Ear Plugs Required

August 27, 2010 at 9:58 am 11 comments

We were surrounded by parents and children yesterday. From sunup to sundown. Our precious play group, after weeks of trying but failing, managed to gather at the local water mecca. Turquoise water, trolling for shady lounge chairs, a lazy river, three water slides, splashing, lots of splashing, swim diapers, and lots and lots of children and parents. Ordinarily, surrounding myself with adults as they attempt to control their children, would drive me crazy, absolutely bananas, but the water park yesterday was so absolutely, mind-blowingly LOUD that I was impervious.

Most likely, a good number of parents were shouting: No running! No splashing! Watch out for your sister! Get out of the pool or we are leaving!, but I heard nothing. Instead I gazed around in my chlorine induced haze assuming the best and turning my eyes if body language veered toward anything remotely uncomfortable. What I could hear was my children, such as Echo squealing in delight, in my lap as Xi drove us around the lazy river. Try as she might to keep us relatively dry, Xi’s seven-year old coordination nevertheless steered us straight into wild squirts of water that blasted us directly in the face. Or Xi’s proud whoops as, after gentle escorting from Papa, she made it down the orange slide. And my own laughter! My goodness, apparently nothing gives me the giggles like powerlessness over torrents of water landing on my head and face.

We flip-flopped our way out in the late afternoon, Echo finally naked as she yearned to be the entire day, in order to make our way to the Welcome Picnic for Xi’s new school. I was prepared to disagree with the parenting at the water park but in the end was saved by the cacophony of splashing water and screaming children. I was not prepared for the parenting at the picnic. In fact I was poised to enjoy myself, to surround myself with like-minded parents that, like us were opting for an alternative style of education, something out of the mainstream. I assumed their parenting methods would follow suit.

I was wrong.

The picnic took place amid cottonwoods and pines, and the children were curious about what lay beyond the picnic tables. Parents chatted in groups keeping an eye on their offspring while reacquainting themselves. If any of them had taken even a moment to follow their kids into the woods they would have noticed that not five feet into the trees there was a beautiful teepee structure made of branches, the kind of thing with a door and a roof that is absolutely irresistible to young people, and also quite safe. But nobody did. Instead they barked threats and warnings from where they stood. Liam! Stay where I can see you! … NORA! Get out of there! It’s almost time for dinner. Come here! I’m counting… 1…..2….. Good girl.


And it didn’t stop there. Dinner brought out new threats (Sit quietly or you’re in a time-out mister.), more inane statements (Honey, we don’t slide under the table during dinner.), and more discomfort on my part. The only consolation is that these parents are not the teachers. The teachers themselves are incredible, letting children fully express themselves, maintaining realistic expectations, and leaving praise of mindless obedience behind. What’s more, they actually like kids.

We continued our parent/children marathon by topping the night off with a birthday party. My shoulders immediately began to relax as we wound our way back onto familiar parenting territory. The usual awesome party action ensued, a pinata, trampoline tricks, a treasure hunt, presents, and ice cream. I watched the action, sprawled on the warmed-by-the-day grass, but what stood out for me wasn’t anything to do with the birthday per se. Our sweet friend sat nearby, her round belly a sign of further adventures to come as she adds another girl to her brood. She is fantastic. And what made an impression is that her partner, the father of the new baby but not her first two children, is getting his introduction to parenting through her.

With a model like that he is sure to use empathy instead of threats, make sense instead of non-sense, and actually enjoy his children.

I’d like water parks to be filled with splashing, screaming children, and that kind of parenting. I’d like that kind of parenting to be the norm, not the exception, the kind used at school picnics across the world. Apparently progressive educational practices teach the children grace and empathy but do nothing for their guardians.


Entry filed under: parenting principles.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. martha  |  August 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    it’s hard, right? to be amidst those energies. parents quashing kids. so much joy goes unexperienced. unwitnessed. i often think it must be painful, in some way, to issue those ultimatums, conditions, etc. it feels like a great separation, to me. i often have these very same experiences, out in the world. and i live in a place where it’s been hard to establish a community of like-minded parent travelers. i often think those parents must be doing whatever it is that they know how to do, and that’s all. they can’t mean to issue harm or distance, can they? thinking that can sometimes help the frustrated or sad feelings i have subside a bit. and save me from the also uncomfortable faux-conviction that my way, or what i’m trying, is somehow better, somehow superior. i hope my son doesn’t pick up on me being closed because of superiority. “shower them with love and kindness” my husband often says. i can sometimes try that with those parents. easier to do with their kids.

