|Your every move is being watched.|
Six weeks ago we went out for breakfast. We chose a spot that was typical Melbourne; hidden in a small alley, this place had great food, good coffee and was bustling with comings and goings.
In fact, it was very bustling. The music was loud, the talk at the tables around us was loud. No one seemed to notice any of it. Until we arrived.
My older daughter is four years old and the picture of childhood happiness: energetic, enthusiastic, playful and carefree. She is (much to my delight) neither shy nor quiet. She is well-behaved and good mannered.
And it was in this noisy environment that she gave a loud laugh and a bit of a song. The people sitting at the table across from us looked up and shook their heads at me. I smiled. My girl laughed again, and again these people looked at me, this time saying, "That's rude." I couldn't even hear them, the place was so loud, but I could read their lips. I responded with a smile and a shake of my head: "No," I said, "YOU are rude." (I'm not one to back off from confrontation.)
A similar thing had happened the previous week when, in the supermarket, my daughter had expressed her enthusiasm for Christmas. Was she loud about it? Yes. Was it offensive? I didn't think so. Were we in a quiet, intimate environment? No, this was a busy Coles in a busy shopping centre. And yet a couple of people looked at her, frowning and shaking their heads.
A couple of weeks ago there was a big outrage over some remarks made on morning television. Some man had decided to enforce the 'rules' around breastfeeding. By all means, he said, go ahead and feed your baby in public but please, move away from everyone. Yes, that is a total contradiction, and no, he apparently doesn't realise how isolating and lonely motherhood can be.
This outrage had followed on from a mother being asked to remove herself from a public place while breastfeeding. And the debate that followed was raging... except that, to my mind, this is not an issue for debate or opinion. A baby needs feeding, so you feed him/her. That's it. End of discussion.
Somewhere in this timeframe one of the biggest news stories online became about children eating out with their parents. Riveting stuff, but everyone had an opinion and plenty of rules to be laid out. (Adults can be as loud as they please, but no noise from a child.)
And then, in my final point, I saw the news on television this week. A story about a mother crossing a busy road with her two children came on. (Don't we have better things to report on?) It turned out the mother had a younger child in a pusher and an older child walking with her. The light indicated it was time for them to cross (I assume) and so they stepped out onto the road - and it was at this point that a truck driver decided to record them doing so. This was because he had seen that the older child was lagging behind the mother.
I don't know - and odds are that the driver recording this didn't either - if the mother was calling out to hurry her child along, or what was going on. But one thing was clear: she needed to get the kids and herself off that road before the lights changed, and when they named the particular intersection on the news I was told by others watching with me that it's impossible to get across that road within the time of the little green man's presence. Let alone with two kids in tow.
So there they are on the news, showing this video and declaring that this mother was abandoning her child as he ran a couple of metres behind her. The mother obviously wanted him to be run over, was the insinuation.
It's true he was almost run over - because the minute the lights changed the cars started moving. Never mind that there was a child directly in front of them.
Next, the journalists are taking to the streets, showing this video to random people and asking them to comment - to which they all agreed that this mother was horrible and awful and unfit to be a parent. I'm not here saying that the mother was right or wrong.
What I want to know is when did judging mothers become our new national sport?
Since when did it become okay to discuss at length the way a mother reacts to a situation? When did it become okay to watch parents so closely, just waiting for them to stuff up?
Why were the motives of the truck driver filming not questioned? The other drivers almost running over the child?
If people were so 'concerned' why didn't they jump out and help, rather than film the situation to have comment passed on?
When did a child laughing loudly become offensive?
When did 'live and let live' become 'live and let all parents and children shrivel up and die beneath my glare'?
When did parents lose their societal right to follow their instincts and instead have themselves put up for constant criticism?
When did we start assuming the worst of children, as though they are about to race around destroying everything rather than just looking or talking?
Why does it feel like all this judgement is gaining momentum?