I know some of you aren't going to like this – and I'm sorry about that. I want you to like what I write. And yet, I am committed to sharing truths (as I see them) that are useful to you (as I see it.) So, I'm putting it out there:
Your parenting is part of your brand.
Ugh – I know, parenting is already pressure-filled enough these days. It's hard enough to do the right things by your kids when there is so much contrary evidence out there! And if you're even close to as exhausted as I often am, it is impossible to imagine one more thing to add to the “worry about” category of your to-do list. Please know that I both sympathize and empathize. I've got three young babes of my own.
Here's the story that prompted this post:
My three girls, my husband and I were at Gigglybops, a local kid play cafe' in our town. The girls love it there because they can dive into the huge ball pit and climb the climbing wall. I love it because I can get a steamy hot half-caf latte (gotta spread the caffeine out all day long) and do the occasional email in between helping one of them scale the roof of the play house or open the lid to the elephant trunk game (don't ask.)
Our “center-child”, A (who is potty training) yells, “I have to go potty. I have to go potty!” Jim runs over saying, “Okay, let's go go go!” and they rush into the bathroom. A few minutes later, I hear a mom who is sitting with two friends chatting, whisper to her daughther, “Someone's in the bathroom – we'll have to wait.” A few more minutes go by and Jim and A are still not out of the bathroom. The mom is getting visibly agitated, though the daughter seems to be doing okay. Now, I admit – I would be a bit stressed, too, if I was the mom. There's something visceral that comes alive when I imagine my child in physical discomfort. And I hate that feeling of having to… um, go potty, and not being able to just get it done. So, I identified with the mom as I watched her pace around and glance every 30 seconds at the bathroom door.
She started making comments to her friends about my child. I'm not even sure what she said, exactly. It was something about her taking so long in the bathroom. There was an eye roll and an irritated sigh. Then there was something really distasteful about bathroom citrus spray.
I'm guessing that the mom didn't realize that it was my child in the bathroom, and that I was behind her at a table, with a really great view of her body language and within earshot of her conversation. My first reaction was pure Mama-fight – Hey, my kid is two years old and potty training! Are you making FUN of her?!
But then I realized, this is one of those moments. This is one of those times where stepping back and observing is the best approach. Notice how I feel, hearing this mom, who is understandably not at her best right now, be mean and catty about my daughter. Imagine how icky she must feel right now to be stooping to such a place. Once I got myself out of hyper-defense mode, I realized something really valuable and annoying.
If I met that woman again in any context, I would not want to engage with her. Even if she is nice to me. Even if I hear that she is a brilliant editor and I want desperately to get published in her magazine. I don't trust her because I now know that she can be catty about a two year old who is practicing going potty. She has bad judgement.
That woman is branding herself. It's not the only thing I noticed about her, of course. I noticed that she ignored her kids while they screamed all over the play area, though I originally decided that she must be exhausted and just needed a place to let them blow off steam. Been there before myself, plenty. I also noticed that she was nicely dressed and seemed to be having a really engaged and interesting conversation with her friends, which I always appreciate since I love engaged conversations with friends. Before the icky thing over my daughter using the bathroom, I was relatively neutral about this woman.
No more. Because the way you are with kids is very indicative of who you are as a person. It's not the sum total and I get it that kids can bring out the glorious best – and the no-one-should-see-this-worst in many of us. I'm just saying that the thing we have to keep in mind is that it all communicates to the world, like it or not, who we are and what we value. Especially in light of the fact that little human souls need compassion and love, not judgment, even when we aren't feeling our best. We have to step up anyway. For them first and foremost – but, frankly, also because it's our personal brand at stake.