Judge Not...

Thursday, September 2, 2010
...lest ye be judged. I get that.

But my question is: When are you allowed to judge? When are you allowed to look at someone else and think, "Holy shit. That is not good."

I've said it before and I'll say it again...public parenting is a snapshot in time. It is just a moment, and most likely not a "typical" moment in your life (or the other family's life) and should not be used as a stick by which to measure. For instance, if you sat across from us at dinner last time we were out, you'd think that a) we always eat sushi b) we always drink sprite c) CFB always uses utensils d) BP always screams. Only one of those statements is true*. Or if you saw us at the park the other day, you'd think that CFB eats Otter Pops all the time, when in fact, he was enjoying his second Otter Pop ever. Or if you were at the zoo last Friday, you'd think that I was always that obnoxious lady with the too-wide double stroller taking up too much space in front of the baby seal, when in fact, that was the first (and last!) time I will take the double jogger out for anything other than a jog. You get the point. Public moments are rarely indicative of a person's day-to-day reality.

That being said, the kids and I met D at the park last Monday for a picnic lunch. D got to get out of the office, and the kids were ecstatic to play with dad (on a Monday!) at a new park (bonus!) We were done with our lunch - hummus, veggies, and turkey wraps - and we headed down to the playground. We'd been playing a while when a mom showed up with her daughter. Based on her language and height, I'd have to guess the little girl was about 2 1/2. The remarkable thing about her, though, was that she weighed about 70 lbs. And while my first instinct would be to think that she must have some sort of genetic problem, that changed when I saw her mother pull a half empty 2 liter bottle of generic soda (the caffeinated kind) out from under the stroller and proceeded to fill two take-out cups full of soda. She called the little girl over from playing to come drink some soda. Stop playing and come drink some soda. The little girl waddled around the playground like a sumo wrestler, shifting her weight back and forth from foot to foot. She had an excruciatingly difficult time getting up on the jungle gym, and while part of that could be her age, I guarantee that the fact that she is obese also played a part. I felt terrible, but I couldn't help watching her, repulsed yet fascinated at the same time.

This clearly was not a snapshot in time. You do not raise an obese toddler by making a few bad decisions. No, this was a lifestyle. This was the result of choice after really bad choice.

So my question is: When do you get to judge?

Do you get to judge when a mother tells you in conversation that her child is definitely allergic to dairy but that since she hails from Milk Country that she's not going to do anything about it, even though she suspects that most of the child's problems are a direct result of his allergy?

Do you get to judge when a mother storms into the store you're shopping in, dragging her little girl by the arm screaming, "You better stop being such a horrible little girl or I will drag you into the bathroom and spank you till you're good."

Do you get to judge when a father takes a two inch wide leather belt to his daughter's legs and leaves stripe after angry stripe of black and blue?

Do you get to judge the parent that lets their preschooler stay up late watching programs that have enough sex and violence to make event he most jaded adult think, "wow. That was gratuitous."

Do you get to judge the mother who shows up drunk to parent-teacher conferences? Do you get to double-judge when both of her kids have fetal alcohol syndrome and all the crappage that comes with it?

And if you do get to judge, what comes next? Do you just promise yourself you'll never do the same thing as that other parent? Would you have any way? Or do you earn the right to shun that mother and her child, when in fact, the shunning might only exacerbate the underlying cause of the problem? Do you fight the instinct to judge? And if so, what's the end result of that? Who benefits? Do you? Because you're such an enlightened, non-judgmental human being?

Yes, this is me, finally playing devil's advocate. You knew it was coming. Now, formulate an opinion and weigh in. Seriously.

* For those of you keeping track at home, statement d is true. BP always screams. Always. Usually it's just super excited loud babbling, but sometimes it's clearly a "Hey you, jackhole. Can't you see my tray is empty? LOAD IT UP WITH FOOD! And do it with a smile!"

18 comments to Judge Not...:

Working Mom said...

Funny enough we were just having a debate over fat kids...equivalent to child abuse no? That's what we believe in the Lee family...

mom2boy said...

I'm not sure mental comparing and contrasting is altogether avoidable.

Like right now my fed tax teacher is drinking a tall boy of sugar free redbull at 10:00 in the morning. I'm not judging - just observing....

Visible bruising on a child from corporal punishment seems like child abuse to me. Would I say something? Probably not but it would be one of the things I'd lay awake thinking about.

Anonymous said...

People used to think it was necessary to "spank" adult members of the community, college students, military trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country, it is considered sexual battery if a person over the age of 18 is "spanked", but only if over the age of 18.

