Disclaimer: Right now, I only have a little (but growing) almost-10-month old. I do not have to juggle the different needs, different wants, different schedules, and different temperaments of multiple children. Thus, I know that this post may seem idealistic to some. However, a marathon runner didn't successfully run his first marathon on day one. He likely started with an idea and a slower, shorter jog down the block. With work and a on-going focus on his original idea, he completed his marathon. Likewise, if I do ultimately juggle the challenges of multiple children (or at least one older child), I will, hopefully, return to this post to keep me focused on my original ideals.
A few days ago Q-ball and I attended a natural parenting group meeting. I like to attend these meetings to meet with other parents, and I like to give Q-ball the opprotunity to meet with other people- both big and little. During our time in public, I work to maintain the same parenting practices I use at home- namely, Q-ball is basically free to explore. It should be noted that when we go on many errands, grocery shopping for instance, Q-ball is secure in her Ergo, but if she reaches for an item or looks with interest, I take the time to stop and let her look or feel. So, she's not having a free-for-all on the grocery store. However, in settings where we are going to be in one place for a while, I let go, and, largely leave her be.
So it is at the natural parenting meetings and other group events. As long as her explorations will not cause her harm or damage property, I just watch. Within seconds of being put down at this particular meeting, she was pulling up on other grown-ups legs, pin-balling around the room, and finally settling and spinning circles in the middle of the chairs circled for the meeting. A little while into the meeting, Q-ball crawls full-speed ahead to another younger baby, eager to play. After a few minutes of smiling at one another, Q-ball reaches to take the other baby's toy, and after a few seconds of tug-a-war, the inevitable happens. The playmate falls. Hard. The sound of her little head hitting the tile echoed around the room. And then, she was screaming. And screaming. Loudly. Q-ball was happily playing with her new toy. In fact, she turned to me and smiled at her triumph. I imagine that most of the other attendees were also watching me at this point. So, I decided I should probably remove her from the situation, so the other Mommy could comfort her little one. But, alas, the question: Should I apologize for Q-ball???
Given that Q-ball is pre-verbal, she obviously cannot issue her own apology (although, given her reaction, I don't think she was looking for the words...). My husband and I have avoided apologizing for her, and, when she is verbal, we want to avoid forcing meaningless apologies. Why?
- If the behavior is age-appropriate, we do not believe that there is a reason to apologize. If we are riding on a 5-hour long airplane, it is likely that a baby will be fussy at some point. A toddler will likely kick the back of chairs and run up the aisles. It might not be culturally accepted, but this is normal, age-appropriate behavior. Afterall, I'm not sorry that I have Q-ball. While it can be trying to be a parent (especially on a 5-hour plane ride), I'm a very blessed Mama.
- If the behavior is a reflection of her personality, we do not believe that there is a reason to apologize. If someone new is desperately trying to say hello to Q-ball, but Q-ball just turns her head into my chest, I try not to respond, "I'm sorry- she's shy!" Very soon, Q-ball will be able to understand my words, and I do not want them to (1) encourage to her self-fulfill whatever role I've assigned her and (2) misinterpret the label as a negative judgement.
- If the child sees the apology as false, we are not encouraging actual empathy and remorse. Instead, we are simply seen as liars. This is more important once Q-ball becomes verbal. We ultimately do not want to force her to issue false or canned apologies. We only want to her apologize if she means it, with the hope that she will develop a true ability to empathize and see the effects of her actions.
So, what did I do? I was literally in the middle of a circle of watching parents. First, I wanted to make sure that the hurt child was okay. Her mother was soothing her, so nothing was required of me. To avoid further disruption of the meeting at this point, I took Q-ball out of the circle to play on her own (leaving the prized toy behind). No words to the mother at this point. But, the baby was still screaming, and soon the mother carried her out.
It's really tough to stand by your beliefs when they are not necessarily culturally accepted, not to mention embarrassing. And, frankly, I did feel bad. I realized that I was sorry that the baby was hurt. So, after the meeting, I approached the other mother and said, "I'm so sorry that your daughter bumped her head. How is she doing now?" I was expressing how I actually felt and certainly not violating any of the behaviors I listed above. I was comfortable with my ultimate reaction, and I hope that it will model actual empathy and sincere apologies for Q-ball in the future.
And, if you ever are my seatmate on a 5-hour plane ride, know that I'm sorry that you might not be able to get any rest, but I'm not sorry for Q-ball being Q-ball.
Do you apologize for your child? How would you have handled this situation?