MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark
Meddling in Other People’s Parenting
Over the years, I’ve grown fond of referring to my son Caleb as “my favorite son.” Some people ask quizzically, “Wait, isn’t he your only son?”
Well, yes, he’s the only child I’ve ever gestated in my body. Calling him a favorite wouldn’t make any sense otherwise. But here’s my broader rationale for calling him “my favorite son.” In a way, all boys are my sons, right? All girls are my daughters. We have a responsibility to one another’s children because we live in community. It’s just that he’s my favorite, that’s all.
I’ll admit something right now. I meddle in other people’s parenting. If I’m at a social gathering and a child needs a glass of water, I get it. If a kid’s going to spill a bowl of ice cream on the carpet, I swoop in and say, “Hey, let me help you with that,” and I take it to a table and invite the child over. If someone’s crying, and looks alone, I stop to see if I can help. I make no apologies for this behavior.
In the years I spent doing community organizing, I often told other people’s kids what to do and this felt natural because my son was in the mix too. We were all co-parenting. A man called me out once for coaching his son about littering, but when I pointed out my own child and asked for his help keeping my child in line too, he softened a bit. If I’m ever incapable or inattentive, I hope for all the gentle assistance my community can muster.
Even teenagers, cranky as they can be, should not be exempt from guidance, though their sovereignty should be respected. This requires careful attention. I almost got in trouble once because, without thinking, I shot off my mouth at three adolescent boys who were walking down the street in front of my house and one of them unzipped his pants (I’m not making this up) and pulled out his penis to pee in broad daylight as they walked along. Without thinking I yelled something out my front window like “Keep your pants on, son! That’s not proper behavior.” And yes, he and his friends looked ready to kick my ass.
See, those boys needed help! What on earth are we thinking when we let other people’s children go unaided, unsanctioned, and worse, unnoticed, when we have the audacity to think of ourselves as better parents than theirs? That’s idle judgement if we don’t step up.
I realize this is a slippery slope. While I hope someone would see my child crying on a street corner because he missed the bus and that they would help him find his way home, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy if that bystander invited him in to watch TV until his parents showed up. Helping other people’s kids is not always clear cut, but when in doubt, it’s possible to enlist the support of others. Two or three well meaning adults might discuss what to do with a lost child, rather than acting alone. And they might exercise better judgement as a group. Why don’t we do that more often? Oh right, other people’s kids are not our business. Their own families need to take care of them, regardless of their struggles. That view will save us, after all, from ever having to challenge ourselves to do or discuss things that might be difficult.
I know plenty of people who were abused as children – physically or sexually – and some of the biggest pain and confusion came from feeling that adults outside of the family had an idea that something bad was happening to them, but they did nothing. They said nothing. They acted like they didn’t notice or didn’t care. That’s a great way to send the messages that a) the abuser is right and b) the child deserves that treatment. If these things weren’t true, someone would do something. Someone would intervene. Those feelings of unworthiness, or invisibility, implanted in young children are hard to uproot.
And then I think about my favorite son. He is not just my favorite son – he’s my favorite person in the universe. And if anyone, anyone saw him being hurt, I would want them to thoughtfully intervene. Perhaps it’s the rationale of karmic consequences that I believe I help keep him safe by helping others. Or perhaps it’s just good sense to start expanding the way we think about family and community. For some people, being a queer person means that I’m one of the deviants who should stay away from kids. And yet, I’ll do my best by my gay-hating neighbors too. As author Maxine Hong Kingston once said “Do the right thing by whoever crosses your path. Those coincidental people are your people.” As it turns out, I’m in community with people who hate me and hate my queer family. And still, those coincidental people are my people. If I want to be accepted and loved, that means I can’t throw away anyone else as unlovable either.
And maybe ultimately, meddling with other people’s kids in small ways will begin to change what we accept in public policies. Currently in America, we treat children as though they’re to blame for their parent’s circumstances. We treat poverty like it’s a personal problem, rather than a systemic one. That can change. Caleb may be my favorite child, and still, all children matter to me. They are important intrinsically, and to the web of a healthy society. We may not have planned for them; they maybe “coincidental” as Hong Kingston says, but they’re ours now. In the long run, we’ll benefit both personally and socially from extending our love, kindness and guidance.
Kimberly Dark is a writer, performer and sociology professor. She is elated that her favorite son is home for the summer after receiving his BA and before beginning graduate work at University of Chicago. Learn more at www.kimberlydark.com.