Parenting for an Audience

Cole and I ate breakfast out this morning. He ordered an apple pancake which takes 30 minutes to make. I sipped my hot chocolate, he sipped his coffee, and it was clear there was not much to talk about. He pulled out his iPhone to show me some stop motion videos he had made and I was impressed. Soon he was shooting a few stop motions videos at the table and I was checking Facebook and my e-mails.

I felt myself being stared at by the parents of two teens across from us. They were all sitting silently at their table. The kids clearly did not want to be at breakfast. Texting and video-taping at the table was clearly verboten. We were clearly a bad example.  For a moment I was embarrassed, and then I said to myself, “We don’t parent for an audience.”  Joe and I coined the phrase when Cole was young.

Cole and I talk all the time. I don’t need to make a point of having a meaningful conversation over breakfast.  The parents at the other table continued to deal with their sulky, unhappy teens and their monosyllabic answers by sending me looks and using me as a “bad example.” I smiled. I was having a great time.

I’m not a cool mom. Being a cool mom sounds irresponsible to me. I don’t try to friend Cole’s friends, and I have no problem saying NO when I must, but I try to say YES as often as possible. Cole is allowed an occasional glass of champagne; or wine on special occasions, to Easter-egg-dye Rascal, eat dinner in front of the television on occasion, blow up Twinkies in the microwave, and when he was small, have candy before dinner because to me, those things are a “Why Not?”  Joe and I parented together with benign neglect – agreeing not to offer too much direction, supervision or applause.

The winter before Joe died was one of our coldest. Our school was closed for two cold days in January when the temps dropped below 10 without wind chill. The snow that had fallen was packed hard and slick.  Santa brought Cole a speedy zip sled for Christmas and he was desperate to use it on those cold days. It was insane. Joe didn’t think so. After all, he had walked up hill to school both ways in much colder weather. Joe had the last word. Cole dressed as appropriately as possible and we went sledding. I tagged along just to make sure the crazy twosome survived to tell the story.  Cole loved it, Joe loved it, and I loved it. It was crazy, it was cold, and it was wonderful. Cole sledded for about 15 minutes but the story and the experience have lived on for both of us.

Cole has run barefoot in the summer for his whole life. His feet are dirty but strong and healthy.  We solved the winter coat problem when he was three. Cole hates wearing coats. We battled about it. Finally Joe said, “Who cares if he wears it or not?”  I said, “It’s 20 degrees out, Joe!” Joe said, “Take it along. He will wear it if he’s cold. Just give him mittens and a hat to keep his ears warm.” I said, “Other moms will talk about me.” Joe said, “We don’t parent for an audience.” From that point on, I never had another battle with Cole about a coat. I did have a battle with the gym teacher at school who insisted the kids not only wear coats but keep them completely zipped up. Cole was miserable. I talked to the teacher. She was unrelenting, but finally offered an out when she told Cole he could unzip his coat IF he had a doctor’s note. Fine. We got a doctor’s note. Our pediatrician agreed with me. Cole loves wearing hats and losing mittens regularly.

The same coat Nazi gym teacher did manage to give parents sound advice about safety. Let kids do what they are capable of doing on their own. In other words, don’t put them in the tree, but allow them to climb as high in the tree as they are able. If they can jump off it, let them, (Let’s not be silly here, she was not talking about the roof) and stop telling them to be careful or second-guessing their abilities. “Climb on strong branches,” “Look both ways,” and “Look before you jump,” are much clearer directions than the anxiety-ridden, “Be careful!”  As far as safety gear, well … as you can see from the Twinkie video, I’m a little lax. My first concern when I watched the video was, “Wow, my mom is not going to be happy about those dirty feet,” while others pointed out bare feet, matches, firecracker, and lack of goggles. I wondered why I didn’t think of those things. Probably because we have never made a trip to the emergency room and I seldom worry about what might happen. I know that is my job as a mom to look at the bigger picture, but if I did, I might not agree to the blowing up of Twinkies. I did make an executive decision for next time, though. If Cole wants to blow something up, he has to wear goggles.