For one thing, because the buttocks are so close to the sex organs, anal region, and so multiply linked to sexual nerve centers, striking them can trigger powerful and involuntary sexual stimulus in some people. There are numerous physiological ways in which it can be intentionally or unintentionally sexually abusive, but I won't list them all here. One can read the testimony, documentation, and educational resources available from the website of Parents and Teachers Against Violence In Education at www.nospank.net.

Child bottom-slapping/battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

Child bottom-slapping/battering (euphemistically labeled "spanking","swatting","switching","smacking", "paddling",or other cute-sounding names) for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping/battering isn't a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

Plain Talk About Spanking
by Jordan Riak

The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
by Tom Johnson

by Lesli Taylor MD and Adah Maurer PhD

Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping/battering isn't a good idea:

American Academy of Pediatrics,
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
American Psychological Association,
Center For Effective Discipline,
Churches' Network For Non-Violence,
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps,
Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The US states with the highest crime rates and the poorest academic performance are also the ones with the highest rates of child corporal punishment.

There is simply no evidence to suggest that child bottom-slapping/battering instills virtue.

hush said...

I say it is ok to judge (privately, to yourself)... but be careful to get all the facts & watch out for incorrect stereotyping.

In fact, I'd go as far as to say that when people engage in a feel-good policy of "no judgments whatsoever, I accept ALL people," they are lying. And if they're not lying, then they're displaying poor judgment, and will make bad decisions because they're remaining naive. Like the guy in front of us in line for the waterslide last week who was a Heroin User (trust me, we can tell). I'd say someone needs to judge him, intervene on his shit, protect his family! By "judge," I mean make an assessment about the relative normalcy of his behavior.

We all make judgments all the time. It is how we know what social class someone is. It bugs me when people pretend otherwise. But by the same token, for example I hate when people expect the extreme morbidly obese to just change. It is not that simple. There are underlying psychological issues going on. Some understanding is in order. We can't all pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and display values we never learned.

As for obese toddlers, I feel you. I think it is a mixture of lack of education plus perhaps some other motives. A lot of people who are on the extremes either way - be it obese, dangerously thin, etc - are that way by subconscious design because they have been victimized in their life, feel unresolved pain about that, and are using eating or not as a coping strategy. Some obese people are using their fat as a protective layer against molestation. So in that sense, perhaps an obese toddler's mother actually loves her very much, but is just out of sync with the rest of reality. Know what I'm trying to say?

nej said...

@Working Mom - That's what was being thrown around the other day when this topic came up in a conversation. The general consensus was that to some extent, it is child abuse but that really, it's also teen abuse and adult abuse as the ramifications of being an obese toddler are life-long.

@mom2boy - I imagine that your fed tax class is super exciting, so I am incredibly flattered that you are reading my blog instead. A tall boy of sugar free redbull at 10?!? That's hardcore.

@Anonymous - Thanks for the wealth of information! I didn't realize that they still spanked adults in some countries.

@hush - I don't question a mother's love when I see an obese child. I come from a culture where food = love. And while I've learned that two things in life are certain: 1) never to say never unless your want to eat those words at some point in your life, guaranteed and 2) there's always more than meets the eye. And while I agree that there could be a plethora of reasons why this mother is raising an overweight child (protection from molestation, misguided attempts at showing affection, undoing her own childhood trauma of never having enough food on the table, etc) if you extract the why and just look at the what, she is hurting her daughter, not just now, but for the rest of her life.

Which brings me to the question: what do you do about it? Obviously, there was nothing I could do at the playground that day. What? Tell the mother that me and my skinny kids think she's doing a terrible job of raising a healthy child? Oh, that would have definitely prompted her to march home, throw out all her unhealthy foods and start cooking the same organic rabbit food I feed my kids. Right.

I'm talking about what do we do as a culture? As humans who inhabit the same tiny little world? Each one of our actions in some way affect not only ourselves, but everyone around us...the butterfly effect. Her choice is affecting her child, but it also affects yours. Everything from the cost of flying (bigger seats to accommodate bigger rear ends) to the inevitable toll that the obesity epidemic is going to take on our already hurting health care system. What do we do? How do we help?

geeks in rome said...

Love your line about "Public moments are rarely indicative of a person's day-to-day reality." I would love a t-shirt that says that for those moments the kiddos are screaming!

I grew up in a very Victorian-era, stoicism-rules kind of culture and basically you ignored EVERYTHING: evidence of child abuse, injustices happening to you or others you name it. It wasn't polite to point or take notice or make waves. Just put your head down and stay alive.