    • 2. nataliechristensen  |  August 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm

      you’re so right. i do believe that children choose their parents so that they learn and experience whatever it is that they “need” in this lifetime, but i often forget. and yes, it is easier to shower kindness on their children, harder on the parents themselves.

  • 3. Annie  |  August 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm

    your blog is such a breath of fresh air. thank you for all that you share and all that you do.

    • 4. nataliechristensen  |  August 27, 2010 at 6:51 pm


  • 5. isa  |  August 27, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    i loved this post!
    sometimes “bad parenting on parade’ ( the expression is by A Kohn and my husband uses it a lot) is everywhere- or is it that i focus a lot on it? sometimes i don’t. don’t really know what makes the difference from my perspective- i guess when i can identify with the parent- is she overwhemed, maybe her own parents did that to her too? etc- then .it is easier for me to connect.
    it is fan worse for me to hear rationalized-behavioristic-pet training, cold blooded disrespect than a parent losing it.

    sometimes i cannot but focus on these parents because i actually hear in my own head their judgments judging me..
    once in a park, i saw a woman starting to lose it, offered a “hard, huh?’ got a smile and the rest of the interaction with her kid was more relaxed.
    one other time, i saw an exhausted mom shout at her 6mo who had banged her tiny energetic head in her jaw. i was eating ice creams with my son, thought ‘will i dare?’
    i remembered one of my mantras with my kid – it is when he seems the most unlovable that he needs love the most- offered a ‘hard, huh’ and offered her one ice cone and got a no. she turned away and continued the controllling and anger at the babe. i felt so ridiculous and powerless that we soon left.

    yet, after losing it this summer and yelling at my 3yo in front of a neighbor and getting a nice supportive reaction, and remembering how judged i felt by those on the street, i think i will offer that damn cone again, if it were to happen again.

    it is so hard.
    plus, it is hard when your own kid notices ‘bad’ parenting. recently my 3yo wanted to know why a mom yelled at her crying toddler that she’d only stop the time out if he’d stop that crying- my son said, why doesn’t she hold him?
    i mumbled that people do differently and this was hurtful and wrong and for sure this mom was tired and asked him how he felt about it..but man i was not satisfied with this answer!!

    ok, enough rambling, thanks again for your heartwarming posts Natalie and good night!

  • 6. Amy McGregor  |  August 27, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Way to make a pregnant mama all teary-eyed! I’ve learned a lot in my nearly 10 years of mothering, but I really feel that I have recently entered a new realm of thoughtfulness that has helped to put all of my habits and actions as a mama into perspective. Reading yours, Nathan’s and Kris’s blogs have really helped me to plot out a path that I am slowly trekking down to be the best mama I can be.

    I read something in Alfie Kohn’s book about what you would want your child to say about the way you raised them when they are grown. That really hit me. The time is NOW to make a change for the better!

    That partner you talked about has been the best thing that this little family of women could have hoped for. He is so receptive to the new “radical” ideas that I come home with. He may not be devouring the parenting books that I have assigned him, but he is so gentle with our daughters and responsive to the discussions we have about raising the girls and takes quickly to the modeling that I attempt. He is a great great man.

    Long comment. My point is: you guys are great and I am really loving this new chapter of my life. Thank you for such sweet words…


  • 7. Lindsay  |  August 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    hey, martha….i can totally relate to living in “a place where it’s hard to establish a community of like-minded parent travelers”…so well put. i feel like no one has a clue what we’re trying to do and am so often in uncomfortable situations, either for myself/my kiddos or for other kiddos. in many ways, it’s been very isolating for me b/c even close friends & family misunderstand these strategies. i am comforted by these blogs, the comments, and the simple knowledge that there ARE others out there choosing this path, with all of its own challenges. your husband had some wise advice…easier said than done for me, but i will keep it in mind. 😉

    • 8. martha  |  August 28, 2010 at 6:00 am

      hi lindsay. if you ever need anyone to commiserate with about feeling alien or isolated, feel free to drop me a line. msutro@gmail.com

