Wednesday, October 14, 2009

To Shout or Not to Shout...?

I had to laugh. The two scenarios couldn't have been more different...

SCENE ONE took place yesterday afternoon.

I'm in the local 'healthy' grocery store with Monkey (son no.2) topping up our meat supplies. I physically recoiled in horror at the price of four measly organic chicken breasts (I've been on budget brand meat lately to economise, but today am all free-range after reading organic propaganda in Good Housekeeping).

I know, WTF am I doing reading Good Housekeeping?

Anyway, this particular store (Trader Joe's for those Stateside) has mini shopping carts (trolleys for those who normally use Tescos) and for that reason, plus they give the kids balloons, have free coffee and nibbles, is why it's the one supermarket you'll often find many Moms/Mums in with their kids. At the same time. Shopping together. Crazy huh?

My little Monkey is a delight to shop there with. He grabs his mini-me trolley and off he goes. All smiles and, "Yes Mummy! Sure Mummy! Let me help Mummy!"

No tantrums. No running off out of sight. No pulling things off displays. And no Mummy whispering punishment threats every two seconds along every aisle.

This is the only store they are allowed to come into with me. Seriously, all other forms of shopping with them leave me frazzled with a munting moustache sweat on my upper lip. Not a good look.

So, with all the free food to placate the little ones, it's rare to see a kid acting up in Trader Joe's. But today, little Cameron was his name and little devil was his game.

My guess is he was about four or five years old. He pushed his little trolley into his Mom's and I saw him try and throw the bananas onto the floor and kick over a display of bread rolls (wholewheat). Hardly lock-him-up-officer behaviour, but obviously his Mom wasn't happy about it.

Instead of the hushed-but-threatening reprimanding I do to my kids, before I break out into fish-wife shouting mode when the behaviour really tips me over the edge, this Mom, (for she truly was a MOM, not a MUM) was all smiles and gentle placation to her tiny terror.

In exactly the voice my pediatrician told me I should use with my children, ie all sweetness, light, positivity and an octave higher than most sane mothers talk, she told her son to, "Honeeey, quit doing that."

He didn't.

She asked him a few more times, smiling and cooing at him all through her saccharin-coated admonishment. She mentioned a 'Time Out'(when he got home). Her son didn't seem to have his listening ears on and still she remained calm. Super Nanny would be proud. The American one. The British one (Jo Frost) definitely would have removed the boy from the store, gone down to his eye level and talked to him in a lot firmer voice.

She's British. We don't do sugar. Except in our tea...

But this Mom was practising the American parenting philosophy of talk-to-them-as-you-would-liked-to-be-spoken-to-yourself. And boy, she was good.

It didn't work though. And I bet she though the vocal sugar bowl out of the window when she was home, behind closed doors.

And therein lies the difference.

Over here, all the tongue-lashing is done in private. I don't believe for a second, these Moms never raise their voices to their kids.

In good old Blighty, you can't move through the shopping centres for Mums shouting at their kids.

I'm not saying I always agree with bawling out your children in public, but boy, it's kind of refreshing to see that you're not alone in the fact that you have shouted at 'darling Timmy'. More than once.

Which makes SCENE TWO all the more gob smacking for me, for the opposite reasons...

A few weeks ago, while I was visiting my family in Spain (yes, it was the best holiday I've had since becoming a Mum. Lots of sun. Lots of sunbathing. Lots of swimming. And, most importantly, lots of babysitting done by the Grandparents).

Anyway, with the kids in tow, Dad and I stopped off at his local supermarket. As Cheeky and Monkey were all sleepy after a hard day building sandcastles, I volunteered to stay in the car with them, while Dad ran into the store.

Sitting in the car park (parking lot) I noticed the Spanish family next to us, loading their groceries into their car.

The Mama, was throwing carrier bags into the boot (trunk) with one hand, while in her other arm was her newborn, whom she was nursing all the while she was unpacking her trolley. She wasn't hiding under a nursing blanket, like the Moms do in America, no. Her breast was out and abut for all to see.

Not so surprising, seeings as everyone in Spain walks around practically naked on the beach, whatever the size of their bikini! I've obviously been living in the States too long, as I found myself offended by some of the sights I saw on the sand.

Then the Papa appears with two other little bambinos, who I'd guess were under six. He's got a fag on. I did have to laugh. The scene hadn't even got going yet, and I was thinking of how many Mom/Mums I know who would have had a corony at the exposed breast and cigarette within 100 miles of the children.

By now, I'm completed hooked on this family and don't care if they can see me gawping at them. The parents get into a row (oh good, it's not just me and Him Downstairs that argue on the food run then). Although I don't speak Spanish, am sure their language is far from biblical. Their kids don't seem to care, they're too busy pushing and shoving each other inside the car.

