Parenting in the Gray Area

by Janelle Hanchett


Sometimes, I know my kids are being really annoying. It’s like totally clear. For example, running in restaurants. Screaming in libraries. Beating on other children. Flailing in chairs at somebody else’s dinner table. Not saying “hello” when somebody walks in the room.

Et Cetera.

In these instances, it’s clear that I must engage, and I do so. I’ve heard of parents who never say “no” to their children, but instead find ways to lovingly accept whatever horrifying shit their kids are currently engaged in.

Yeah, I don’t do that. Maybe someday, after I’ve reached enlightenment, I will become one of those parents. Then again, maybe not.

I also know when my kids are not being annoying. Well, not THAT annoying (cause let’s be honest, they’re pretty much always somewhere on the spectrum). You know, those moments when they’re just hanging out, kids being kids. And maybe there’s volume and mess and chaos, and my delicate sensibilities are being assaulted, but nobody’s getting pummeled or maimed and they are clearly within the bounds of civility.

However, things are often not that simple, because, of course, there is the GRAY AREA.

To illustrate, I made a graph:

I hope that helped.

As you can see, my kids’ behavior generally falls into the Gray Area. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to parent in the gray area. I’m confused by the behavior that falls between acceptable and totally fucking unacceptable. For example, sitting at a table in a restaurant talking and eating is acceptable. Making straw wrapper spit wads and using your spoon to launch them at strangers is totally fucking unacceptable. However, what about making straw wrapper spit wads and launching them a few inches? Is that acceptable?


Running in a park is acceptable. Running in restaurants is totally fucking unacceptable. But what about running down hotel halls in the middle of the day?


Final example: Playing with toys in a friend’s living room is acceptable. Throwing those toys at their toddler’s head is totally fucking unacceptable. But what about rolling around on the living room floor loudly repeating Phineas and Ferb lines and squealing? Irritating, but perhaps acceptable. Clearly annoying people a little, but perhaps within the bounds of being a kid. Perhaps those adults need to mellow the hell out and realize kids are annoying.

Goddamn gray area.

You see, here’s the thing. I am not a parent who lets her kid do whatever he or she wants because I don’t want to squelch their inner child and creativity. Though I appreciate those sentiments, I don’t have the patience. Just keepin’ it real.

So I sometimes direct their behavior. I do. However, I am not a Nazi controller parent either, and well, yes, I guess it’s true, I don’t want to beat their inner child into subservience and eerily good-behavior. Perfectly behaved children scare me. I wonder how they got so contained, being that curiosity and exploration and messy discovery are the hallmarks of a kid being a kid. And perhaps, of all learning. I want my kids to push boundaries. Fuck the system. Rage against the machine.


Where the hell is the line? There is no line. There is only one giant obscure GRAY AREA with no discernible lines.

I think I need lines.

But there are none, and every time people attempt to draw them for me I get irritated and combative, like “who the fuck are you to tell me how to parent my kids?” I reject your lines!

It’s complicated being me.

And so I parent in the gray area. I kick it in the borderlands. The frontier.


Always wondering…

Do I act? Do I redirect? Do I engage?


Do I step back and breathe, realizing I’m being impatient and intolerant and controlling?

Am I shoving my grown-up limitations and old-person tendencies on these children, blocking them from the freedom to learn and create and explore?

Or am I teaching them how to behave? How to be citizens? How to be sensitive to others?

Oh whatever. I don’t fucking know.

We watched a play about Tom Edison. In one of his childhood explorations he inadvertently burned down his family’s barn. Totally fucking unacceptable behavior.

And yet, he was learning about light, which eventually evolved into the invention of the light bulb.

Guess in that case, he illuminated the gray area.


  • Stephanie

    I’m always fond of raising my eyebrows and shrugging with a smile on my face. It says, “Hey, I’m not that concerned. You shouldn’t be, either.”

    • renegademama

      Be careful. The commenter below may kick your ass one of these days. 🙂

      • Stephanie

        Or she can come over to my blog and join in on the discussion about how inappropriately I utilized the word “biodegradable” two weeks ago. Pardon my French, but get a fucking life. Seriously. If you have so much to say, write a blog yourself. Don’t torture us with your obnoxious rhetoric. Gah.

