Despite the fact that parents are the majority in the U.S. (more than 80% of adults go the parent route), if daddy bloggers like Matt Walsh are to be believed, parents are a persecuted, defenseless minority beholden to the ruthless whims of the childless masses. In his recent blog post, “Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents,” Walsh presents the following scenario of something he recently witnessed: a hapless, misunderstood parent is out in the world doing absolutely everything right while her little one has a meltdown, when along comes one of the cold-hearted, ignorant, childless bullies that controls the world to spit vitriol in her parental face.
Okay, maybe I added a touch of hyperbole, but on his Matt Walsh Blog, where he purports to dispense “absolute truths” (now that’s hyperbole), Walsh paints a comically one-sided picture of a saintly mother and an evil childless man in a grocery store. The mom is tending to a tantrum-throwing toddler and two other kids, and (in Walsh’s view) is doing everything she can to address the situation. The toddler’s tantrum can be heard throughout the store and at some point it picks up steam resulting in the child knocking over a display. A man Walsh assumes is not a parent (which he appears to base on his initial impressions of the guy and a few after-the-fact context clues) arrives on the scene and says, in earshot of the mom, “Man, some people need to learn how to control their f**king kids.” Walsh then gives the guy an in-store shut-your-mouth and a blog post shut-your-mouth to later hit his point home. The blog post basically paints the crass, judgy guy, and his many “non-parent” cohorts, as Parent Enemy #1 (he lumps parents of grown kids who give unsolicited parenting advice into the meanie crowd too). Walsh paints a pretty stark “us and them” picture about parents and “non-parents” based on this incident. Instead of viewing the scenario as a random act of rudeness (and leaving room for the possibility that perhaps rudeness was emanating from more than just the presumably childless a-hole), he uses it as an illustration of what’s wrong with childless people and their endless commentary on parenting. He seems to break people into two categories: parents and “non-parents” (because all you are is people without children, that is your identity). Everything can be viewed through this lens: You’re either a hard-working, doing-your-best, need-to-be-appreciated, -understood, and -validated parent, or you’re a “non-parent” (I’ll stop using quotes around non-parent now, even though I find the term obnoxious) and therefore ignorant and lacking in powers of observation.
I don’t believe all parents fit in one box, any more than I believe all people who don’t have kids do, and I don’t attribute Walsh’s view to all parents, or even to all parents who blog, but I have noticed this parents vs. non-parents dichotomy in other contexts recently. I see messages like this in the social media/blogosphere: “Hey moms out there, can I get some crock pot recipes?” Which somehow suggests that offspring are required for crockery cooking. Or, “To the moms in the house, I need tips on how to get my whites whiter!” Uh, non-moms own and wash white clothes too, amirite? Or this fun one, “Mommies, I need your help! What’s a quick route to the zoo?” Sheesh, now only childed people can look at animals and avoid traffic? It’s one thing to seek advice on nipple guards exclusively from women who’ve breastfed, or to ask other parents for suggestions on daycare centers, but it’s another to ask for non-parenting specific advice from parents only. I find it bizarre. This “us and them” movement is quite prominent in a particular segment of the blogging set and it masquerades as parental solidarity, when it’s at times more of a targeted exclusion of the views and opinions of people who happen not to have kids.
In his blog post, Walsh clearly sets up an us and them dichotomy. He gives nothing but benefit of the doubt to the young mom in his scenario and to parents in general, but gives none to the (presumed) non-parent in his story or the people he supposedly represents. It feels like Walsh had a narrative in mind (saintly mom vs. evil non-parent) when he wrote this post and that it applied not only to the individuals involved in the scenario at hand, but to parents and non-parents at large. He takes the rude behavior of one cranky bunshole at a grocery store and attributes it to essentially every person without kids (or with grown kids) who’s ever had the audacity to have eyes, ears, and an opinion. The guy at the grocery store was rude because he was crass and mean-spirited, not because he had an opinion. Yet it’s his having an opinion that seems to crease Walsh the most.
Parents are the majority in this country, and yet Walsh presents a picture of them as a bullied and marginalized group. In reality, parents use their substantial power to get the world to conform to their needs, which is what you’d expect the majority to do, and as a result, listening to parents whine about being bullied by childless people gets a bit tedious. Parents like Walsh want to not only have things their way, but to have their way validated. That goes too far. I don’t need to agree with other people’s parenting choices or presume they always act wisely, I just need to be able to navigate my cart through the grocery store aisle.