Mama spots what the kids are doing, comes round to their door and starts yelling at them, presumably to, 'Stop It!' She's whipped the baby off her breast now, and as our cars are parked closer than the US super-size parking spaces I'm used to, I recoil somewhat, as I can practically touch her nipple.

She's oblivious. Good for her. Her concern is her fighting kids, her now screaming baby and her smoking husband, who appears to be engrossed in a magazine he's leaning on the other side of the car reading. (Probably porn eh? So European).

This is getting good.

She plugs the baby onto the other breast. (Oh my, is that a flash of BOTH boobs)?
Then she uses her spare hand to clip both her kids round their heads, whilst she yells at the husband. And the children.

He gets into the car, still smoking. Neither child in the backseat appears to be in a 5point harness car seat. He joins in the yelling. At his wife. And at his kids who are still pulling each others hair in the backseat. And at anyone who'll listen!

Mama, slams all the doors shut, gets into the front passenger seat. Still nursing the baby, still yelling at her family. And they all drive off. Baby on her breat. I may be wrong here, but I didn't notice any seatblets being fastened.

She doesn't care 'what-the-neighbours-might-say' and good for her! Her main concern was what was going on with her family. And she chose to deal with them, her way, regardless of what onlookers might witness, regardless of what 'we' might think.

This may be completely normal parenting in Spain, but you'd never see a scene like that where I live.

And you know what I did? I laughed and I smiled and I thought, 'Good for you Mama!' I may not agree with her approach to safety in the car, but it was so refreshing to see real parenting emotions played out before me, rather than the fake doctor-scripted admonishments that have become all too normal in my world.

I mean really, yelling at your kids in public is hardly parenting crime of the century now is it? And in a world full of strangers, why are we so concerned with what they might think of us?


  1. I shout. I'm not particularly proud of it, but I do shout at my kids, and occasionally in public too. It's so true that it just isn't done in the US - and increasingly in the UK, too, it is frowned upon. But I just can't smile sweetly at the boys when they are behaving like demons, I need to let them know I'm cross, and blow off some steam at the same time.

    I like the sound of Spanish Mummy - particularly the boobs hanging out while admonishing her kids. If I had a baby in addition to the Littleboys, I'd probably be doing the same....

  2. I totally agree with every word NVG and I too fail at the smile sweetly through the hurricane. Regularly. Shameful? note to self: Must try to parent better. Again.

  3. You're right - the negative stuff goes on behind closed doors. A friend of mine (who you never see without a smile on her face) told me about a recent losing-everything-on-the-computer incident caused by her daughter. Admittedly she was ashamed at how much she had "lost it" but the things she told me she shouted at the child ("I hate you"), I just couldn't believe.
    I have found though, that reducing your voice to a whisper, (as sinister as possible) not only makes them have to be quiet to listen to you, but is far more threatening to them than any shouting. (I've been doing the parenting thing for over 16 years. Sometimes it takes a while to come up with the really good stuff!)

  4. This made me laugh so hard as we are raising our kids the British way that has adapted to the Amercian lifestyle too. When in a restaurant my kids were messing around & I said "if you do not stop I will beat you black & blue" a saying that is common in Manchester UK. The woman across from us stopped & glared at us in horror & then picked up her cell phone...I was expecting the services in any minute to take the kids....hmm tempting thought!
    Love & miss the european open lifestyle!

  5. Loving the 'munting moustache' line - best quote of my day! I wonder if part of the difference is that in England, people expect you to be firm with your children. Not that they want you to yell at them and call them 'little f******S!' as a mother (at least, I assume she was their mother) did in the supermarket I was in a couple of hours ago, but there's the feeling that you've got to be cruel to be kind, etc etc, spare the rod spoil the child, if a child had spoken like that in my day, blah blah. And I wonder if the Spanish public lactation is all about being able to get 'em out in the warmth, rather than the Arctic cold of Britain??!!

  6. I'm a shouter. 2 boys, what can I say. They would NEVER stop what they were doing if I didn't. I haven't got the patience to negotiate with them. I can't half the time anyway - dear boy number one please climb down the tree so that we can move along at a sharpish pace to stop Boy No. 2 from climbing on the neighbours car and clattering it with a small metal object he has just found. Just doesn't happen.

  7. Wow amazing, for been a mom of 3 kids you do alot, people like you are example for people like me, I'm not lazy, I study and live by myself, but it's hard, but I guess rise 3 kids it's even harder.
    Thanks, good luck.

  8. My mom has I kind of barber shop,I was helping there yesterday when I read a magazine, now I read your post and it was the same article, wow what great , I would like to read more similar stories