You don’t, says Carolyn Hax.
Carolyn is away. The following first appeared on Jan. 18 and Feb. 1, 2004.
DEAR CAROLYN: My wife and I don’t have kids yet (hopefully soon), so I don’t 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 they’re being socialized into bad habits. Do you have any tips for how one could helpfully intervene or at least relax so that I don’t spread unpleasant judgmental vibes?
— Want to Be Decent, Not Sure How
DEAR WANT TO BE DECENT, NOT SURE HOW: Oh I’m sure how.
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Do nothing. Doest not a thing. Doay squatus.
Truly. Unless the friendship is awe-inspiring or you’re all too mellow to register pulses — or you want fewer friends — there’s no way even for other parents to tell friends how to raise their kids. Even when they’re 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 you’re talking babies and toddlers — i.e., creatures of rigid routines — whom you’re probably seeing only on social occasions — 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 don’t know / What it’s like” to the tune of the Barney song, softly to yourself, as needed.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m not in a romantic relationship and I’m fine with that — maybe too fine. My feeling is that I am building a life without one and then if it happens, it happens. My concern is that if it doesn’t happen, am I missing out on one of the great things in life? (I do have great, long-standing friendships.)
— Ann Arbor, Mich.
DEAR ANN ARBOR, MICH.: Yes, you are missing out on one of the great things in life — walking through time by someone’s side. And couples are missing out on one of the great things in life — living utterly and completely on one’s own terms.
We choose, we sacrifice, we covet other people’s toys, and we hope for the best. The definition of “best” is different for everyone, but I imagine we collectively hope to minimize the number of times we long for the things we gave up. You’re asking, but you don’t seem to be sighing that much.
Meanwhile, you’re stockpiling the commodity every one of us needs, no matter which choices we make: self-reliance. Never second-guess that.