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.



Sister Abigail Cannon said...

Alexandra, I really enjoyed your analysis of all of us RPP's. I could really identify with all aspects and it gave me some good laughs. I was thinking about those blinds the other day... Love, Momo

Tat said...

I could write an entire post (or several) on what's reasonable and prudent to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law vs. what's reasonable and prudent to my mother and sister. Totally different worlds. What's reasonable and prudent for me usually involves comparing my child and my mothering techniques (or lack thereof) with everyone else's children and mothering techniques. After which I usually cry. A lot.

Monica Merced Rich said...

Ok, Allie, that was really, really funny. And accurate. I especially loved the photo illustrations (particularly the ones with Brigham). And I agree with the woman in the previous comment, although I would add to the list the Korean ladies at the dry cleaner, the old Russian ladies that stop me on the street, my neighbor downstairs, and my 6 sisters. It sure would save us all a lot of heartache and frustration if we could actually agree on what is reasonable and prudent. But until then. I guess we will all compare and cry and feel guilty.

melissa said...

You are so hilarious. I love your essay. You should submit it to a magazine. Really it's hilarious! Yes I find that I'm becoming a bit less reasonable and prudent with the more kids I have too!

Carolina said...

Such classic law school analysis--from the reasonable prudent mother down to the final sentence ("Discuss."). That last sentence brings up too many horrible exam-taking memories.

I had to laugh about the reasonable prudent mother's hesitancy to let the baby spend unsupervised time with dad. It is so true. Just the other day, after telling Kendall that the baby needs pillows around him when he's sitting up (Alex has about a 95% success rate with sitting up), I heard a bonk and loud crying. Soon to follow were Kendall's apologetic pleas for forgiveness--"I'll put pillows around him next time, I promise." I should have been supervising.

And about guilt. I hate it. I'd like to have a chat with the doctor that delivered Alex, because I started feeling guilt at around the time the doctor told me to push one last time. Out came the baby, and in went the guilt. "I should be watching everything the doctors are doing. I shouldn't have eaten so much crap during my pregnancy. Why didn't I take those Omega 3 supplements more regularly?" It must be the doctor's fault. Medical malpractice. . . .

Paul & Sarah said...

That was funny, although truthfully, I'd fail as a reasonable and prudent mom by these criteria...I guess I would also agree with these other commentators that there are different RPM styles, and that we can often get way too wrapped up in comparing ourselves to others.
I like to think I'm fairly reasonable and prudent in most situations, but I also didn't always have the best Supersonic Danger Vision. Ask Momo. I hope she forgives me someday for repeatedly putting her precious grandson in line of certain peril by sitting him on the countertops. (Sorry!) No, I'm definately too relaxed about most things. I just hope my picture isn't up there with MJ's someday as being a wreckless, irresponsible parent. :)

Jenny said...

I really enjoyed these last couple posts and your analysis of motherhood! If you want more info on CF, I had a political science prof at BYU, Valerie Hudson, who is pretty much an expert. She has two sons with CF and she has studied it so much that she actually published an article in a medical journal suggesting a new kind of treatment.

Jacqueline Auna & family said...

What can I possibly add? As always funny & poignant, Alexandra, and I love all the comments... I'm relieved to know I'm not alone in my paranoia, guilt, tendancy to compare.

lynne said...

Alexandra, you are SO funny. You should really blow up that picture of Brigham mowing the lawn with the baby backpack to poster-size.

Right before I read this I must admit I was stressing over putting a shade in Ethan's room window, weighing the benefits (some sex-offender trying to look in at him) versus the danger (the cords! what blinds/shades don't have cords?!).

Allie said...

I full heartedly agree with everything you wrote. I prefer to think of myself as reasonable and prudent. It is much more flattering than "overprotective kook." Ben is a wonderful dad, but I still feel it is necessary to go over even the most basic rules like "stay with them if they are in the bath" and "don't give the baby a cup with out a lid" and "our child does not know how to stand yet, so don't stand them up and walk away". Actually that last one was advice I should have given to my father-in-law, because he tried this with one of our kids who of course fell flat on their face.

Troy and Nancee said...

Wow!! It's amazing how many of those RPM descriptions apply to me. I still can't let Erica cry for more than a few minutes, no matter how much I tell myself she'll be okay. I just figure I'll be forced to do better with a second child.

Alexandra said...

I have to add one more trait of a RPM: She is aware that she is constantly surrounded by perverts or insane people desperate to kidnap her child at the earliest opportunity. I have shut down Target once and tried to shut down the Building Museum. Both occurred in the first 3 weeks of Will's life, so I was especially Reasonable and Prudent then.

Sarah: being laid-back is also part of being an RPM. I was so happy when Andrew ate a cupcake at 10 months bc he had steadfastly refused all food up to that point. I was hopeful it would help him sleep!

Rachael said...

I don't even know you but read this post through Allie Burton's blog. This was great...and I ALWAYS tell my kids that "mommy does NOT negotiate with terrorists." I LOVE that someone else says the same thing!!!!

Ashley said...

I love the Brigham pictures and how much the husband is allowed to help with the first kid verses the second kid. So true. I often think before I do something: "If my kid dies from this, how horrible will I seem?" E.g., If he dies from being left in the car, I'm HORRIBLE. If he dies from sleeping with a blanket at 11 months, I'm not that bad.

I didn't do so well in torts, and even with your black-letter explanation of the RPP, I don't understand the standard and whether I'm breaching it or not.

Celia Fae said...

I'm not sure why you took your lovely comment down, but I wanted to tell you that it was awesome. I've been thinking about it all morning and in fact I wrote the quote on a card I am going to give to my friend.

Maybe reconsider?

Audrey said...

I can't count how many times I laughed out loud reading that one. I appreciate your honesty in remembering being angry at Brigham for exposing Andrew to the sun. I did the same when we went to Mexico with O at the tender age of four months. Seriously Alexandra, I could have just read something written personally about me and my two boys. I think you should bind all these entries up and make a book. I would definitely buy it, read it and laugh a lot.

Rachael said...

What I failed to mention in my not wanting to appear like a TOTAL blog-stalker is that I have respect for anyone who can incorporate Michael Jackson and Wonder Woman into the same mental thread. And my reasonable and prudent standard (in the most Dana Carvey imitating George Bush Sr. voice - SNL late 1980s): will this be an ER visit or not?
I would love to read what you post from time to time...too stalkerish to put you on my side bar thingy?


im surprised jacko's kid aint got some kind of permanent brain injury after the shizzle he puts them through