The “What Other People Think” Problem

We buried my grandmother last week.

She’s been gone a year and a half already, but she donated her body to science, so the ashes just arrived recently, and Mom arranged to have the parish priest come out to the Catholic cemetery and meet the family to finally lay her earthly remains to rest—a short, simple rite.

After Father left, the family examined my grandparents’ grave marker and those around it, most of which belonged to my great-uncles, my great-grandparents, my great-grandparents. Reaquainting us with who was connect to whom, and how. Trying to decipher nineteenth-century markers, which had only initials, not even any dates, and figure out to whom they belong.

In the meantime, my boys were sitting on headstones.


(There was also some Darth Vader spaceship-game playing on my grandparents’ grave. Some kneeling down at the edge of Grandma’s hole and peering down at the small white vault. Some hide-and-seek among the graves.)

See, I have a problem as a parent. I have four kids, close together, and the reality is that if they’re not hurting anything or anyone, I’m inclined to let them do what they’re doing. There are about a million battles more worth fighting than “that’s sacreligious! That’s disrespectful! What will people think?”

Because that last one, after all, is the real issue. The people buried beneath those graves ceased to care long ago. In fact, my guess is that if they have any reaction to my boys sitting on their faces, it would be to chuckle.

And yet I spent an agonizing minute or two trying to decide whether I needed to scold them and make them “behave,” because if I didn’t, someone might judge me for my parenting (or lack thereof).

This is a daily, thrice-daily, occurrence in my world. At least in my own home I only have to consult my own judgment…well, mine and that of my husband—he’s a bit more traditional in his opinions of what kids should and should not be allowed to do. But any time we’re in public, more of my brain is occupied by what other people might think of my parenting than is actually focused on parenting my kids.

I think I need to work on this.

I don’t care for all those stereotypes about birth order, because the families I grew up with didn’t match up very well with those tropes. Well, except for the part where the middle child (that’s me) hates conflict and deals with it badly, going so far as to suppress her own reactions in order to keep the peace, until she gets pushed just that one time beyond her capacity not to react, and then…well, you get the idea.

This is one of those areas in my life where I’m so worried about pleasing everyone else…or maybe just about trying not to get in trouble myself…that I end up causing myself more trouble than if I just had the courage of my own convictions.

Because you know what? It really doesn’t matter if my kids play air guitar at church. I’m quite sure God loves their enthusiasm.

It really doesn’t matter if they climb up the slide, at least as long as nobody’s trying to come down it. Or up the outside of the tube slide, for that matter.

It really doesn’t matter if they crawl under the table at a restaurant.

It really doesn’t matter if they play weird vocal games that we find annoying.

We spend so much time as adults trying to make kids stop acting like kids. Trying to make them act like adults, and failing to honor what makes them unique, and what that gift has to offer us.

And I think it’s time that I, for one, start embracing it instead of battling it.