Blame and Guilt: The Other Side of Parenting a “Bratty” Child

Posted July 6, 2011 by

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How many times have other people given you “the look” when your child acted out in public? How many of them understood what you were going through as you tried to get your child to behave? I’ve definitely been on the other side of that look, and it’s not fun.

In a recent CNN article called Permissive parents: Curb your brats, LZ Granderson complains about children who act out in public, and parents who seem unable to control them. While some of his points are good ones — there are certain places parents should try to avoid if their acting-out children are with them, like a fine restaurant, for example — I don’t think he gets how difficult it is to be the parent of a defiant child. When you have a kid who consistently acts out, airplane travel isn’t fun, and neither is a simple trip to the grocery store. It’s exhausting, and quite frankly, most people will never see (or truly understand) how much work goes into parenting that child.

I think it’s common to fall into the trap of blaming yourself and feeling guilty when you have an oppositional or defiant child — often, other people are blaming you too, so it’s easy to hop onto the bandwagon. But as Janet Lehman says in her recent EP article, Am I a Bad Parent? How to Let Go of Parenting Guilt,  “Perhaps you are being judged by others, but keep reminding yourself that they haven’t walked in your shoes. Even if you’re being blamed, you’re still trying to do your very best. You’re probably not waking up in the morning saying, ‘I think I’ll really mess my kid up today.’ So give yourself a break from blame and guilt, and focus instead on what you can do to change the situation.”

While I agree that some parents seem too permissive, things are not always what they appear to be when we get a snapshot of a parent — or a child — in public. Instead of judging, I think a better response is to have compassion for other parents.

What do you think? Are you doing the best you can and tired of being judged, or do you agree that parents are too permissive of their acting out kids?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. sd1904 Report

    Gotta chime in on this one, while obviously there are some children with real issues, the majority of the moms I know are just down right afraid to discipline their kids. Let’s face it, as children our parents would never have put up with half the crap we as parents do these days. Everybody is so quick to put a medical term on their kids to get away from having to do the dirty work of discipline. In our “Everybody is a Winner and Gets a Trophy” times we live in discipline is lacking and our kids are going to end up paying the price for this. We are setting our children up for major disappointments and they will lack the real life skills they need to get by in life. All this aside, I personally don’t think I should have to deal with your out of control kid when I’m out in public. Sometimes there is another side to the story, but lot’s of times I just see moms ignoring the bad behavior or giving in the the kids demands. Out of respect for other people I have taken my screaming 2 year old out of restaurants, stores, movies, etc. Some moms on these blogs say if you feel this way you don’t value children enough or your discriminating ( see Should Restaurants be Able to Ban Kids comment section), but I think it comes down to common courtesy.

  2. kemberly Report

    I was so glad I did not see this article years ago! I have been struggling as a single parent of 2 high needs children (some of it genetic and some from leaving their frightening and abusive father). I didn’t know that my oldest had autism until he was 8 (and it was like pulling teeth to find out what was wrong).I just thought I was a horrible parent who couldn’t control my children. Luckily, some supportive people around me told me otherwise. Unfortunately, we still need to eat and go to certain stores to purchase items, and meltdowns have occurred which were mortifying to me. It is just so sad the author makes no differentiation between parents who are too permissive and parents who are trying their best under difficult circumstances. Special needs kids do not always look different than other kids!!! The author did a lot of damage to the fight for autism awareness. Of course I don not expect people to tolerate screaming children under all circumstances, but giving me the benefit of the doubt(that I am taking care of it as quickly as I can) would be the reasonable thing to do. I always try to give other moms a nod of support when they are going through it because I know how horrible it is. I am not the judge of others, please don’t be the judge of me. You have no idea the hell we have all been through.

  3. desperate mom Report

    There is a book called “Shut up about your perfect kid” that gave me a lot of support on dealing with others’ harsh judgments. My son embarasses me on a daily basis, and other people are very quick to point out that he is (how profound!) embarassing and out of control. I think this blogger is too kind (bless her heart) to the journalist who sees things in overly simplistic terms, and thinks he has the magic cure to child behavior problems. He’s welcome to “curb” my child’s behavior any time– I’d love to see him try.