What a revelation to live in Italy where nothing is private or secret. At first it was terribly disconcerting and slightly traumatic. How dare everyone tell me I gained three pounds!? I'm allowed. It's just a PMS-Nutella issue.

But with time I have come to see it can be a very humane and loving culture (in its own weird stifling way). Alcoholics get called out ASAP, parents treating kids in a way that doesn't fit the norm get chatised, repeatedly, abused kids are taken away, if you don't look healthy or well-rested, people tell you and want you to do something about it.

There is tremendous social pressure to have everyone fit in and fit the norm. That stifles a lot of creativity, but it addresses and squelches the fringe crazies who would get away literally with murder in the US and elsewhere.

People here always judge, and if they don't then people at least fear they are being judged.

As someone who didn't grow up with this culture, I don't suffer from the same paranoias and incapacity many natives experience from a lifetime of being observed, questioned and judged. There are pluses with this way of life for the survival of the society and many negatives for many individuals.

hush said...

What do we do? How do we help (as a culture)? I have no idea. I think there is already plenty of social pressures on obese people and even on people of healthy weights to be thin. I think we have to get at root causes. Like we have to figure out why so many self-medicate with food, and why our society is structured so children and adults alike are spending so much time indoors in front of a screen; why healthful foods are not the norm. But in the end it will be up to individual choice. Maybe we need fewer choices since we're not capable of making good ones, and in its place more paternalism? Dunno...

mom2boy said...

@NEJ - Ha. I killed my fb account, it was too distracting, but I just can't quit my mom blogs...

Cloud said...

Oooh. Hard one.

I guess you can judge all you want- its what you do with that judgment that matters, right?

I'd probably call child protective services on the kid with the bruises from a belt.

I actually think, the mom who shows up drunk and has kids with fetal alcohol syndrome has an illness... but that doesn't mean that I don't think society owes it to her kids to try to intervene.

The toddler getting soda... yikes. I'd probably just keep my mouth shut and hope she has a good pediatrician who is already working on that problem.

Odds are the milk allergy kid will outgrow the problem (most people do), so I'd probably judge internally (I can't help it!) but keep my mouth shut. And again, hope for a good pediatrician.

nej said...

@geeks in rome - Cubans are a lot like Italians (minus all the cheese) and now that I've had a chance to process your comment, I think that that might be part of what bothers me so much about our society. Where I come from, everybody is in everybody's business, even though we pretend not to be, and while being part of the village has it's downfall, as you pointed out, one of the good things about it is that people call you out on your shit. And then set about helping you fix it.

I very strongly believe that it takes a village. Hell, I have tons of resources, enough money, and the resourcefulness to put both to use and I still can't figure out how the hell to raise my kids without the help of my village.

@hush - I, perhaps naively, find it very encouraging that the grassroots shift in society seems to be tending away from the artificial (food, lifestyle, everything) and more toward the natural. It seems like the effects of all the shit we've polluted both our bodies and our environment with are starting to catch up with us and people are putting two and two together. Or maybe I just live in a happy little bubble where people are very health-conscious - I mean, we host a CSA in one of the US's healthiest cities, for pete's sake. We did move out to Colorado for a reason, and the less I leave our own little paradise, the easier it is to forget that it's not like this everywhere else.

@mom2boy - You killed your FB account?!? And lived to tell about it?

@Cloud - Yes, its what you do with that judgment that counts. But I think that as a society we're too worried about being PC. No one called CPP on the kid with the bruises. The mom who showed up drunk to PT conferences ended up in jail for a bit, but her boys hadn't gotten any help last I heard. In fact, the oldest had dropped out of high school to sell drugs, the middle boy was expelled from 6th grade and the little one still wasn't reading in 2nd grade.

And as for pediatricians...I lost a lot of faith in them when our old one kept telling me that my son was fine, when in fact he had a dairy allergy and tests later showed that he was having problems with his liver and was malnourished due to the fact that food was not staying in his system long enough for him to extract nutrients from it. I won't get off on a health care tangent, but 15 mins of rapid-fire questions, a hop on the scale and photocopy of what to expect for the next year isn't really enough.

Cloud said...

I'm sorry your first pediatrician was no good... Our pediatrician absolutely rocks. She would definitely talk to the mom with the overweight toddler.

nej said...

geeks in rome said (before I accidentally deleted it while trying to moderate comments with a sleeping babe in arms):

re: food and weight issues: I think you're right on that one, too, nej. If you look at the crap that food is laden with in the US... just weird unnecessary added oils and sugars. The processing and soda pop are the main culprits. Americans did not look like this in the 60s.
Also all that fat-free crap is nasty. It's all sugar with no tactile/taste satisfaction so you overdo.

