent adults should be able to “tolerate with grace and compassion the temporary nuisance of a baby crying on a plane.”

baby on airplane

As a parent, I can only say that when I see a baby or child acting up in a public place, I’m always curious how the parent is going to handle the situation and ignoring it, assuming the rest of us are okay because “they’re just being a child” is rarely a good solution. Parenting is work, hard work, and it goes on for years and years and years. But that’s what ya signed up for when you got pregnant, so being respectful of those around you and working to teach your children appropriate behavior in public? That’s just part of the job.

Finally, a closing note: There are some children who have behavioral issues that aren’t easily addressed, and I have sympathy and compassion for those children and their parents. But whatever the cause, if your child cannot function in public without disrupting everyone else, perhaps it’s most appropriate to find alternative venues where their behavior is less annoying. Needs of the many versus those of the few, and all that.

Photo credit Sergio Maistrello, flickr.com. Used under creative commons license.

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