There’s nothing like taking a vacation to make you wonder about our parenting culture.
As we were laying in bed in our hotel room at 10:30 at night, listening to the patter of little feet run from left…to right…to left…to right…BAM jump off the bed! And left…to right, my husband looked at me and said, “Maybe we’re too hard on our kids. I guess we should just let them do whatever they want.”
I told him at least we aren’t as bad as the lady at the pool. When her son disappeared for thirty seconds, she suspected he stole a butterscotch from the bowl on the front desk. “Where did you go?!” she demanded. “Open your mouth! Stick out your tongue!” While he whined about “Maaaaaaa-ahm, I didn’t do anything! I just went through the other door!” she actually grabbed his cheeks and inspected his mouth. “You better not have gotten any candy!” “Maaaa-ahm, I DIDN’T get any CANDY!”
My sons, who had been joyously running between the cold pool and the hot tub, stopped in their tracks, came to sit with me, and said, “Isn’t it time to go?”
I said, “Yea. As long as we can stop for butterscotches on the way.”
I don’t know. Maybe she had her reasons. But it seems to me that the messsage parents hear today is that we should care more about what our children eat than how they behave.
I understand where this comes from. We all want what’s best for our kids but don’t know how to get it, so we over-parent. And over-parenting is, of course, the style du jour. We’ve bought the idea that they can grow in a warm bubble of nurturing and have the best childhood ever experienced by any person in the history of time. That we are so enlightened, we will make them be superhumanly awesome by being superhumanly awesome parents.
I wonder if you can actually pinpoint the moment bubbles burst.
Is it the first time your child stamps their foot and says, “NO!” Is it your first fight? First lie? First broken window?
I think we’ve forgotten that we’re only human, our kids are ONLY HUMAN, and we’re all just doing the best we can. We’re all going to get mad, make mistakes, tell a lie, make a bad choice, regret something we did and not know what to do.
I actually love it when my kids come to me with a problem and I can say, “I had the very same thing happen to me the other day. I felt really bad about it. What can we do to make it right?”
We need to stop seeing our children as “other” and treat them like ourselves. We have objectified them to the point of thinking they are either little robots we can control, or nether-beings of a higher order who should never be denied their heart’s wishes and desires.
How would you like to be treated? That’s how you should treat your kids.
As a culture, our expectations for perfection have become too high. We need to find a balance. We have to be able to say, “You need to do this because I’m your mother and I said so,” but also, “I think I handled that wrong. How can we work together to make it better next time?”
Balance means making them eat vegetables but also giving them candy. Taking a hike, AND letting them play video games. Telling them when they’re wrong and giving consequences. But then making sure they know that we love them no matter what. Unconditionally.
For the rest of the vacation I pondered this never-ending question, the idea that maybe I’m not doing as good of a job of parenting as I could be. Which I spend a lot of my time doing. You hadn’t noticed?
One night we went out to dinner and sat next to a woman who seemed a little grumpy – I thought we were irritating her with our raunchy boy jokes and reminded them to keep it down (not to stop, of course).
At the end of the meal she put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I just want you to know…” (oh crap, here it comes), “how well-behaved your boys are. They are so polite and well-mannered, it’s lovely.”
Yes!!! Gold star for me!!!
Sorry. What I meant to say was how gratifying that was to hear, and how it made me feel not only proud, but relieved. It’s really ok – appreciated even – to require good behavior from our children. I whispered to the boys, “DID YOU HEAR WHAT SHE SAID?!” like I was SO excited and half-shocked. They smirked it away, but I know they felt as good as I did.
And that in itself is enough of a reward.