Every time we go out somewhere with family and a cell phone gets pointed in my child’s direction, I know what’s coming next. Sometimes I try to decide beforehand if I’m going to make a big deal about it or not, but most of the time, I end up making the decision in the moment. Someone reaches for my child’s pacifier and yanks it out of his mouth as if he’s sucking on poison — all so they can capture the perfect picture.
“You don’t need that silly thing!”
“You’re told old for that!”
“Give me that!”
No matter how they choose to say it, it all sounds the same to me: “Why does your mother still let you suck on a pacifier if you’re not a baby anymore?”
But at what point does a child stop needing a pacifier? If we are going to say it’s only okay for babies, then let’s start stealing them and hiding them right before they start walking. Or is a child only a baby for as long as he or she is breastfeeding? Because in that case, there are a few kindergarteners who still breastfeed that might get to keep their pacifier license.
As a child, I used to twirl my hair when I was nervous. I didn’t pick fights with kids in my class or throw tantrums or distract others with silliness. I kept to myself and no one was harmed by the hair being wrapped compulsively around my small fingers. But many times, teachers, friends of the family, and even other students would slap my hand and tell me to stop. They said it drove them “crazy.” Well, that’s not my problem.
But I stopped anyway, and as I grew older, I eventually told people to leave me alone. Their nail biting or habitual tapping might bother me, but that didn’t give me a right to attack them. My little boy is not old enough to tell others to leave him alone, though. All I see is a scared and intimidated child looking back at the adult who stole his sense of security during family events or at barber shops and stores. Then, occasionally, he looks over to me with a glance that’s begging me to help. Torn between being a mother who’s judged versus a mother who’s defending her child, I sometimes do nothing and silently wait for the moment to be over.
What bothers me the most, though, is not how people can so nonchalantly try to impose their opinions on the way I raise my child, but rather how easily someone can approach him and forcefully take away something that calms him. I’m not coming over to relatives’ homes every weekend to empty the alcohol in their liquor cabinets, snatch their spoons away in restaurants as they eat their sugar-filled desserts, or flick cigarettes out of their hands when they step outside for a smoke. I know my place, and it’s not right to dictate what someone chooses to do with their life.
People try to convince me to get rid of my son’s pacifier by rattling off stories of kids that had speech problems or messed up gums, but I certainly don’t talk about how my grandmother died of lung cancer every time someone lights up or highlight the rising rate of obesity when someone opts for their second slice of double chocolate cake. When someone brags about their late night out, I don’t scold them for depriving themselves of essential sleep or yell at them for their daily caffeine intake. I cannot listen to people chastise me for not taking away my son’s pacifier if they consistently make bad decisions for their own life… but I will respect their right to make those decisions, because it’s their business and not mine.
As for my child, maybe he will have to go to the dentist a few extra times to get his teeth and gums checked if he keeps his pacifier for another year, but that’s preferable over having to schedule the regular therapy appointments he will need if I take away the only thing that settles his nerves when he has a new babysitter, has to travel on a plane, or is scared of something.
Kids don’t have the luxury of a million words at their disposal to tell us when someone’s look makes them uncomfortable, when an unknown environment terrifies them, or when they’re embarrassed by something (small or big), so I have to trust that my child is alleviating his own stress by sucking on plastic for a few minutes a day. I constantly hug my child and talk to him and listen to him when he does have the ability to share something, even if it’s only with a look or his body language. Everyone else’s war on my child and his pacifier revolves around their own personal take on the situation, without taking my son’s needs into account, whereas for me it’s about the notion that his emotional health is more valuable to me than his dental health.
The people who think I’m awful and should hide it or let him cry it out for days for the sake of his dental health can pipe down and look at their own lives. How many things do they rely on to calm them that do more harm than good? Even if I mess up my kid’s teeth, he can get them repaired. I don’t think you can buy yourself a new heart, liver, eyeballs, set of lungs when you indulge in all the things adults these days turn to for comfort (fast food, drugs, caffeine, alcohol, TV, cigarettes, etc.).
But that’s just me and my opinion. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind, and I’m not trying to justify my choices as a parent because I don’t owe anyone an explanation. All I’m asking is for a little less hypocrisy, or at the very least some respect for the fact that I’ve made a decision and it’s no one else’s place to try to override it.