Feeling judged in public
She believes often, whether we intervene or not, we are judging other parents.
“Think about Japan Airlines with its new policy where passengers can choose not to sit next to a family with young children. There is constant judging going on, and a perception of children as possibly being a nuisance,” she says.
“That’s problematic: as a parent you always feel on the back foot, and that people are judging you and your parental skills based on how your children behave.”
It’s just one reason the Associate Professor believes society could benefit by encouraging honest conversations that are more about connection than judgement.
“Parents in general are under a lot of pressure, possibly more than in previous generations. So parents need the support of other people: parents and non-parents,” she says.
“We need opportunities to get feedback on what we are doing that really works well. Generally speaking, we don’t tell each other about things that are going well.
“I think there’s more space to do that. It doesn’t need to be over the top; just honest conversations.
“Quite often there are lots of demands on parents. More generosity and kindness would help, as would keeping an eye on the judgement that we all have of others.”
Of course, with honesty comes the potential to offend. Associate Professor Duhn thinks there should be some wiggle room here.
“There’s such a focus on being nice and making things look nice – I think we could do with a few more bumps. Maybe we need to risk offending people a little bit more, is it so terrible? It’s just another opportunity to talk,” she says.
Changing the paradigm
While a majority of us say we wouldn’t intervene if a child were misbehaving in public, she says there are times it’s appropriate to “give a helping hand”, as long as it’s done carefully.
“Remember, a lot of people feel anxious and judged, and a public ‘judging’ doesn’t have good consequences for anyone”.
Although there are lots of factors making this a complicated situation, the Associate Professor believes finding our way through it would change child rearing for the better.
“It’s urgent that we learn to do it better. It would help children and help parents: it would help all of us really,” she says.
Of course, if a situation is dangerous, politeness becomes of lower priority, and intervening is always warranted.
“Sometimes it just needs to be fast, and it needs to be done, and you can deal with the fallout afterwards. If in doubt, intervene. I think that’s another thing we need to learn.”
One way to help society get used to engaging more publicly with child rearing is the idea of intergenerational care.
“I have colleagues who are bringing children together with older people to build relationships. Those two populations have a little more time to engage with each other than those in the middle, who need to be busy earning an income. It’s a great learning space, as both generations meet people they normally wouldn’t,” she says.
The power of conversation
Another powerful way to start chipping away at the layers of judgement many parents feel in public is to start more conversations.
“Just have a chat. Say something nice to a stranger, perhaps about, ‘How nice it is to be sitting together in the sun’” Start building relationships before jumping in to intervene; it’s a good way to start to recreate public life,” she says.
These actions don’t have to be big to have an impact on parents.
“Even saying something nice to the stressed parent in the supermarket queue can make a difference,” she says.
“Just try to move into a more understanding space.”
Regardless of what others say or do, Associate Professor Duhn offers a piece of advice that should help every parent.
“Remember, you are not your child. Children are people, not an extension of self.”