In My Fascist State

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My Right To An Opinion About How People Raise Their Kids

Every once in a while, a mom or dad will say, “You don’t have kids, and I don’t think it’s fair for you to comment on how I’m raising my child.” So the logic here is that if you haven’t personally experienced something, you have no right to have an opinion about other people engaged in that activity. Well, I have to disagree — and let me tell you why.

You Don’t Have To Be One To Know One

If you followed this train of thought, then you would be allowed very few opinions about larger societal issues. No one who hadn’t been arrested and sent to jail could comment on criminal behavior or the justice system (I guess that’s a true jury of your peers!) Only those who had terminated a pregnancy would be allowed to speak about abortion (I wouldn’t mind that so much when these right-wing ultra-religious male preachers get started on reproductive rights for women.) And if you weren’t homosexual, you’d best not try to influence same-sex marriage law (the gay community might prefer that in the long run!) While this would keep conservative morons like Rush Limbaugh from spouting off on issues about which they are grossly ignorant, I think most would agree that this is a fundamentally flawed philosophy.

A more reasonable approach would be to suggest that you must at least make an effort to be educated and informed about a topic before sharing your opinion — and I mean within every socio-political arena. If you want to suggest prison reform, take a minute to learn exactly how the system is malfunctioning first. If you feel the need to discuss abortion with other people, at least get your facts straight before launching into a rant. And if you want to keep gays from marrying, maybe you ought to get to know one or two personally before you try to curtail their legal rights.

You might still be saying, “Why do you have a right to an opinion?” Well, I am happy to provide you with my child-free parenting credentials, to prove that I am qualified to open my big fat mouth. To begin with, I was a kid myself at one time. I saw what did and didn’t work in my family — don’t underestimate the value of this experience, since parenting technique is usually either a direct reflection of or reaction against the way your mom and dad raised you! I started babysitting when I was 12 and watched after kids off and on all the way through college. I have an undergraduate degree in Social Work and did my internship at a child-abuse prevention agency — where I provided parenting skills training to new moms and dads and taught at-risk parents how to appropriately discipline their children (don’t worry, I was well-supervised!) I was also responsible for monitoring the kids for signs of abuse or neglect (if you want a sure-fire method of birth control, that was it!) I have volunteered with the parents of sick children at a hospital NICU — and I have served as a birth partner for a pregnant teen. So I’ve seen the kid-thing from all sides and feel perfectly qualified to comment on the current state of parenting affairs.

Most importantly, I don’t live in a bubble — even though I have chosen not to give birth myself, I am exposed to other people’s kids on a daily basis. I have a number of close friends with children, and I am often recruited to help care for these little maniacs (said with the utmost love and affection). I get to hear all the parenting horror stories straight from the horse’s mouth — and I have the opportunity to observe a variety of different parenting styles in action (from a strictly sociological perspective, it’s fascinating to see what works with one kid but not with another). Just because I don’t keep one at my house doesn’t mean that I am unfamiliar with their behavior and the full range of parental reactions.

A Measure Of Objectivity

I often wonder if child-free folks aren’t capable of being more objective about family dynamics than the parents themselves because they’re viewing things from the outside, able to see the forest for the trees (being a photographer helps me too, because I’m accustomed to observing without getting involved). Because my interactions are entirely with other people’s children (rather than my own), I have an unbiased perspective about their behavior — he’s not my kid, so even when he’s kicking and screaming and pitching a fit, I’m not emotionally invested in the outcome of the situation.

But it’s different for the parent. That mom or dad will do anything to calm the kid down — even if it violates their most basic child-rearing value system. I certainly understand why parents choose to ignore tantrums (because they are just too tired to deal with a scene), why they resort to bribery (and inadvertently reward bad behavior) just to get the kid to shut up, why they lose their temper and scream at their child, or even haul off and give him a smack (God knows I’ve been tempted to pop a whiny little brat in the butt before). They know this is not the right way to discipline a child — but they are too close to the situation, too emotionally involved, and often too exasperated to recognize when they have crossed a line with their kids. Sometimes, a trusted outsider can help provide a little clarity and bring the situation back in balance. That is all I’m trying to do when I offer advice.

I think the real issue here is one of pride — no one wants their parenting abilities brought into question by anyone, much less someone who doesn’t even have kids. I can respect that, and I wouldn’t want folks pointing out my every mistake every time I took a child out in public. But here’s the irony — if you are actually a good parent who understands the concept of discipline, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will lodge a complaint in the first place. The only people who get comments from strangers are those breeders whose kids are totally out of control — and it’s not just the no-kidders who will say something, it’s also other parents who are disturbed to see the child-rearing ball being dropped so badly.

Back in the old days (the old days being the 1970s), people considered it their responsibility to sort of look out for other people’s kids. In my neighborhood, folks kept an eye on you out the window as you roamed around with your pals. If you got into trouble and needed help, they rushed out to take care of you (even if you weren’t their kid or they had no kids). But if one of them caught you causing trouble, you got busted  (even if you weren’t their kid or they had no kids). You were told in no uncertain terms that what you were doing was unacceptable — that you needed to stop and never do it again or they would call your mother (the most frightening threat imaginable). There was a communal understanding that the group was expected to live by a set of rules — and if a child strayed, anyone in the group was welcome to provide the needed correction. All I can say is that it worked — if you received a rebuke from a neighbor or friend’s parent, it was the same as getting in trouble in your own house. You took it to heart.

But now, if a child is acting a fool in public and someone else steps in, the knee-jerk reaction from the parent is to take offense — to see criticism instead of concern. It’s, “How dare you tell me how to raise my child!” instead of, “Thank you for keeping an eye on him for me.” This is all a symptom of the prove-your-self-worth-through-your-offspring syndrome that has spread throughout the country. If your child is behaving badly in public and someone else has to discipline him, that must mean that you’re a crappy parent — in my day, it was obvious that the kid was simply acting like a dumbass and needed to be reeled in a bit. You’ve been insulted — and the only way to save face is to indignantly accuse the helpful adult of behaving inappropriately (when you know in your heart you and your child were at fault). Where does that leave us as a community? Parents have no one to turn to for help, strangers are cautious about offering assistance (even when it is obviously needed), and kids learn the not-so-subtle lesson that adults have no right to tell them what to do. It’s sad, really — children would be much better behaved if parents could just let go of a little pride and let the village extending a guiding hand…

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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2 Responses

  1. Amy says:

    I am laughing b/c I had no idea I was a “breeder”! I love it! I am going to add that to my vernacular for sure. (Honestly, I agree w/y’all. The majority of children are SUPER annoying. That’s why mine aren’t…I have zero patience for it. “No one enjoys that” is my favorite line for my kids when they act like…well, kids. And I mean it. …

  2. Ramona says:

    Amy, thanks for the parent’s point of view — I’d hate for folks to think that the child-free are the only ones who comment on crappy parenting — it’s like I say, there’s not a good parent out there who isn’t offended when someone else is letting their child act like an idiot and make life difficult for someone else — thank you!

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