"I'll be your keeper for life as your guardian.
I'll be your warrior of care. Your first warden.
I'll be your angel on call. I'll be on demand.
The greatest honor of all as your guardian."
-Alanis Morissette "Guardian"
But what about protection from less obvious risks? What about protection from words.
We all know the age-old rhyme "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me". While I appreciate the sentiment I must say I completely disagree. I think words are much more hurtful. Plus, when was the last time some kid in a high school used a rock to bully a child? Or when was the last time a stranger in Wal-Mart lashed out about your parenting with a stick? No, words are the real danger.
It breaks my heart to hear the moms I know relay the things others have said about their children. And sometimes it breaks my heart to hear what parents say about their own child. Recently a mom was wondering about the appropriate response to a stranger who said "Your child is destined to be a terrible child because she has red hair". She did not respond to the person immediately, but rather was asking for advice later. Why didn't she respond at that moment??
Nothing I have ever experienced (including high school) is as taxing on my self-confidence as being a mother. Forget the fact that my body image has been completely destroyed. I spend half of my day wondering if I am making the right decisions for my son. And those are just the times I'm second guessing myself. Throw on top of that all of the negativity and outright contradiction to my choices that I face from family and friends. Everything I do seems under the microscope. And I have been working hard lately to find a way to parent as I deem right for my family, without pushing my parenting decisions on others. I do try very hard at times to remain silent. At times, silence is the kindest and most appropriate response.
I cannot say the same for direct comments about Baby.
When he was a newborn, my brother in-law referred to my son as 'demon spawn'. I know he was joking, but I do not take the matter lightly. A negative word is a curse, and I will not allow someone to curse my son. Ever. I IMMEDIATELY told him never to say it again, and not to speak about my son 'like that'. I was not rude. I did not belabor the issue. I was short, and firm. I am his mother and his gate-keeper, and made it known that I will not tolerate it.
I know that I am standing in a small crowd (if not alone) because I will openly defend my child. Some parents may be upset by a comment, but stand silent. Some might even brush it off as a joke. And I think most would agree that a 7 day old baby will not remember it, nor know what was meant by it. But if I had not checked the behavior at 1 week old, I believe my BIL would have continued 'joking' in that manner forever. And I am sure at some point my son will start to remember.
I know rhetorical questions are generally not productive, but I have to ask some anyway. What is it about us as people/parents/women that we don't feel comfortable defending our children? Why do we allow others to be so blatantly rude while we are busy minding our manners at the expense of our children? And what on earth makes us think that silence is the best option?!?
In my friend's circumstance I know that her daughter is having a difficult time through her toddler years. And my friend and her husband are doing all they can to stay the course of parenting that they believe is right for their daughter. Whatever those decisions may be, and however they may manifest in a place like Wal-Mart, strangers do not have the right to pass judgement. And certainly my friend need not feel guilty that she has a typical toddler. In her case, she held her tongue for the sake of manners (I imagine she'd have had a hard time saying something nice to that woman). But what about her daughter? Is a 2 year-old old enough to remember someone calling her a terror? Is she old enough to understand what it means? And most importantly, is she old enough to know that when someone said something negative about her her mother just stood by in silence? Will she be forever changed, even slightly, by thinking her mother will not always defend her?
I believe more and more that as parents we have a responsibility to our children. A responsibility to demonstrate that we are for them. We may disagree with their actions, or be disappointed in their choices, but our love is unconditional, and regardless of how we parent, we MUST demonstrate that we will tirelessly defend them. The word defend: to drive danger or attack away from; to maintain or support in the face of argument or hostile criticism; to take action against attack or challenge. It's a brilliant word. It is also a verb. To defend is to take action, not to stand silently by and be angry about later.
We as parents have a duty to protect our children. Let us put aside our fears of being rude and let us be defensive. Not defensive of our choices or our own actions but of our children. Let our children grow up knowing they are safe because we stand guard for them always. Let us be courageous and diligent, even if that means setting aside our own frustrations to remind the woman at Wal-Mart that she has forgotten her manners.