Jamie at Light and Momentary writes an excellent post. It's about self-censoring in blogging, to avoid feeling "naked;" and it's also about self-censoring, of a sort, in public discipline of one's children, the feeling of being judged.
I'm glad she put them in the same post, because I hadn't ever seen the connection between the two -- but they are connected.
An advantage of blogging freely is that you can speak your mind at length without interruption, and that lets you get all the words in that you need to make your point clearly. I'm not very good at arguing face to face, and don't have the gift of diplomatic speech that gets across what I want to say; I'm opinionated, strident, and I don't know how to modulate my tone except by shutting up, which is more of a coping mechanism than a skill. (And not one that comes naturally to me -- I didn't learn to shut up at all, let alone the strategy of shutting up when necessary, until late in life.) My fear in difficult conversations is rarely that I will be well understood.
So, in a way, blogging frees me up. If I have a difficult point to make, even one that will shock or alarm people who know me in real life, I don't have to shut up about it. I can close my mouth before I say something undiplomatic and then go home and write the same thing I wanted to say, and then I can edit it until it says exactly what I want it to. Blogging lets me argue at length, so that if I'm misunderstood, it's my own damn fault. And I'm happy to take responsibility for that.
But, of course, there are things that require shutting up anyway. For one thing, you have to be careful with telling other people's stories, or stories that belong jointly to you and to others. Also, people in certain professions or positions must exercise certain discretions. And yet, other things we aren't allowed to hide.
+ + +
Appearing in public with my children in tow is an "outing" in more ways than one. There they are, these little people who don't know how to censor themselves, don't know how to put up the shields, don't know how to be other than themselves; or else the shields are up but immature, transparent but distorting, so that the shields themselves amplify, project, alter what's behind them. Some of what's behind them is me.
...[T]he certainty I had ten years ago about my parenting philosophy has been eroded by the reality of mothering my children. ... The reality is that the research on long-term attachment parenting outcomes is not as clear as Dr. Sears likes to say it is. The reality is also that Alfie-Kohn-esque discipline strategies can leave you up a creek in the short term. I continue to believe that it is worthwhile to teach children to do the right thing for its own sake, but OH do I see the utility of an occasional threat or bribe.
Ten years will do that to you. I have a similar philosophy to Jamie's; I don't want to threaten, bribe, or even punish my kids. (Often that works pretty well for me, though my short temper gets in the way.) But I know how crummy it feels, this sense that the outside world expects you to swat them and get it over with. This choice between the long term and the short term.
The nature of the short term situation (that seems to beg for a threat or a bribe) is kind of a clue. If you're just trying to get out of Target before you collapse, that's one thing, chin up; but some of the short-term situations have to do with safety (in which case, do what you have to do) and others have to do with being kind to the people around you -- a much tougher nut to crack. Because, yeah, sometimes my kids are ruining someone else's day. And that calls for stopping it -- quickly. Our children may be our first and highest responsibility, but we also have some responsibility to our neighbors.
Why does that situation feel so difficult? Why do we feel so judged, and defend ourselves with judging, all the time?
C. S. Lewis wrote something in Mere Christianity, in defense of the husband being the head of the family, that has rung more and more true to me the longer I have been a married mother.
The relations of the family to the outer world--what might be called its foreign policy--must depend, in the last resort, upon the man, because he always ought to be, and usually is, much more just [fair and just] to the outsiders. A woman is primarily fighting for her own children and husband against the rest of the world. Naturally, almost, in a sense, rightly, their claims override, for her, all other claims. She is the special trustee of their interests. The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference of hers is not given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife.
I like this, and I think it's quite true (whether I like it or not). "She is the special trustee of their interests." Mothers are naturally inclined to face inward toward the family, concerned with the kids' well-being and not giving a hoot about the rest of the world, while fathers are naturally inclined to mediate the interactions between the family and the outer world. I think there's something to it, and maybe that's why we feel so judged as mothers when we -- by ourselves, with dad nowhere around -- attempt to discipline, or sometimes even cope, in public. I've not noticed many dads who've had a problem with it; they tend to get on with it, like some unpleasant business best forgotten. Anyway, I think it might give us a context for thinking about why mothers who aren't especially intimate with each other often struggle so much with judging. We are bound to look out for our own.
Such a paradox, because some of us can be like sisters to one another, no? How can that be? I think it's more a proof of Lewis's suggestion than a refutation. It's possible for families to pierce and fall through the invisible barrier that surrounds the family against the world. We have a gift for adopting each other as sisters, becoming aunties to each other's children, when love requires it. We can become each other's special trustees. But this power, if it is to retain itself, can't be spread too thinly. For those outside the circle, I think the claws are always exposed.