Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On raising children

Let the children play. And if it's not too much to ask, get out of the way

Me: Just Now


Move on if you beat your kids or condone it. It's one of those days.

You've been warned.

I was in the right aisle now, looking for the smallest and cheapest bottle of dish soap. The kids found a box of ice scrapers and pulled out one apiece. The store was practically empty; but a frumpy, graying woman browsed the same aisle, clearly annoyed that the kids ran back and forth between me and the scraper box.

Jackson's scraper knocked on the ground, so the lady turned to him and practically spat, "Those aren't hockey sticks!"

I turned to her and boomed, "Thank you!"

We stared at each other for a spell, me with raised eyebrows. She scrutinized my face for intent, but I wore the mask of amusement.

"My kids are all grown up," she told me, "and moved away."

I'll bet they wasted no time. I didn't reply. I turned to the kids. "Put the hockey sticks away; it's time to go."

"It's the hardest job in the world, raising children," she said to my retreating back.

I turned and looked at her. "Actually, I think it's a lot of fun."

Now, I know the waitresses of the world are spitting coffee at the computer monitor, thinking of all the little shits that have run under their feet, and all the youngsters and crusty curmudgeons are reliving every flight they've taken with a screaming kid a seat away.

Frankly Miss Scarlett, I don't give a damn.

I won't argue with you. You can hate kids, or live in that gray shadowland in between and call it what you will.

I'm not raising my kids to make you happy. I'm raising them to be happy.

Want to tell me that I'm not raising them right, that someday they'll land in jail because they haven't been prepared for the realities of the world? Go ahead. Check with me in twenty years and we'll compare notes. I'll take my chances.

I'm a product of "spare the rod" parenting, and I turned out just fine. But I'll never be happy. Not really. I'll come as close as one can come to being happy without really being happy, because deep inside I'll always be that kid whose mother left, whose step-mother beat, whose life was uprooted on a whim, who came in second, third, fourth and last in all things, always seen and not heard, the poster child for the strict discipline to which America so pines to return.

I won't debate it. I know what you think. It used to make me sad. I used to think I could make you see. But I realize that it doesn't matter any more. But don't step in my way anymore because I am tired of straddling the fence. Try to impress me with your morals anymore, and I will impress upon you back.

But it's not your fault, and I have to remember that.

How long until we figure out that love is the answer, and not a leather strap, a swiss cheese paddle, the back side of a hand, an open slap, a balled fist, or biting words of derision to a three year old child who doesn't know the meaning of the word share?

Answer: never. We are delusional and damn smug about it.

I see New England moms yelling at kids, shaming them for answering the call of their mercurial spirit. Don't worry parents. You will win the fight. You always do. That little spirit is large, but then so is a mountain. Tell that to the river and it will tell you that time is on its side. Your kids will grow up just like you, whether they like it or not. And that is why they will hate themselves and never fit in.

And you will be proud because they will hide it, never confront you, and even console you when you cry out in a fit of momentary clarity.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

When you are raising your own child or any child ... you have to raise them them to be free thinkers ... if you cannot do this for your own child ... bake yourself a cake (or try) and study Waldorf Education.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Ouch.

Someone touched a nerve.

Sure, I get irked with kids running wild sometimes, but I mean WILD, i.e. running around, screaming, disrupting others.

If they were just having a little fun, then this woman clearly needs to relax. She misses her own kids, i'll bet.

trinamick said...

I can see it both ways. There are parents that I hear screaming at their kids in public for no reason and I want to backhand them. Then I see kids being hideous vermin in public and not being disciplined and once again, I want to smack the parents. My only consolation is that the parents get stuck with the final product, good or bad.

My mother believed in the "spare the rod" mentality, and we came out no worse for the wear. But I know people who hug their kids every day and still manage to teach them respect and manners. Every kid is different, and thank god none of them are mine. :P

Kathleen said...

I agree with Toast and Trina. I think your kids will turn out just fabulously, Scott. I watch my older brother yelling at his kids constantly and it makes me sad. They're not bad kids, they just want their parents' attention. It's sad when their 8-year-old is more grown up than me, their middle child just wants a hug but gets yelled at, while the youngest seems to do darn near no wrong.

Miranda said...

When my mom had my little sister, the last of six kids, an anti-kid rich woman sent her a letter telling her how horrible she was for having her.

It was my mom's fault, she said, that cows were prodded in the eyes to make more milk.

It's amazing how miserable and bitter people become when they see others being happy.

My Grandma believed in spanking only to keep kids from danger and I think that's a good policy.

Toni Anderson said...

I love my kids. I spent ten minutes this evening shouting after 4 in out trips in -30C to the car and back. In and out of snowsuits twice in one hour. My release value blew--but you know, every other word in this house is about love. Just sometimes the volume button is a little loud :)

Moni said...

Wow Scott, that was a powerful post! I think a lot of times adults forget what is was like to be a child. We're so concerned with the daily doings of life we forget the innocence that a child brings to the world and how easily that innocence is crushed.

What makes you a good parent is the fact that you haven't forgotten what it's like to see things from a child's perspective because your past won't let you. But, you've taken that past, broken through the cycle and are determined not to let it repeat.