  • Holly Mackenzie Cupp

    at the risk of sounding like a creeper I love you lol. Yep people really should mellow out and realize kids are annoying when I’m out in public and my kids are being kids and people freak out it freaks me out! You know the zombie mom in the grocery store? That’s me. Grey area. Sometimes you have to vegetate in order to keep from going crazy. I’ve got four little annoying awesome bundles of non-stop energy. 6, 4, 2, and 8 mos. 3 boys, 1 girl.

    • renegademama

      I love you too Holly! There’s nothing creepy around these parts. (At least not that we’ll mention out loud). And WOW re: your kids. That’s a helluva lot of kids. You are an amazing woman. I guarantee it. I struggle with my three and they’re like WAY spread apart – and there’s only three!

  • anne

    I notice that other “gray area challenged” parents are the most understanding and tolerant of these awkward moments, while people with no kids usually have ridiculous expectations that their lives should never encounter any stimuli from small humans. My least favorites, though, are the folks who are delighted by (or blind to) their *own* kids hijinks but think *my* kid’s shenanigans require intervention. Effity eff eff! If my kid sneezes you send him to a decontamination chamber but your kid drooling on every shared wooden puzzle piece is “precious”? Aaaargh!

    • renegademama

      How hysterical is it that the VERY NEXT COMMENTER is a person with no kids who has a raging judgmental voice re: being disturbed by our offspring. I love that shit. Sometimes the universe just delivers. Know what I mean?

      And I feel ya on the “ain’t my kid perfect” thing. Like every time something goes wrong it’s my kid’s fault. Clearly. Cause it couldn’t possibly be their little bundle of sunlight. Right?

  • Mehitabel

    Oh, please.

    Very few of those behaviors you have listed are gray area. They may not be “totally fucking unacceptable” but what you apparently do not seem to understand is that when the kid makes a straw-wrapper spitwad and shoots it a few inches, he is testing the waters for an all-out assault on some unsuspecting nearby diner. The time to stop such behaviors is *before* they get out of hand, not after. Making and shooting spitwads in a restaurant, no matter how short the distance, is not acceptable. I pay good money for my meals in restaurants and I don’t need to see kids acting like little howler monkeys, even if they are only *slightly* acting like little howler monkeys.

    There is no such thing as “annoying but acceptable” anywhere but in the privacy of your own home. If you don’t have a problem tolerating it, godspeed and more power to you. But part of your job as a parent is to keep your kids from inflicting their annoying behavior on other people. Annoying behavior in public needs to be corrected. Period. Correcting your child and teaching him the basic fundamentals of civil behavior and good manners is your job. Doing so is not the opposite of “loving” your child.

    This kind of BS is exactly why I can’t stand most of the children I know, and I *really* can’t stand their parents. And surprisingly, those parents I know who understand that the line is drawn at “reasonable” behavior, and who understand that “love” and “discipline” are not mutually exclusive concepts, are the ones who have raised the happiest and most well-adjusted kids. And no, I’m not talking about those good-behavior-Nazis you read about or see on TV sometimes who lose their shit every time one of their kids hiccups and thinks that hitting is a form of good discipline. I’m talking about parents who have clear expectations and who are consistent in enforcing those expectations. It can be done; I’ve seen them do it.

    • renegademama

      I hesitate to write anything because I hate engaging irrational judgmental types with no sense of humor (I have my standards and “expectations” you know), but I would like to extend my thanks to you for giving us an excellent example of assholes without kids who think they know everything about having kids.

      While reading your comment I was thinking (other than “thank GOD for my regular readers!”): “This is like a man telling me about childbirth. Slightly amusing, but ultimately, totally irrelevant.”

      In other news, it would totally suck to be your kid. I wholeheartedly support whatever it is that’s kept you from reproducing.

      Yay for judging people you don’t know regarding a topic you know nothing about!

      Now get off my blog.

