Reprimand: to reprove severely, usually in a formal or official way.
Reprove: to criticize (someone) usually gently so as to correct a fault
(courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
We live in a society where it is an acceptable social norm to reprimand someone if you feel they have wronged you, another person, or society in general.
Stone and I were reprimanded on the Boston subway system when we were visiting over the holidays. For this moment I’ll give you the quick version of the story. In the 5 ‘oclock rush Solshine pulled away from his grandmother leaving him at the bottom of an escalator and all of us stuck in a crowd going up.
It was of course completely terrifying for the whole family. It took a few moments for us to get to the top and then for Stone to fight his way down the stairs against the pre-holiday, get me home rush. When he reached Sol a few minutes later a woman was standing with him. I had seen her from the top where I stood like a fierce mother, using my eagle eyes to lock my focus on him. Hundreds of people might have been between us, but I wasn’t going to loose him from my sight until Stone had him safe in his arms.
I silently thanked the woman. Her actions fed my belief that people are kind and communities take care of each other. She however, did not feel the same way. As Sol approached her and thanked her she reprimanded him with a tone of distain and disgust.
Her words: “You can’t just do that! Not cool….not cool. Not great parenting.”
Stone didn’t know how to reply so he just said thank you and brought Solshine back up the escalator. We celebrated together, everyone feeling relieved that no harm had come to anyone and on our walk to North Station Stone told me what the woman had said to him.
I was shocked. And hurt. And embarrassed. And angry.
My stream of consciousness:
Did she think we did it on purpose? Did she not notice the scene of chaos around us? She doesn’t know who we are–what kind of parents we are! Who is she to judge me.
Maybe it was my fault. I should of been holding his hand. I shouldn’t have others care for him. We should of remembered about the 9-5 rush and travelled during another time. I should’ve….could’ve…..
Ummmm, yeah…..not really.
You see I could of done any of those things, but I didn’t. It was an accident. It was life and I’m actually quite proud of how my family navigated the situation.
The lessons were abundant. We learned that we should probably not travel with the 9-5 rush when we don’t have to. We learned that the children should be in the middle of the group so an adult is there to catch any stragglers. We learned that Sol is impulsive and strong-minded. (Wait, we already knew that.)
Later on the train ride home I asked Sol what had happened. I asked him why he pulled away from his grandmother. He told me he likes to jump on escalators all by himself (he does) and he didn’t know there were so many people behind him. He was quiet, serious and humbled. I told him I had been frightened and I explained to him that the reason we give directions (like hold someone’s hand and stay with the group) is for our family’s safety, not to be bossy or spoil any fun. He quietly listened and we snuggled and just sat in the lessons of the experience.
I think usually, if not always, life happens this way. Life happens and people react. They reflect, they learn and they shape their future actions based on their experiences.
I think reprimanding someone is excessive and unneeded. I, as a mother, did not need to hear that someone thought I was a shitty mother. The very opposite. I needed someone to affirm that the world will help when crisis occurs, because we know that every mother bears her mistakes, her choices like a heavy burden on her back. We question what we could have done differently, how we could reacted better. We constantly strive to provide the safest and healthiest situation for our families. This is a natural process.
Entering someone else’s judgment of me distracts and even, thwarts the natural learning curve. Instead of journeying within and honestly asking myself tough questions I became concerned what other people thought. I became angry and resentful towards a stranger. I found my way back, but it was very distracting and I felt shame descend over me. Shame is very heavy and hurtful and has no place in a healthy life experience.
I acknowledge that no one can “make me feel” a certain way, but people can certainly try. I transferred my experience to my children. I imagined that I was a child and being reprimanded after I spilled a bowl of food, knocked a lamp down or forgot my bag. It wasn’t hard to imagine because throughout my childhood I was routinely reprimanded. Not just by parents, but by teachers, relatives and strangers even. I remember just how yucky it felt. The red cheeks and embarrassment. The feeling like I wish I could disappear into the floor. It didn’t make me stop chatting in class or being clumsy, instead it encouraged me to question my self-worth.
I do this to my own children sometimes. I don’t mean to and I certainly am not proud of it. But there are those days where patience runs thin and the house runs wild. A child is a child is a child. They will run and jump and twirl and knock things down and forget over and over. This is childhood. Yes, we can help support them to open their perspective to the environment around them and to help them cultivate mindfulness, but that is a lifelong journey. In the meantime they need love and support, not a disgusted tone of shame and disappointment.
I say this because I am not perfect. I do not always parent the way I philosophize. I readily admit this. I, too, am on a journey and in many ways our moment of chaos on the escalator was a blessing and learning experience. Most of all, I am thankful for the woman who opened my eyes to how destructive and hurtful judgment and reprimanding is to our life experience. We are all just living life with the best we have to give. Rather than pass that on to my own children I want to let go of this societal norm and let them be. I want to offer suggestions and guidance, but without the harsh judgments or without the unnecessary tones of disapproval.
In short, I want to be better.
As I wrote this I kept questioning: Are there appropriate times to reprimand or are there ways to get the same message across with a more positive outlook? I’m interested in what you think.