So, on that account your past will be a blessing to your sons' future.
They are good kids and they will continue to be so. Don't let the bitter, nay-sayers of this world get under you skin.

Bless :)

Jada's Gigi said...

Whoa...are you on your soap box today? :)
I think your kids are grand and you are grand...and maybe a bit idealist...:)
there are good and bad parents, disciplinarians and non disciplinaries...and kids still usually turn out just like the parents..you're right about that...its more an attitude of the heart I think..you're also correct in that the basic is love, or lack thereof...it conveys itself to the child and somehow that speaks the loudest...

Trevor Record said...

I am some times shocked by the terrible way that some parents treat their children in public. But I come from what is probably one of the last stable families in the world. I think the worst my parents ever did was ride my ass for being lazy and drifting through life. And they were right, although I still don't see what's wrong with it.

Tee said...

That was a powerful post.

I guess I am still sitting on the fence though. I've seen too many parents not discipline their kids - not give them limits - and that can be as bad as disciplining too harshly. There's a fine balance, in my opinion.

Your words are a good reminder though that some of us need to take a deep breath and just let kids be kids sometimes. Sometimes I snap and yell at my kids just for playing too loud - that is not good discipline, that is me losing my temper, not being patient, and crushing their spirits.

Balance. It's all about balance. Balance... and love.

Behind Blue Eyes said...

I stumbled across your blog while trolling through the blogs and your post resonated with me. I feel exactly like you do and I have had people tell me that I am spoiling my children etcl...because I buy them things, don't spank etc....and I have very well-behaved children. I think the problem is that [people equate discipline with spanking etc...and assume that if you don't do those punitive harsh things and show the kids whose boss by god..that you are not disciplining them. This simply isn't true. You can discipline your kids without doing any of those things. And they will be healthier because of it. At least this is my philosophy.

Scott said...

My time is a bit limited, and I'm sorry I haven't replied to all these excellent comments. More later...

Scott said...

Anon, or should I say Nicola? No idea what Waldorf is about, but I'll take your word for it that it's good.

Toast - I think she does miss them too. I know people get annoyed, and it doesn't take much. I've reached the point of not caring anymore.

Trina - I saw a man on a beach berating his young son--may the kid was four, for swinging a stick at his sister. He yelled and yelled, forced him to apologize, then yelled twice more. I felt like breaking his teeth out. I swear there needs to be an education course on raising children, to make people understand what different aged children are even capable of understanding.

Kat - I sat at McDonald's just last night and watched as two parents talked to each other and ignored their ten year old girl completely. Then the mother made a big fuss because the girl drank some kind of soda before eating, then turned to us and said, "You would think she would get it by now." My wife and I looked away, but what I wanted to say is, why do you feel its necessary to shame the girl in front of complete strangers? Over a fucking soda!

More comments coming up... Gotta help with the grocerys.

magnetbabe said...

For the most part I agree with you and I agree with some of your readers. You are a fabulous dad because you remember what it's like to be a kid and vowed not to repeat the mistakes of your parents.

What I don't agree with is the mentality to disregard other people's feelings to the point of thoughtlessness. I think the woman in the store was a crabby old bitty that deserved whatever you said to her. However, if the store was crowded and people were trying to navigate their carts around a bunch of ice scrapers would you have gently told your boys to clean up because people were trying to shop? Or would you stick with your "I don't give a damn" approach? You're right, kids are kids they don't understand these things. But it's also your job to show them how to live in the world, not necessarily that they are the world. Don't get me wrong, I am against hurting whether it's with a stick or with words. I know when I have kids they will be my world. I too cringe when I see kids being yelled at and gripped firmly in public. But I'm also one of the people who will cringe when I see kids who are obviously running the show at the expense of the comfort of everyone else.

I short, I very much live in the gray area. :)

Scott said...

Miranda - I've honestly never been put in that situation where danger was a factor. Once my son ran into the road, but it was sufficient to be angry enough, more than my normal angry when something happens I don't like. It never happened again.

Toni - I hear you, and no pun intended.

Moni - So far, so good. I will say that it could be two parts luck.

Cheryl - Yeah, I'm standing pretty high on it today. Parents sometimes just irritate me.

Trevor - Brilliant as usual!

Tee - I understand your point of view. I'm not talking about lack of discipline. We demand that our children respect others, look when spoken too, apologize, etc. But children have to be allowed to be children, and shouldn't be shamed for doing what comes natural, and that includes a lot of sass talk and running and jumping and yelling when it is irritating. You draw the line but have to recognize where to draw it, leaving some room for good times.

Behind Blue Eyes - Thanks for dropping by. I'm glad this resonated with you. I think if the world could loosen up just a bit with the children that they would grow up happier and able to function better. Look at all the people that have to see a shrink! Those same people will likely go home and do the same shit to their kids that drove them to the doctor in the first place. It's pathetic. We all need help.

Nat - I doubt that you would mistreat a kid, given how compassionate a person you are. I would never let my kids be abusive to other people, either at a restaurant, on a plane, or at the grocery store. But if my kids are irritating for a reason that is within bounds, like scampering in an aisle, not hurting anyone, its not crowded, etc, then I am not going to try and make that person happy because they feel kids should be seen and not heard. People have lost focus, and resent a child that isn't as bent as they are.