      • Paige

        I love this part of that comment: “but what you apparently do not seem to understand is that when the kid makes a straw-wrapper spitwad and shoots it a few inches, he is testing the waters for an all-out assault on some unsuspecting nearby diner.”

        because you have NO IDEA what your kids think or plan on doing. because you didn’t raise them. or anything. and this asswad does.

        • renegademama

          Also, the funniest thing about her whole comment is that clearly she just can’t read sarcasm. My kids have NEVER made spit-wads in a restaurant. That was a JOKE. I was being over-the-top to make a point (and make it with some humor), which I’m sure you knew.

          Where do these asshats come from? My GOD.

          • sara

            oh please, stop trying to defend yourself, you know that if you were a better parent your children wouldn’t be assholes. they would be angels that shit rainbows. clearly, its all your fault. if you loved your kids you would let whats-her-name up there adopt them, then they would be president and pope and mother Theresa. 😉

          • renegademama

            Sara it is impossible for me to express how much I love you.

    • Lindsey

      The problem with this idea that we should be preventing our children from annoying others is that kids, by nature, are just a little annoying. Even when they’re “being good.” And while it is our job to at least attempt to raise polite, considerate kids, it’s not our job to accommodate the ignorantly high standards of uptight jerks who don’t understand that kids are not miniature adults.

      • renegademama

        Wow. This is perfectly said. The smartest freaking people read my blog!
        Well, except for that one chick above.

  • Julia

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. Those moments when if feels like your gut instincts are on a break. If I feel ambivalent, I just stay there and the time it takes me to contemplate acting or not acting usually ends with the fact that I have to act because they’ve escalated the behavior or they’ve moved on and it’s a moot point. Sometimes I ask “Do you think you should be doing that?” They think I’m asking it rhetorically but really I’m just asking and it’s interesting to hear their sometimes profound responses.

    • renegademama

      Julia, when I read this comment I went “oh my god that’s BRILLIANT!” I’m totally going to ask my kids what their perspective is on the whole situation…I think I do that sometimes but I’m going to do it more often. And yeah, it often escalates. Boom! Gray area gone!

  • Alycia

    Wow to the above commenter….just wow. There isn’t even anything left to say to that.

    As for the your entry today, life is a grey area. There is no manual and no set way to parent and what works for you doesn’t work for others and visa versa. Different strokes for different folks, man. If you are teaching your kids compassion, how to work hard, how to be a good person, and how to accept people for who and what they are, then you’re doing it right. I love Love LOVE your blog and your updates totally make my day.

    • renegademama

      I know. Winner, huh?

      Anyway, thank you for the compliment on my blog. Life is absolutely a gray area, which is why I was totally unhelpful with this post. Just left it gray and ambivalent.

      Thanks again. Seriously I appreciate the encouragement. It really keeps me writing.

  • Carrera

    Hard for me to say as I don’t have children, (but I will come August!), but I can relate to these gray area situations just from working with kids. Sometimes children’s behaviours require immediate action, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re doing it for a reason…sometimes, who knows? I think it all depends on the situation, the people involved, the environment in which its occurring, and the circumstances surrounding it.

    For myself, I was very much an overly-behaved child because my mother made it very clear to me that under no circumstances was she to be embarrassed. And if she was, or if she felt I was heading in that direction, she made it known right then and there. This would embarrass me, mind you. But that build character. I am told. By her.

    Family, friends, and friends of family alike were amazed by my manners and often told me I was too quiet and that it was okay to talk beyond “Please” and “Thank you.” Because, honestly, that’s all I said. I had a hard time asking for things, telling people if I didn’t like something, or turning something down from someone. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

    Fast forward to Adulthood: I suffer from social anxiety. I have a very hard time saying no to people, and I have tolerated far too many people I do not want to associate with because I feel it would be impolite to tell them so. It has taken me a very long time to finally come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to be perfect all the time, sometimes I won’t say the right thing, but above all else, I don’t want to not be true to myself just to make other people happy.

    Finally, kids are kids. They say crazy, weird things and they learn from them by other people’s reaction. At least the smart ones do. And they can laugh about it, because they were kids.

    Plus, you need material for WTF? Wednesdays 🙂

    • renegademama

      I didn’t know you were pregnant! Congratulations! You must be so excited. How’s the pregnancy going?

