Monday, March 03, 2008
The Reasonable and Prudent Parent
Michael Jackson: not a reasonable and prudent parent (or reasonable prudent anything).
In a negligence suit, the law evaluates whether someone has breached his/her duty of care by applying the Reasonable Prudent Person test. The court will ask whether that person's conduct conformed to the behavior of the ordinary reasonable and prudent person under the circumstances.
The Reasonable and Prudent Person can also take on various occupations. For example, when the Reasonable and Prudent Person attends med school, s/he transforms into Dr. Reasonable and Prudent. If s/he specializes, then s/he becomes the Reasonable and Prudent Plastic Surgeon. When the Reasonable and Prudent Person gives birth to a baby, she makes the most stunning transformation of all: she is now the REasonable and Prudent Mother, a being who is oft times anything but.
In the wake of being informed that I am, among other things, crazy, paranoid, over-protective or a worrier, I have been thinking a lot lately about the Reasonable and Prudent Mother. She started out as a Mother far more reasonable and prudent than I--the Mother whose emotional responses are ultimately tempered by cold reason. In the midst of a tantrum, I would ask "What would the reasonable and prudent mom do?" and it would help me to remain calm and continue to refuse to give in to the demands (No Negotiating With Terrorists!) and so forth.
But I realized that this is not technically the Reasonable and Prudent Mother. The RPP is supposed to be just an ordinary person taken at his standard tendencies. This led me to a conclusion that at first I was uncomfortable with but have now embraced. I think that the Reasonable and Prudent Mom is a little crazy. Let's analyze:
1. The Ordinary Reasonable and Prudent Mom is a hypochondriac when it comes to her kids' illnesses.
So far I have suspected Andrew of having meningitis (2x), leukemia (once), autism (once--at age 2 months, which just evidences further how crazy I was), a spinal cord injury (once). Will had CF (2x: the first was objectively reasonable, since we knew he had a 25% chance of it, the second (right now) my husband tells me is not since he passed the newborn screen. I, however, still think it is reasonable!); possibly suffered from degenerative hearing loss; had pneumonia; had whooping cough (briefly). From the comments on my Sick Days post, I think I am not alone in the Illness Paranoia.
And when they really are sick, it only justifies the paranoia.
2. The Reasonable and Prudent Mom has Supersonic Danger Vision.
All seemingly everyday objects are in reality death traps in disguise. That counter is no longer a place to mix ingredients; it is a major danger zone teeming with deadly possibilities involving falling children and falling items onto children. My mother in law has 7 kids and her Danger Vision is highly honed. She saw through my ordinary window blinds and identified them for the nefarious enemy waiting to strangle my son that they were. The window screen was just hoping Andrew would lean upon it so it could plummet both of them down 3 stories to the courtyard below.
I once babysat for a woman who had placed an enormous chain with a padlock on it around her oven, mumbling something about her 4 year old son and there being no such thing as an accident. I thought she was crazy; now I realize that I was simply unacquainted with the Reasonable and Prudent Mom.
3. The Reasonable and Prudent Mom is at war with the sun.
Ok, this one might just be the RPM of a fair-skinned child. When we were in Egypt in the fall of 06, the biggest source of strain btwn my husband and me was that Brig was not sufficiently careful with Andrew's pale skin. I became extremely angry at him to the point of achieving social awkwardness. Brig felt awkward, but not me. I realized what was at stake if the sun touched my son.
I insisted on holding a large umbrella over Andrew's head at all times. Brigham claims that I acted as if Andrew were a vampire. I admit that if the sun fell on Andrew for a moment, I immediately pointed out Brigham's carelessness. It drove me crazy when Brig would carry Andrew in the sun when there was a patch of shade in which to walk just as easily. But you know what? All the other tourist mothers from all nationalities urged me to get Andrew under cover. And he didn't get even the slightest burn.
Please note Brig's obvious obsession with finding the one ray of sunlight and placing himself and our child in its cancer-causing path. Seconds before, Andrew had been in his arms, on his left, of course.
4. The Reasonable and Prudent Mother cannot stand for her new baby to cry. At all.
After Andrew was born, a neighbor lady asked me if I had figured out that my son would not break if he cried. She was smiling, but I really did not understand what she meant. It was like when I was 15, believing that any illicit drug taken in any
proportion presented a real risk of immediate death and a classmate boasted of smoking pot. I knew he was lying bc he would be dead. Crying Infant = Emotionally Scarred Infant.
5. The Reasonable and Prudent New Mom does not allow Dad to have unsupervised contact with the baby.
Who of you haven't hovered, or had to restrain yourself? The RP New Mom knows that her husband is a bungling incompetent who presents a danger to the child. And when he's not actually hurting the child physically, he is exponentially increasing the child's risk of ADHD by letting the child watch television.
These are the kinds of things that can happen when the husband is left to his own devices with the first kid.
6. The RPM of a second baby has no problem letting Dad in on the action.
7. The Reasonable and Prudent Mom is always feeling guilty.
You feel guilty for working ("I'm not caring for my own child!"), you feel guilty for not working ("What kind of example to my kids am I? The nanny would do a better job than exhausted me!"). I felt guilty for going to dinner and a movie without my kids when Will was littler bc it presented the possibility that he would have to take a bottle. Doesn't it feel good to know that we are all feeling it?
The Reasonable and Prudent Mom is not limited to being over-protective. No. She is perfectly capable of doing things non-parents wouldn't dream of doing. Like feeding her child cake or cookies for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Or allowing the child to climb a 10 foot ladder so long as you follow him (or force your husband to do so). Haven't you your own examples of perhaps "dangerous" activities that you allowed bc you know that too much hovering and worry can create other problems for your kid?
The Reasonable and Prudent Mom is an ever-evolving being whose standards change with the number of children she has, their ages, and her age. But judge her not. For we should not judge ourselves or one another by some standard of objective and rational reasonableness that does not and should not apply to people caring for offspring. We our only accountable for being ordinary, reasonable and prudent moms under the circumstances. I think God meant for us to be a little off-kilter sometimes. Maybe that's what keeps the species going. Perhaps a genetically-selective trait.