Grocery store aisles are public spaces — open to the childed and childless alike.
I’ve seen all kinds of things go down in grocery store aisles: flirting, possible exchanging of narcotics, self-muttering, but I have never seen anyone be as rude to a parent as the scenario Walsh describes. In general, I’ve seen a range of reactions to the handling of tantrums ranging from sympathy to wincing (because, GAH, the screams of children). I’ve seen eye rolling. But I’ve rarely seen outward hostility toward parents, especially at the level Walsh describes and uses as an illustration of a presumably bigger problem, nor would I hope to see it. I don’t at all advocate cussing out parents for their handling of their children, but is every reaction that’s not purely positive worthy of outrage? I don’t know about that. Walsh wants us to see the mom he described, and all parents faced with raging kids, and assume that they’re all doing a great job. But, the thing is, they’re not all doing a great job. And simple powers of observation can detect that. Yet, despite some lackluster parenting in the world, most people do “shut their mouths, watch their language*, and mind their own business” as Walsh would have them do. Even though it’s a problematically one-sided request, the gist of which is: childless people, you go ahead and keep to yourselves; parents, you do whatever you want, everyone else can just deal with it, and whatever it is that you’re doing, you’re doing it right, good for you! Walsh, and others on the blogses, espouse some of the hokiest “I’m okay, you’re okay” stuff I’ve ever seen. I find it strange that childless people are so often accused of being hippy dippy lunatics who make weird choices, when it’s pretty common for childed bloggers to suggest, “Hey, parents, however it is you’re doing it, you’re doing it right! Good job.” What? Uh, you’re not all doing it right. If that were the case we wouldn’t have CPS. We wouldn’t have an endless supply of people talking about their shitty parents in therapy. Okay, these are extremes, but not all parenting is equally good.
Nonetheless, Walsh wants childless people to mind their own business, but in wanting that, he avoids a pretty obvious and central piece here, once someone’s kid is making a spectacle out in the world, it becomes other people’s business. Grocery stores are meant for all of us; they’re spaces where the needs of one family don’t trump the needs of the rest of the shoppers in the store. But here’s what Walsh has to say about expectations in public spaces:
… the peanut gallery probably expects you to drop all of your groceries and immediately run into the parking lot, so as to save them from having to deal with the spectacle. But it’s not always that simple; maybe you don’t have time to shut down the whole operation just because Billy’s gone nuclear.
Well, yeah, some of us kinda do expect that. It’s not impossible to take your kids out of the store if they’re having a full-on meltdown. We know it’s not impossible because we see (and appreciate) people doing it all the time. Most people, if they haven’t done it to their own kids, remember being taken out to the car by their parents… boyyy, you were in trouble then! No one suggests that leaving the store to deal with your upset little one is simple, but what’s that got to do with it? Parenting is not simple. In fact, Walsh’s whole rant is premised on the fact that parenting is incredibly complicated. And part of what makes it complicated is the struggle of dealing with naughty kids at the worst times. Just letting a kid freak out on other people’s time and in other people’s space isn’t really dealing with it. Nobody thinks that it won’t be horribly inconvenient for parents to leave the store, but choosing to be a parent means taking on the complicated responsibility of, well, parenting.
And it’s not just parents who make accommodations. Adults who don’t have kids regularly adjust their behavior to accommodate for children around them by watching what they say, not smoking, keeping an eye out. Compromise happens regularly. This past summer I went to a show at an outdoor concert venue and the people who attended without kids were more than willing to put up with extra noise from families with small children for the sake of cooperation. This is just one small demonstration that, for good or bad — depending on your perspective, the world has become more accommodating to parents. The world used to revolve around adults. Kids who didn’t conform to the adult world (and of course they often didn’t) were expected to adapt or sit it out. They didn’t get to go to all the places Mom and Dad went. The older parents that Walsh bitches about liked it that way. Walsh claims he knows he has a lot to learn as a parent and is prepared for more experienced parents to teach him what’s what, but he seems awfully resentful of the idea that their different way of doing things might, in some cases, have been better. When one old guy had the nerve to try to provide the type of wisdom that Walsh says he wants, this was Walsh’s reaction:
I had an older guy complain to me recently about babies that cry during church. He said: “Back when our children were babies, you didn’t have this problem.” Interesting. Apparently babies didn’t cry in the 50′s [sic].
