I had a chance to observe some interesting parenting behaviours in action the other day. We live close to the largest shopping centre in Europe, so there are many, many people-watching opportunities if you’re so inclined.
I walked past a dad eating lunch, having a full-on, animated conversation with someone in a pram. When I got close enough to check, the baby girl in question was no more than 6 months old, arms and feet waving in delight as she babbled back to her besotted father. It zoomed me straight back to the ‘conversations’ Husband used to have with DD. I hope that father continues talking to his daughter as she gets older, building her confidence and resilience.
GAP was having its summer sale, so I wandered in there, partly lured by the denim, and partly by the music. It was very catchy and I found myself singing along as I browsed the racks for some new jeans. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall, dread-locked man doing the same as me, but definitely louder and with more movement! As he swung around, braids flying, I saw a little curly-haired princess in his arms, squealing with laughter, grabbing his neck, delighted to be ‘dancing’ with her daddy. I swear, my ovaries skipped a beat. I made my purchases and headed to H&M with a bounce in my step.
This is where all my happy bubbles were burst. I was looking through some athletic gear for DD when I overheard a young girl, about the same age as DD, on the other side of the rack, talking to her mother:
Girl: Oh, look, mum, this would work well.
Mum: Don’t be stupid, don’t look at the age. You need to look at the size. LOOK AT YOUR SIZE. Just look at it.
(At this stage, I’m shocked mute and wincing at the venom in the mother’s voice)
Girl: Mum, it’s cut bigger, I think I could fit into this.
Mum: I highly doubt it, I don’t know why you think you can. Have you looked at your size?
(I got bolder a took a peek over the rack. The girl in question had beautiful caramel skin, glossy hair, and a LITTLE bit of puppy fat…the bane of most pre-pubescent girls. Not that anything should warrant the mother speaking to her like that. EVER.)
Girl: Well, I’m going to take a chance and try it on.
Mum: Don’t come crying to me when you look ridiculous.
At this stage, I wanted to cry. I wanted to attack the mother. I wanted to cuddle the girl. Clearly, she had a backbone and tried on the clothes, but how much longer can she bear this verbal abuse without it having some awful effect on her?
DD and I are carefully negotiating the tween years together, which includes me reminding her of boundaries when she snaps at me and rolls her eyes (like she’s just done!). But my refrain has and will always be, “I’m on your side. I’m always on your side.” Which means that I may want to have strong words with you when I get home, but I will use all my superpowers to ensure there will NEVER be a public humiliation. She knows that both her parents will back her up. She will never face from us what that poor girl faced from her mother. Almost a day later, I’m still cringing as I type this.
Am I over-reacting? Do parents have a divine right to speak to their children like that? Are parents not responsible for a dependant child’s diet, and therefore, the child’s size? Does that mother not think her words are going to leave long-term scars?
I’d like to point out I have a daughter, so all my experience relates to raising females, but I think this is relevant for any child.