I walked into my 4-year-old's preschool the other day to pick
him up. I had my 6-year-old in tow and, usually, it's no problem. The preschool is where they both go to day camp over the summer, so
my oldest son feels perfectly comfortable there.
Maybe too comfortable.
As I checked in, arranging for my 4-year-old to be brought to the
office, my older son started playing with the Lego set up. There are tons of
blocks and a snazzy table. He happily played while we waited. Everything was
Great, that is, until he dumped the entire thing on the floor. Every
block. Every single one. The room stopped—everyone looked up from their desk to
see what the commotion was. Ten different heads popped up, including the one of
the school's director.
Channeling Mary Poppins, I said, "Honey,
that wasn't very nice. Let's clean that up."
The director of the school, also the mother of small children, giggled
and said, "He's lucky he did that here.
Could you imagine if he'd done it at home?"
It got me thinking.
She was totally right. If it had happened at home, I
would have yelled, gotten angry and doled out punishments. I reacted differently at school, because I was out in public.
I want people to think I'm a good mom.
Then it hit me: I do this all the time. I parent differently at home than when I'm out with my sons.
The thing is, there are just so many factors at play when I'm out. Maybe I'm on my
way to somewhere else, and there's no time for an argument (that day, we had
15 minutes to get ourselves to karate class). Or maybe I'm just
embarrassed to yell at my kid in front of other people (in front of the
director of the preschool? Yeah, I wanna play the part of perfect mommy who
I want people to think I'm a good mom. I want people to think I have
endless patience for my children, that I don't yell or get flustered or just
get plain old annoyed. But I'm only human. And sometimes I yell.
I do think discipline is important. I'm not one of those mothers who
thinks it's cute when her kid throws a dozen eggs onto the supermarket floor. I
punish my kids. They understand that there are consequences for their actions,
that they can't get away with bad behavior.
We have our public selves and our private selves.
But I don't want to be judged for it.
I don't think I'm alone in this. I think lots of people parent
differently when they're at home compared to when they're out in public. Maybe
that's even a lesson kids need to learn. Functioning members of society act
differently in public than when they're home. Society couldn't function
otherwise. Could you imagine if your lawyer showed up at court wearing
sweatpants? What would you do if your kid's teacher came to school and grazed
on a bag of popcorn all day?
We have our public selves and our private selves. So, maybe that's
OK. That said, I will try to bring a little more of my Mary Poppins persona home
with me in the future. Sometimes it's good to dance like no one is watching, to
be your private self. And sometimes it's good to exercise a bit of patience
with your kids, to parent as if everyone at your son's preschool is, indeed, watching while you encourage your kid to pick up those Legos.