Carolyn is away. The following is a past column.
Q: My wife and I donít have kids yet (hopefully soon), so I donít want to throw stones at people dealing with a stress I have yet to face. But we have friends who do have babies and toddlers, and who often are making (we think) bad choices for their children: junk food, hours of television, letting the kids run rampant in restaurants, etc. I feel bad for the kids, because it feels like theyíre being socialized into bad habits. Do you have any tips for how one could helpfully intervene or at least relax so that I donít spread unpleasant judgmental vibes?
Want to Be Decent, Not Sure How
A: Oh Iím sure how.
Do nothing. Doest not a thing. Doay squatus.
Truly. Unless the friendship is awe-inspiring or youíre all too mellow to register pulses -- or you want fewer friends ó thereís no way even for other parents to tell friends how to raise their kids. Even when theyíre right.
And non-parents? Heh.
Until you get there, resist the temptation to think you can do better. The easiest way not to wax judgmental is to find good reasons not to judge. You have great ones.
For one, these kids are hardly in immediate danger [though running loose in restaurants is unsafe for kids and staff]. Twenty years from now, they could well evolve into serene, taxpaying nutritionists while your own little hyperactive darlings are still lobbing Skittles across the classroom.
And youíre talking babies and toddlers ó i.e., creatures of rigid routines ó whom youíre probably seeing only on social occasions ó i.e., out of those routines. Even uber-parents see their TV and cheesy-poof limits collapse under the weight of excitement.
You can help by anticipating the stress and planning accordingly. Suggest kid-friendly restaurants, plan outings with running room and no TV, offer to visit post-bedtime. And sing "I donít know / What itís like" to the tune of the Barney song, as needed.