Since I've been in Italy, I see large-size Americans move here, and after doing nothing to change their lifestyle (no exercize, still eat tons) they LOSE WEIGHT!!! To me that is proof that the prob is processed foods.
I eat the local diet which includes lots of chocolate and ice cream and I am skinnier than when I lived in the states (and I was already normal weight).

The food here is still *knock on wood* unprocessed. People are obsessed with food and Sunday meals last hours. I have never seen such skinny people eat so much, but the food is pure, fresh, homemade, and eating is a family or social event. Food is happiness and love but it's out in the open. People aren't sobbing in the closet spooning icecream in their mouths.

Italians NEVER snack. They eat two really decent well-rounded meals a day (breakfast is non-existent), they don't drink soda, and they never eat a meal on the run or standing up or at their desk. Eating is a sacred moment that is given the proper time and place so the mind actually is aware of eating and being satisfied.

When I'm back in the states I find I cringe when I see people eating a meal on the train or walking down the street. And Italian would wait until they got home to eat, even if it meant not eating until 11pm!

mom2boy said...

I think the proper term is "deactivated", which I guess is like hiding the bottle of liquor on a shelf you need a chair to reach? But again, my fed tax notes are open in front of me and here I am typing away in the comments section.

I want to live in a city where healthy eating/living is the norm. Or a country where they don't snack. Or factory farm...

caramama said...

Agreed with the others. I really have nothing to add. All those examples you gave? Made me almost cry, and I'm at work. And I'm hormonal with PMS and all that. So I'm having trouble thinking about what we can do about it as a society, culture, neighbors etc.

I'm also trying really hard to remember that my culture and cultural experience can be so different from those who I meet with regularly. There is someone I know who regularly talks about spanking his son so he will behave. He knows that I don't disipline that way, but it is normal for him and his culture. Remember the Nurture Shock discussion about how spanking in some cultures actually does appear to work, but only in those cultures? I try to remember that, especially since I know that he is a warm, loving father who is truly trying to do what he thinks is best for his kid. There are no belts swinging or damaging language being used. We've talked about different approaches, but he is not going to use my approach and who am I to tell him he and his entire culture is wrong when the data does not support that?

Anyway, I'm not sure that gets at the larger picture. I don't know what will. Like I said, I don't really have anything to add.

@Geeks in Rome - When I lived in Florence, I lost weight without trying. I was there only 4-5 months, and I did do a lot of walking (I lived on the edge of the city and the university was in the middle of the city). But it really was amazing considering what I was eating! I did develop my lactose intolerance while there, though, so there is that...

caramama said...

@mom2boy - Just so long as you stay on Twitter...

Claudia said...

Well, fuck me sideways. I wasn't going to allow myself any more mommy blogs, and now I must. If I may be counted among the far-flung readers, I'm in Denmark (but am American, dammit).

To respond to the judging, it's hard. I concur with the others.

P.S. What does nej stand for? Cuz in Danish, it means "no." It's pronounced /nigh/.

Melissa said...

You get to judge when someone's actions are hurting someone's feelings or body. We judge ourselves the same way! Do we get to say anything about it? Not always.

I find myself speaking up a lot in public situations where I used to hold my tongue. Now, I approach it by asking, "Do you need some help with this?" This is often met with the parent looking at me like I'm nuts, but it's amazing how many times they say yes with a look of relief on their face, as they watch me talk to their kid. Sometimes they just need a minute.

Being a parent seems like the hardest job in the world. There is no break from it. I think that we have to step in, though, when kids are being treated unsafely. Even if it's awkward. At the very least, it will give the parent the opportunity to reflect on the behavior.

nej said...

@Claudia - Welcome. I'm flattered that you find my blog so irresistible. I will do my best to make it worth your while. And anyone who starts a comment with "well, fuck me sideways" is as America as you get, no matter where you currently reside. :)

Oh, and nej are my initials. I find it high-larious that it means "no" in Danish because most old folks (and gay men with a penchant for vintage Broadway) upon finding out my name instantly precede it with the words, "No, no."

@Melissa - There is no harder job than being a (good) parent. I joke that when I'm ready to reenter the workforce, my resume will say: I was a stay at home mom. My children are still alive. I am still alive. There is nothing you can throw at me that I can't already do or learn to do. Hire me. You won't regret it. p.s. I no longer clean up someone else's poop or pee, so don't even ask.

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