The Opposite of Publicly Shaming Parents? Knitting.

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The Checkup

As a pediatrician, I spend many hours thinking and worrying about children and their parents, individually and in the aggregate. But when I have a chance to escape, I like to hang out at Ravelry, a great knitting and crocheting website and, I might add, a notoriously sticky one: People come, and they stay.

I click through 10, 20, 200 versions of the same popular shawl pattern, looking intently at the different yarns that people have used, the color combinations, the way the shawl looks in worsted weight versus fingering versus bulky. Or maybe I start with some yarn from my stash and spend a happy 20 minutes or so looking at all the different projects people have fashioned from that yarn — hats and baby blankets and sweaters and shawls.

It’s soothing and inspiring and relaxing and stimulating, even when certain pattern preferences and color choices are frankly incomprehensible to me. Why put in all that time and effort to knit an elaborate lace shawl, counting stitches and following a complicated chart to get that openwork pattern of leaves and tendrils — but do it all in that peculiarly harsh electric blue? Why spend months on a sweater designed to be elegantly loose and flowing, but deliberately shorten and tighten it so that it cuts right across the belly in a less-than-graceful way?

Here’s the thing about the online knitting world: We look at one another’s projects, and we sometimes shake our heads in silent wonder at the choices other people make. But when we comment, we say nice things. Love this. Favorite this. Wow, beautiful, congratulations, great colors. There’s an implicit understanding that when someone posts a photo of a completed project, what you’re seeing is a product of love and care and time, choices and sustained effort — and you should either cheer or else move on. What, after all, do you gain by pointing out that the colors clash or the fit is not exactly flattering?

Or at least, that’s how it has always seemed to me, from looking at the posted photos and reading the comments that people make, though if someone does post something rude about your project, you can take that comment down. So I asked about unkind comments at Ravelry Help, and got an immediate email back from “Sarah,” who told me, “Overall issues are fairly rare. We don’t usually have issues with unkind comments about projects. There are occasional unkind comments regarding patterns or regarding other issues outside of crafts (politics, for example) within the forums.”

So I could draw the obvious conclusion here, which all you knitters (and crocheters) will probably have leapt to long ago: Is it possible that knitting makes us nicer (knicer?) while child rearing makes us crankier and more critical?

There’s an awful lot of public shaming that goes on around being a parent, and I’m not just talking online — or even in the doctor’s office.

And when you’re out in the world with a small child, you know people are looking at you, and you know some of it isn’t kindly. Some parents are so apologetic about their babies’ potential for acting like babies on flights that they hand out goody bags to their fellow passengers in hope of averting adult anger and disapproval. But you remember that terrible trip when your own child was screaming on the plane much more distinctly than the many trips when it was someone else’s kid.

Most of us writhe inside when a child acts up in a restaurant, but we don’t really expect the parents to go table to table murmuring, “She’s usually great in restaurants, and that’s why we came so early and we chose this place because it is so clearly not a fancy place where people might come for romantic dinners.”

Tantrums in the toy store — been there. Noise at the library, meltdown in the mall, you name it.

There’s no way to take this public embarrassment out of parenthood — you accept the job of civilizing a child, you test the process by taking that child out into the world, you’re going to have some moments you would just as soon have lived through in private. But in the age of our great common internet living room, it’s kind of striking how that Greek chorus of disapproving curmudgeons stands ready to tell you clearly and absolutely that you’re dangerously overindulgent, criminally underinvolved, cruel in your adherence to traditions, or unconscionably cavalier in your willingness to let them go.

Parents today! Mothers today! If they would only put down their smartphones and pay attention to their children! If they would only stop spoiling them and giving in to them over everything!

The children are being dangerously ignored by their self-centered, screen-focused, me-generation parents. No, wait, the children are being dangerously coddled and attended to and overindulged and pampered by their incompetently anxious, hovering helicopter parents.

I admit I always wonder how anyone gets away with typing any of this stuff without feeling like a character actor playing a tight-lipped codger in a vintage movie, coming on screen for a few minutes to drip comic vinegar. But the world is apparently full of people waiting to draw themselves up and intone some version of “why, when I was a child…”

It is indeed part of my professional responsibility as a pediatrician — one on one, in the privacy of the exam room — to let parents know when they’re doing something that is inadvisable or downright dangerous. Take the Kool-Aid out of the baby’s bottle; it’s bad for the teeth. You don’t have to give your toddler junk food just because he points to it and cries. That’s a beautiful amulet, but it’s dangerous to put anything around a small child’s neck.

But when I have to give that advice, health advice, risk-and-danger advice, or setting-limits advice, I try to do it gently. I try to remember that most parents are doing their very best, sometimes in circumstances harsher than any I’ve ever had to face with my own kids.

I would like to suggest that everyone who has posted more than one comment in the last two years passing judgment on other parents learn to knit as soon as possible. Winter is coming, and we all need scarves. There are some really nice, easy patterns on Ravelry, and you can download many of them free — and then you can choose your yarn and put your heart into it and make something beautiful.

With luck, the people who see it in real life and the ones who admire it in the photos you post online will respect the effort you put into it, and offer praise and encouragement. And if they don’t have anything nice to say, they won’t say anything at all.