  4. The Warrior Mom Report

    I agree with Dr. Jim. It is a double-edged sword. We must take them to those uncomfortable places and use as training grounds; when adults, they’ll need to be able to navigate such places with ease and grace. I agree that parents have to work hard on “the look.” My husband tells me mine is so dreadful and scary. And although I probably look (to others) like I’m going to kill my kid, my “spirited troublemakers” don’t respond to kindness or softness so I’ve got to make those ugly, yet effective faces. I go to sleep with a clean conscious, knowing I’m doing the best I can. Besides, having five “spirited” kids always makes for a public exhibition whether they behave well or not. After years of trying to please the world, frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a damn. Life is too short to care what others think!

  5. Tom Report

    People should be more understanding in general. Kids can be hell at times, more often than not in public!

  6. Dr. Jim Report

    It would be nice if we lived in a world that was consistent day to day and from person to person. The challenge is that, if we don’t try to take our children to nice places, they don’t have the chance to learn how to behave. Yet, if we do, we run the risk of issues we’d rather live without. In the case of my own two children, they turned out pretty well in spite of all the mistakes I made. And believe me, I made them.

    In public, one of the toughest things to do with a tantruming child is to hold tough. I had one young patient who threatened to ransack a whole shoe store if he didn’t get a pair of baseball cleats instead of back-to-school shoes. Mom capitulated and got him the baseball cleats just to avoid an ugly scene. Unfortunately, he went from bad to awful, figuring all he had to do was push the limit to get anything he wanted.

    If a parent has a child who is known to have emotional or behavioral issues, and is being seen in counseling or treatment, it really helps when the therapist provides a parent a letter they can carry with them, verifying the need to use specific measures if a child borders on being out of control. It can save a ton of grief with mall security, I promise.

    The toughest situations to deal with in my opinion, Elisabeth, are the ones that are not that extreme, but that can make a simple trip a preview of hell. In those cases we do the best we can. Besides, observers who don’t understand probably never raised a spirited child.

    You do a wonderful job with the EP blog. Keep ’em coming!

  7. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Tiredmom: Thanks for chiming in. I think you’re very right when you say that people need to consider all the possibilities when they see kids misbehaving in public. It’s very easy to judge, but I think it’s much more helpful to be empathetic.

  8. Tiredmom Report

    I am the (single) parent of two children who have grown into wonderful adults.
    My first child was every mom’s dream. Well behaved (for the most part).. I took her to fine restaurants a lot – she was rewarded by the staff (who commented on her good behavior) with free desserts and compliments… always. Then, 10 years later, my son arrived. They were like night and day. My son never slept (truly – not even a nap) and only slept 3-4 hours a night. I couldn’t take him to a fine restaurant – even a fast food place was difficult. I was one of those mom’s everyone stared at – and made “helpful” comments to as he threw tantrums in stores when I insisted he hold my hand (otherwise – he would have had me chasing him around as he liked hiding under racks, behind displays, etc)… This child is extremely gifted – but was not allowed into the gifted classes because he “bothered” the other students. He was diagnosed with ADHD – and received counseling – which did little to help. Turns out – after he reached adulthood – we found he has Asperger’s Syndrome… mystery solved. He never understood “the look” and still doesn’t. My advise to onlookers is that they show kindness to the mother (and the child) even though it may be hard. If the mother is freaking out – verbally or physically – that’s different… it’s the mother who is having an issue. Report it to the store – they SHOULD have trained employees who can deal with this situation.
    Most of the time, mom just takes a deep breath – and tries to hurry out of the store with her little troublemaker in tow… where she can quietly try to settle him. It looks like she’s ignoring the behavior – but she’s only handling it in the least disruptive way until mother and child have reached the car.
    Kid’s can be bad – and usually the parent can resolve the issue with “the look” or quick word or two. People should be mindful though that these tactics won’t work for some children who have other issues.



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