Before I became a parent, I didn’t pay any attention to families whatsoever. Unless, I suppose, they had particularly cute children. But generally, no, I would notice them, try and sit as far away from them as the situation would allow, and continue listening to my headphones, or reading my book, or whatever taken-for-granted completely-unappreciated pre-parenthood luxury I was indulging in at the time.
Since becoming a parent, I can’t help but people watch other families. Perhaps it is because I no longer have the luxury of music playing directly into my ears, or the escape of a good book. More likely it is because my two year old is staring at the family and so I’m sort of forced to pay attention to them. Or, maybe I’m just really nosey.
I actually think overhearing other parents is a useful tool when honing my parenting skills. I sometimes hear people say things, and then realise I have on occasion said something similar, and vow never to speak to my child like that again. In a way, it’s like a fresh perspective. If you’ve had no sleep, and are dealing with a particularly strong-minded toddler, it’s easy to occasionally lapse into the type of parent you don’t want to be, and sometimes witnessing that style through another family, is all I need to reset myself.
When Ebony is people watching (or, as it is more aptly known, staring wide-eyed and open mouthed at strangers, and occasionally shouting “HELLO! HELLOOOO?” at them), I am very aware of how she may be interpreting events. So, as an example, when we see a mother screaming at her child, I am aware of how scary that might be for Ebony. It’s never nice to witness bullying, especially if the perpetrator is twice the size of the victim. When there is a hysterical child being ignored by his parent, I think of how awful that must seem to Ebony (and to the hysterical child, obviously) who is empathetic towards tears.
There are certain times when I wish we were not witnessing events, because I feel so uncomfortable. The mum threatening to hit her child at the park, or the mum making fun of her toddler for wetting himself at playgroup. The parent walking determinedly away from their sobbing one year old, or the grandparent shouting at their already distressed grandchild.
I really don’t want to be a judgemental person, I want to say ‘each to their own’ and ‘whatever works for your family’, but I can’t help wishing that Ebony didn’t witness that sometimes parents hit, or ‘you are a disgusting little boy’ if you wet yourself, or that it’s ok to ignore the suffering of others. I don’t want her to think any of those things, and she really isn’t very easy to distract when there is a new family to stare at.