      Also, this comment was amazing. I’ve read it two or three times. I think it is such a testament to the danger of over-parenting and creating “perfect” kids. Like the psycho commenter said above about their never being “annoying but acceptable” behavior…so dangerous. Because who’s to say I am not the problem? Sometimes I am tired and irritable and get annoyed with EVERYBODY and it clearly is not their fault. It’s MINE. I’m tired and pissed off…so what gives me the right to inflict that on my children? Why is it that just because I’m bigger and more powerful I have a right to silence them whenever my little heart desires? Ugh. That’s so 1940s “seen and not heard”. Sad.

      Thank you for this comment. You’re going to be an amazing mother and I appreciate your input on my blog.

      • Carrera

        Thank you!! I am really truly excited. We had our ultrasound last week and I can’t stop looking at our picture. It was awesome! The pregnancy however has made me ridiculously sick. I still get sick most morning and then knocks me out for the rest of the day. Today’s been a better though *knocks wood*

        Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂 I absolutely love your blog and am always entertained and enlightened by your posts. You’re simply inspiring!

  • Jessica

    I loved this post! I often feel the same way and you translated my thoughts into words ( well written, “why can’t I write like that” words, btw) I sometimes find myself stuck in a situation, so to speak. Like I can’t decide if her behavior is ok…should I take action? I always ALWAYS know when I should NOT have, because the guilt hits me in the stomach like a cinder block. “she is a kid and you just denied her the ability to do the thing she is best at and deserves more than anything….being a kid”
    I feel it afterwards, but never before and Im struggling so hard with they gray area!!

    And mehitabel, what kind of obnoxious ass makes comments like that? How rude.

    • Jessica

      I answered my own question.

    • renegademama

      Oh isn’t that the truth! The guilt. Sometimes I unleash on my kids and it just doesn’t feel right. A couple hours later I realize everything all day annoyed me…because I’m overtired, or something was bothering me, or I was just being a bitch. (um yeah, it happens.) And I know I was wrong. I usually apologize immediately. It’s alright. Parents make mistakes.

      And yeah, that commenter is a piece of work. Makes me SO FREAKING IN LOVE with my regular readers!

  • Travel Spot

    I’m laughing. First of all, now I am afraid to sound like a dick. Just kidding, but right as I was about to start commenting, I noticed your “try not to be a dick” comment policy and I burst out laughing, thinking of the ridiculousness of Mehitabel’s attitude.

    I will be honest with you; I don’t have kids. And sometimes I am annoyed by children running around, screaming, touching things…whatever. Those things “may” be totally unacceptable, or maybe they are no big deal and maybe they are not affecting me really. Perhaps I should just go back to worrying about my own self and whether or not I am happy with myself and whether or not I am going to blame other people and their children for my unhappiness.

    Do I sometimes want to say, “LADY, your kids are wiping chocolate cake on my new white pants?” Yes. But I never do. Maybe that is Mehitabel’s problem…suppressed rage!

    I commend anyone who has kids and has to deal not only with the kids, but with the people who judge them, ones with and without kids!

    • renegademama

      Oh hell yeah! I’m annoyed by them too. I’m actually quite a stickler for manners. I even wrote a whole post about my Nazi tendencies regarding eating, farting, restaurant behavior, etc. But as I said, it’s the gray area that confuses me, when I’m not sure if it’s ME or THEM. You really hit the nail on the head about what I was trying to say. In fact, you said it WAY better than I did. That’s exactly what I was getting at…”Perhaps I should just go back to worrying about my own self and whether or not I am happy with myself and whether or not I am going to blame other people and their children for my unhappiness.” Brilliant!

      Thanks for commenting and keep comin’ back here!


  • Amber

    I hope I can remember this post as my daughter grows. I definitely want to raise her to be a good, well behaved, polite, responsible, selfless person, but I also want to be able to remember that she is a child, and sometimes children don’t behave in a way that reflects all the good things you’ve taught them. Raising kids is so a gray area! Thanks for this post! It definitely helps keep things in perspective 🙂

    • renegademama

      Welcome, Amber!

      yes, and sometimes they’re behaving fine and I’m the one who isn’t behaving well! 🙂

      As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really a hard-ass about manners and politeness…it’s just those moments when what they’re doing irritates me but I can’t tell if the behavior is inappropriate or I’m just being irritable! (cause my whole family can attest to my irritability!).