When Cole was about 4, I went to the zoo with another mom who insisted her son hold the stroller when he wasn’t riding in it. This would never have occurred to me. We each had one child. The zoo was not crowded, and I was ready to let Cole run wild. Because the other mother was so insistent, I made Cole hold the handle of our stroller. He was incensed, well aware that I sold us both out. The look he gave me is drilled into my memory. I don’t parent for an audience.

Glad you were in my Odd neighborhood. Feel free to drop by any time. I would love to hear from you in the comment section of this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter!


Emily a mother of five shared this link with me In Praise of Lazy Parenting. Loved it, and I thought you might too!

20 thoughts on “Parenting for an Audience

  1. I would called you a very good sport ). I would have starred at you in the restaurant because you were so relaxed about having a good time your way. I usually have a picture of what something is “suppose” to look like–you know that Norman Rockwell Family or the Walton and my family often falls short 😀 of my ideal picture.

    • Oh, I know the ideal of the Rockwell family picture well. We don’t fit in that frame. Sometimes, I wish we did. But we don’t. I think the best frame is the one that fits your family, your values and allows you to have fun. At the risk of being cliche, it a boring when all the frames are the same.

  2. “We don’t parent for an audience,” is an awesome phrase! I have a child who loathes the coat also, and I always just insist that she bring it, just in case. And yeah, I half expect social services to call me.

    • I KNOW. I have had other parents go up to Cole and tell him to put his coat on within ear shot of me. One mom told me because Cole had his coat off her son was insisting on taking his coat off and it was causing a problem. Not for me. I just laughed said “Well if Cole jumped off a tall building…” Its a very heated subject…so to speak. 😀

  3. I think after the third child was born, I was a lot more relaxed and have (almost) stopped worrying what other people think…it took years to get to that point, though…


    • I don’t think we ever stop worrying entirely what other people think…its easier for me when I find out what they think after we have done what we wanted….it also easier when I don’t know the other parent or care one way or another about their opinion.

  4. I do not give a fiddler’s fart about other peoples opinions at the time. Sometimes I do ask people after the fact
    ” Could I have handled this better”? However I feel I am Mom and in this house that means a lot! I am comfortable with 90% of my parental choices and 50% of Jim’s ( haha) but I know I am not perfect and I accept that and endeavor to be better. It appears you are comfortable and your son is thriving and that is all good!

  5. What a beautiful picture of mother and son. Perhaps, one advantage to being an older mom is you are more relaxed and much less worried about the norm. I had my only child at 42 and I can honestly say nothing much bothered me….the downside of-course is not always having the energy to keep up with her!

  6. You’ve just given me my new catch phrase “We don’t parent for an audience.” I love it! And to me, you sound like the cool mom I’d like to be!

  7. 😀 KB, I admire you and your parenting ways. You will have a happy, well adjusted adult on your hands and he will treasure all of your good times spent together. God Bless you, my dear. 😀

  8. That is such a great philosophy.

    We aren’t working for those who judge, we’re working for our kids. Attention, spontaneity and a little trust seem a good formula.

  9. Absolutely I can attest to the fact my daughter has never parented for an audience. She has always done her own thing and I have been appaled a few times, maybe more than a few times. Not wearing shoes? Not wearing a coat in winter? Where does this come from? Maybe from the same child who insisted she enjoyed her chocolate cake more if she ate it in the bathtub. Who insisted her socks didn’t need to match, while I ran screaming after her, “Your socks don’t match!” A neighbor laughing said Katybeth was more work than all five of her kids, and she was. I was constantly changing her clothes, polishing her shoes, and— parenting for an audience. Thank God, it didn’t take, she grew up a total independent, free loving and completely non-judgemental. Sometimes it’s so good to fail!!!!

  10. Pingback: Cousin Carla: The Tiger Mom

  11. Pingback: Caddying: Quit and Carry On

  12. Pingback: Cousin Carla: The Tiger Mom

Comments are closed.