It Takes a Village to Raise a Child…and Your Village Is Watching

“Judgment Culture” is a cultural force deeply impacting parents today. Read on to get one mom’s perspective…

Let’s be real. Parenting is about making minutia-level decisions day in and day out. You’ve succeeded if you’ve made it to the end of the day with your children safe, sound and tucked in their beds while preserving an ounce of your own patience and dignity. Parenting is a constant battle of trade-offs, of negotiating and flexing:

Kid won’t eat the broccoli? Decision: hold firm, or bless him with the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that yes — you’d actually devour yourself.
Kid won’t put on a jacket in the 30-degree weather? Decision: force the issue and drag her to school 45 minutes late, or face the consequences of bringing her to school in her newest tutu-adorned bathing suit in December?
Infant sleeping in the car right as you drive up to Pre-K drop off in the middle of a thunderstorm? Decision: break the rules and pull up in the fire lane to open the door and let your Pre-K child fend for herself on the inside?, Park the car with the A/C on for a few minutes and run the Pre-K child in? Or drench the Pre-K child, the infant in the car seat, and yourself by properly parking the car and bringing all involved and related bags into the school, which is no small feat on a normal day (in an ideal world you’d have a wheelbarrow lined up to assist)?

Those battles? Those mini-decisions? Those aren’t new. The idea that you have to juggle and maximize multiple outcomes in mere milliseconds was, is, no doubt will continue to be a very real struggle for parents. But there seems to be something different in 2015 about parenting, something that adds — at least for me — an element of fear.

What’s new, or at least what feels new, is that now your minute decision-making is public — so very, very public. We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Fast forward to present day, and that saying has taken on a new life. In 2015, it feels like that village is watching.

Whether it’s a post on Facebook of your kid eating dinner or the classmate’s mom who sees your decision at the school, so many of these decisions are no longer the rational optimization of achieving an end goal, but are also an emotional evaluation of how your decision might get a rise (or not) from your village, and what the consequences of that rise might be.

Mountains out of molehills? Perhaps.

Just yesterday a friend posted a picture on Facebook of their child sleeping in the crib, and someone (with good intention, I’m sure), commented that the child wasn’t old enough to sleep with a blanket. A molehill, not a huge deal, not a critique of my friends’ parenting decisions by any means and also not an ill-intended comment. Certainly a molehill.

Other molehills? Well, there’s the Pre-K teacher who allegedly — with good intention — confiscated the child’s home-packed Oreo’s, who ultimately was making a judgement that the cookies weren’t nutritious enough. Not to mention the the preschooler whose homemade lunch was replaced with three cafeteria-prepared chicken nuggets. Yes, it’s true. The daily ritual of what your kid is eating is likely under the scrutiny of those around you.

And then the molehills start to get bigger. Consider the more contentious situation of a mom of an adolescent who was placed in the position of having to respond to allegations of her son engaging in recreational drug use, complete with evidence captured over screenshot. What stood out to her wasn’t the fact that her child smoked pot (which, with half of the population having engaged in such activities, didn’t actually shock her). What stood out to her was that her son was being reported on by another mom, and that other mom was now watching. As she says so eloquently:

“… now my role as a parent, how I was going to handle this, had become public, too. I had another mother waiting for my next move. I felt exposed in my little windowless, cinderblock office. Our screens are also cameras, and it felt as though the Internet itself were watching and saying, ‘Oh yeah? Parent this.’”

Fortunately for that mom, the wrath seems mostly internal — mostly about her, her community, and her son’s action which appears to have short-lived consequences. That is perhaps an emotional mountain, but still doesn’t have the gravitas of a mountain for her life as a whole.

And then there’s this: The single mom who allowed her 9 year old to play alone at a park while she worked her job at McDonald’s. She thought she was making a molehill decision — letting her child play in a public park in a crowded area complete with a cell phone while she tried to earn money to keep the family afloat. She thought she was optimizing the options she had before her as best she could, all of which were less than perfect. And so she equipped her daughter with her phone and went to work, all with the best of intentions.

But in her case, her village was watching and someone from her village didn’t agree with her decision.

A 9 year old? By herself on the playground? That’s absurd.

With every best intention, her village called the police. The result? I’ll let you read the consequences for yourself, but know that’s a mountain I hope I don’t ever have to climb.

So for parents in 2015, I think parenting includes this fear, this trepidation, this heightened awareness — no matter what the decision, no matter how big, how trivial, how routine, how extraordinary, your parenting is being scrutinized by everyone in your village — friend and foe, acquaintance and stranger, for good or for bad. And with that fear comes a struggle. Do you parent the way that you believe is best for your child? That optimizes their life and their opportunity? Or do you conform your parenting to what you believe is baseline enough to pass muster with every eye watching you?

Oh, and you may only have a split second to make that decision.

The struggle is real.

Lori Pearlman is the Illustrator, Thinker of Big Thoughts for Insight Safari. When she’s not working to distill research into insights and actionable frameworks for our clients, she’s a parent, a marketer, and an observer. The above represents her interpretation of what being a parent feels like today, and is presented humbly as a representation of her observations and opinions.

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