Walsh is possibly being intentionally obtuse here. I think he realizes that there were crying children in the ’50s. What he doesn’t seem to want to recognize is that in an earlier day, norms perhaps required that parents give more of a shit about how the crying affected the other people around them. Instead of trying to convince the surrounding world to get on board with their baby, they were maybe more likely to step out of church once the baby started crying. Just a guess. Like Walsh said, “I’m no math major,” though I have a considerably better understanding of calculus than he, since he thinks that analogies about naked people getting pneumonia from playing in the snow have something to do with calculus.
Maybe it’s math, I don’t know, but the world increasingly revolves around kids. It’s adults who are now expected to adapt. Parents are the majority. They’ve worked to tailor the world around them to their needs. Good for them, it’s largely worked (for example, even nice restaurants are rarely adults-only these days). But that’s enough now. They don’t also need the world at large to validate their choices as parents, which is what Walsh is really asking for. They don’t need to also try to shame the minority (childless folk) and demand that the childless agree with their parenting choices.
Who’s the bully in this scenario? In his post, Walsh asks:
Let them decide who’s the bully: the guy who vulgarly insults a woman while she’s dealing with a difficult child, or the guy who tells the guy who insulted the woman to shut up and go away?
They’re both bullies. Childless grocery store troll is a bully for being a jerk to someone who was having a tough time (and it’s not that he had an opinion, it’s that he was obnoxious about it), and Walsh is a bully for using his influence to try to shame a minority of the population, those he’s deemed ignorant and unworthy of having any opinion, for not validating his choices. And speaking of choices, go ahead and get comfortable with your own, parents and people without kids alike, and then stop expecting anyone else to validate them. Because let’s be clear, we are talking about choices. Having three kids is a choice. Disciplining (or not disciplining) them in plain view of others is a choice. Not having kids is (sometimes) a choice. Respecting other people’s right to voice their opinions is a choice. But I’m not sure Walsh is too apt to see it that way. Because not only is he not a math major, he’s no logic major either. If this analogy fail is any indication, he just doesn’t get how interaction, opinion, discourse, diversity, and society work.
You shouldn’t scrutinize parents when you aren’t one, for the same reason I wouldn’t sit and heckle an architect while he draws up the blueprint for a new skyscraper. I know that buildings generally aren’t supposed to fall down, but I don’t have the slightest clue as to how to design one that won’t, so I’ll just keep my worthless architectural opinions to myself.
If 80% of the population were architects and the only qualification to be an architect was to have genitalia (in most cases); and if everyone was surrounded by architects doing their architecting; and if, at the very least, every single person on the planet had the experience of actually being a building that had been designed by an architect; then this analogy might make sense. But that’s not the case, and the architecture analogy is silly. This just isn’t the way things work. You don’t have to be a film maker to know that a movie is bad, you don’t have to be a dentist to know that if you go in for a cleaning and leave wearing an eye patch something’s gone wrong, and you don’t necessarily have to be a parent to sometimes see that people are getting it wrong. Does that mean folks ought to go around being punks to struggling parents? No. But why act like expressing an opinion is the most absurd thing in the world?
It’s ridiculous to ask that people without kids somehow check any common sense or powers of observation at the door and cease to notice people (including parents) around them. And let’s be clear, people with kids have all kinds of opinions too. Here’s a fun opinion I love hearing parents say to people without kids, “You’ve never loved someone until you’ve had a child. Then you understand love.” Kick rocks. You don’t know what love others are capable of. Here’s another good one, “You don’t have kids… yet. But you will.” Thankfully reproductive organs don’t have ears, so they’re spared this kind of bossiness.
Opinions are like a-holes, they’ve all been to the grocery store… wait, that’s not it…
If there’s a takeaway from any of this it’s that figuring individuals out is hard enough, it’s probably best to not try to glean from one frustrated guy at a grocery store “the two kinds of people” who do this or that to parents. Especially when, come on, parents, you’re not really afraid of the three or four childless people you know.
*I completely agree with Walsh on the language front, I wish people would watch their mouths. I hate cussing in public and I get very uncomfortable when people do it, especially in front of little kids. Open spaces should be gentle and soft-like, I really believe that.