      Thanks for the comment and I hope to “see” you around here again!

  • Penny

    Hysterical. My children are pretty polite and well mannered. I often get compliments…until something riles them – then they are very outspoken (at ages 7 and 4). The other day we tried a coop preschool. Disaster. The woman was so authoritarian she was scary. We discussed the experience, which was really shocking to me, quite a bit in the long drive home. This woman had really made an impression on me. Evidently on my son too because when my son saw this parent again, about 6 weeks later, in a public place, he marched up to her and gave her a mouthful, ‘My Mum and I hate you and are never coming back to your house again’ kind of stuff. So embarrassing. But I had to admire him! I like good manners on a regular basis but I like spunk and attitude when it counts. All I said was, ‘I totally understand how you felt like doing that but perhaps not in a public place (that was sitting in silence at the time!)’ I couldn’t say more than that!

  • Marlene

    Thank you. Thank you for saying how I feel sometimes. Sure my kids are pretty tame but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been in the grey area. I love to read a parenting blog that isn’t about being perfect but being who you are and that is perfect enough.

    There seems to be so much pressure out there to patient and understanding. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming. I feel good when I can be this way but I am not this way all the time. Thanks for bringing reality to parenting in this post. Now I am going to check out your pages.

    I wish I could hug you right now.:) Thanks!

  • Meghen

    “Ignore harmless, annoying behaviors” has been my mantra when dealing with kids for ages. It works with my toddler who’s recently decided happily screaming at the top of her lungs is THE MOST FUN THING EVER. It works when some other poor mom’s child is having a fit at the grocery store. It works at work! I’ve been in childcare for over six years, and no single other concept has been as helpful for my sanity.

    Kids need to be kids. We’re going to get irritated while they’re doing it. We’ll survive.

  • Ashlie

    I’m so excited that a friend shared this post, because I get to read something while nodding impressively for the entire time, and now I have an entire blog to explore.

    I have a 17-month-old and 2-month-old and I am constantly hyper aware of how MUCH chaos we exude in public. Never if, but how much, how loud, how acceptable. People (assholes) who think I”m just “tuning out” the noise, or allowing my “howler monkey”(REALLY?!)to do whatever because I’m too lazy to intervene have no idea the calculations that are going on in my head, pitting the level of need (finish our food, find groceries, check out a library book) against the level of chaos against recent snacks/naps against what I personally feel is acceptable and when it’s not acceptable WE LEAVE.

    Regardless of how messy and hard and embarrassing it can be both to discipline kiddos or ignore their harmless behavior when it seems it’s the right thing to do, I WILL NOT STAY HOME. So jerkfaces who think they get to be kids and never have to see them again will have coexist with me, my children, and the rest of planet Earth.

  • Elizabeth

    I just love your stuff!! Speak the truth, woman!! Just wanted to post a link to an infographic showing how much of a ginormous dick Thomas Edison was and how we should all love Nikola Tesla and learn all about HIM in school instead!

  • Rebecca

    Sooo… What about when your grey area is different from other moms? I let my kids climb on benches in the park, I let them run in town, I let them have thumb wars at restaurants. These things are my grey area, they may be slightly annoying to others, but really, on the scale from mild to outrageous, I think they’re mild. Then I have another mom say to me, “you know, people have to sit on those benches,’ or tell her kids that they have to walk right next to her in town, or insist that her children silently color at the restaurant. Well, then my kids behavior seems to have gone from mildly annoying to totally inappropriate. I know this other mom disagrees with where I draw the lines. Do I move my lines for her So my kids aren’t a ‘bad influence?’

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    Tuesday, 15 March, 2016

    […] am over analyzing.  Maybe all of us feel this way, and it is like when they are littler and we are Parenting in the grey area.  I feel like I live every day of my life in grey area.  I can’t establish the distance […]

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