  • 9. Jessi  |  August 29, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    timing is so interesting to me when it comes to reading your blog, i try to keep up on it on a regular basis but laps sometimes. i hadn’t read in a few days and came across this post on a day when i was feeling the same things come up for me.
    i do not have kids but i do have several nieces and one nephew, of whom all are very spread out in age. today my family gathered to celebrate the birth-day of our matriarch, my mama. this called for an afternoon brunch of all us kids and all our kids, hungry, energetic, tired, and board as they may be. while we sat and deciphered menus, opened gifts, read cards, made plans for next weekends family camping trip, and talked about our most recent highlights in life the 3 children had to behave at a restaurant for an hour and a half. a very long time when you are under the age of 5.
    i watched helplessly as my niece and nephew shook the table for the twentieth time as they jostled in the booth causing all the glasses to overflow whatever liquid they contained and all the parents to say yet another stern word about body control and restaurant behavior. i watched as my energetic nephew couldn’t contain his 4 year old body any longer making him crawl, stand, hide, duck, and run his way around the periphery of our table space. and my 2 year old niece had a few moments when she just needed to cry because life is hard sometimes and was met by a stressed and tired daddy who had little patience to offer.
    i often notice the things that my siblings do as parents and wonder if i will follow in their footsteps once i have a child? i appreciate many of the things they are able to accomplish and tell them frequently of how proud i am to witness their parenting choices. but there are times when i am aware of things they do out of exhaustion or desperation that i don’t agree with and wonder if i will follow suite? watching my mother with the young kids makes an impression on me as to how she raised us (i am the youngest of my mothers kids by quite a lot so it’s an insight i’ve had to wait for nieces and nephews to gain). watching her reminds me of all the patience, empathy, and reasoning that my mother used with me. i don’t know how much of what she did with me was done with my siblings as we are so spread out across her lifetime of learning and growing as a conscious adult. i hope to use the same patience, empathy, and reason with my kids but am accutely aware that there are limits to everyone’s patience when you’re running on 2 hours of sleep for the third day in a row or are being critically judged by those around you for the way your child is behaving.
    i want to give a thanks to you and all the other like-minded parents out there for reminding us all about patience and acceptance for differences in parenting. and for making a point of trying to practice this acceptance while offering empathy for someone who may have little experience receiving or giving it out themselves.
    i feel that the best any of us can do is try to educate ourselves further along the way and practice empathy whenever given the chance, something always easier said than done but still a good place to start.

  • 10. Kate  |  September 8, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Today my sister hit a pedestrian while turning a newly fangled and fancy intersection, the woman broke her leg and has a concussion in hospital. My sister was absolutely in a heap at what she had done, and came over to my house, as did my mum. I held her, and didn’t say much at all, except that “I know….it’s awful….” and noticed how my mum didn’t stop offering condolences like “lots of people have had accidents” “at least you will know to be careful there next time” “noone was killed so we should be thankful” and seemed to get frustrated that it wasn’t helping. She told me I should say something. In the end, my sister asked me what she should say to the lady, if anything. I asked her what she wanted to say, the answer was “I am sorry” so I told her to say it. Sarah wondered if she should write something elaborate to express her feelings on a card and send flowers, but I suggested that it all comes down to meaning the same thing. And then she went to the hospital and faced the lady, and said she was sorry and so wished that it had not happened. The lady was apparently extremely caring and concerned, knowing that Sarah as the driver would be fairly broken on the inside, and some of the weight has lifted. We can excercise empathy with adults too, and I really noticed how some people, like my Mum, for all their good intentions just want to solve it and make it go away. I am still learning to be emphathetic, especially to myself. I am still very sensitive to others criticism, and perceived criticisms of my parenting. I just don’t do restaurants, they are too hard for me!
    Anyway, a bit off topic, but vaguely relevant!

    • 11. nataliechristensen  |  September 8, 2010 at 7:53 am

      Hi Kate,

      Yes I agree, empathy across the board, even for adults, is HUGELY powerful. I think it is what we all want but advice and solutions is far more common. I think we are fairly uncomfortable with painful feelings and, like your mom, immediately look for ways to make them go away. The funny thing is is that empathy ends up helping emotions go “poof” faster than anything else.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story.


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