The little girl on the sidewalk is dressed to the nines
and she’s probably not even three. Somebody’s paid plenty of attention to
buying her expensive shoes and matching them with her expensive dress. But I
know from experience that at her age she could care less. It amazes me why some
parents bother to spend so much on things that fit for maybe two or three
months and have nothing to do with the well-being of their child. But it’s what
I see next that sickens me.
Her mother, also dressed to the nines, wants her to
get in the stroller but the little girl has a different idea. When her mother
starts pulling her by the arms she protests, saying “No!” and struggling to get
It doesn’t mean she’s trying to be difficult. It’s the
only way a three year old knows how to disagree. It’s probably the same way any
of us would react if someone pulled us toward a vehicle we didn’t want to get
in. But it’s not considered reasonable for a child. It’s considered rebellion.
It doesn’t matter that she’d rather walk, her mother wants her to ride.
So it’s okay to drag her daughter to the stroller. And
it’s okay to hit her repeatedly once she’s there, to make her stay. It’s a
horrible sight. But it happens in the middle of the sidewalk, on a busy Sunday
afternoon, and nobody intervenes. We seem to believe too strongly in a parent’s
right to do what they like to a child, even if it’s really hard to watch.
Consider what would happen if an adult was hitting
another adult. At least a crowd would gather, and somebody might try to stop it
or call the police. But not for a child. Of course, we’re all against child
abuse. But children are yelled at, pushed around, slapped, derided, scolded and
forced to do things against their will, all over the place, all the time.
It may be because they don’t want to stay strapped in
their stroller, or because they’re making too much noise, or they want
something they can’t have, or they don’t want something they’re being given, or
they don’t want to leave the playground, or they don’t like the hat that‘s been
shoved on their head, or just because they’re tired. In too many cases where a
child’s will conflicts with an adult’s, the adult uses force to win.
I’m the first to admit that child rearing is hard. It’s
demanding and exhausting, and requires far more patience than you’d ever put
out for a lover. We all make mistakes. We all lose our cool sometimes.
But since before I was a mother, I’ve been aware of
the harm that results from forcing people into categories. Gay bashing,
lynching, wife assault, elder abuse, classism, racism – it comes from expecting
people to fit into an idea of “normal” and from denying the freedom, rights and
self-determination of those who don’t.
I’ve come to believe that the disrespect shown towards
children is the same kind of injustice. They’re expected to behave like
reasonable human beings even though they have no idea what that is. They’re
expected to speak to us in polite terms, to say “Thanks, mommy, but I think I’d
rather walk” instead of hollering in disagreement. They’re expected not to sing
so loudly on the streetcar or ask such direct questions. Where their will
conflicts our own, we feel we own them enough to use verbal or physical force.
It’s rarely adults’ fault for being rigid, quiet, too rational or uncomfortable
with emotional expression. Children are supposed to fit in.
Sound familiar? It’s not society’s fault for being
sexually repressed, for allowing only one definition of sex, for expecting men
to be masculine and women to be feminine. You queers just have to fit in. And
if you don’t we’ll punish you, maybe even kill you.
The child in the stroller continued to scream, of
course. That part never made sense to me. In my own mothering, it has become
obvious that parenting is easier when I respect my child, even if I have to be
creative to get what I need. If that other mother allowed her daughter to walk,
they’d still get where they’re going – maybe a little late – but her daughter
wouldn’t be screaming and crabby and she wouldn‘t be stressed and guilty.
What on earth do we think we’re teaching them, anyway?
Proper social behaviour? Or how to have their freedom and self-respect squashed
and, in turn, how to squash that of others?
I truly believe that if we parent our kids with
respect they’ll mature into people who respect themselves, who know how to
defend their rights and the rights of others. It should be extremely important
to all of us how children are treated. Not just the little boy who’s not
allowed to wear dresses or the little girl who’s not supposed to get dirty.
all the little hearts and minds who squish into this world without any judgement
at all about being female or male, gay or straight, transgendered or
transsexual, white, black, able-bodied, rich or poor. We have much to learn
back to Visibly A Parent
rarely adults' fault for being rigid, quiet, too rational or
uncomfortable with emotional expression. Children are supposed to fit