I’m 52 years old and I am beginning to live in world that I am struggling to understand. It’s not because of technology or anything like that. I am happy to advance in the age of smart devices. What perplexes me the most is the devolution of parents and parenting. My children are almost adults and maybe I should not have an opinion on this but it is hard not to when it is all around me. Much of the next generations are being raised in a manner that is making them incapable of doing anything on their own. They have no boundaries, they are always the centre of attention (mostly when they are unremarkable) and they have no regard for others. They also have little to no coping or problem solving skills and no manners and it is sad and very concerning that they are indeed our future. Now you will probably say that my statement is unfair so let me re-iterate, I said much of the next generations. Certainly not every child is like that but I urge you to look around and observe and you will see, many children have the behaviors I’ve described.
Earlier this morning, I stopped for a young woman and her toddler to use the cross walk. I was not in a hurry and she was with a really little child. She proceeds to cross with the child and I realize she is not holding her hand. The kid is really young so her gait is slow and wobbly. As the mother gradually moves ahead of the child, she doesn’t realize the little one is sitting on the cross walk. Oh yes, bum planted firmly on the asphalt and she ain’t moving. The mother walks back to the child and begins to talk to her, never acknowledging that there are now 3 cars waiting on her and her child to cross. I took myself back to when my boys were toddlers. If someone motioned for me to cross with my toddler, I would have scooped him up in my arms and crossed the street. Once I was safely on the sidewalk, I would have put him down (my boys were heavy) and taken his little hand in mine and led him safely to the car. When did parents stop reacting like I would have? When did we stop holding a toddler’s hand? And when did we think it was okay to negotiate with a 2 year sitting on a cross walk to get up and get moving? That situation this morning was unsafe, inconsiderate to the three waiting drivers and stupid. I have no problem acknowledging children, listening to them and explaining things to them but there are times when a child has to be told what to do, when they have to be picked up and have their hand help to keep them safe. I finally drive by and she motions for me to roll down my window and she tells me that the little one is at the age when she chooses to walk. Okay…I have no problem with giving kids a choice. They can choose whether they want to wear the blue or the yellow pajamas and they can choose a bedtime story but they cannot choose their bedtime. They can choose to have an apple or a pear but they cannot choose candy instead. Children are children because they need to be parented. They need to be guided and they need to be taught. We love our boys. We are friendly with our boys but we are their parents, not their friends. We speak to them with respect and we expect that respect in return. We speak openly to each other but there is a distinct difference between the way they address us and the way they address their friends. There is a clear, healthy divide between us and our children are no worse for it. The 20 year old, lives on his own and though autistic, runs his own life and his aides, his father and I support the way he chooses to live. The 17 year old still lives at home, and needs our permission to borrow our cars and go to parties and have friends over in addition to all the things a teenager needs permission to do, have or attend. My husband and I are still the authority figures in our home and our son at home respects our guidance, our home and property.
The cross-walk fiasco over, I am sitting in the exercise studio monitoring the participants. Through the glass wall I can see the participants of three in a row toddler dance classes. These classes are designed for ages 2 -5 and cost parents way-too-much-plus tax for the session which consists of ten 30 – 40 minute classes. I have noticed over the weeks that none of the participants are ever on time for the first class which starts at 9 am. Then there is at least 10 minutes of crying or screaming and kids running out of the class into their parent’s arms who carry them back into the class time after time, the drama only ending when the parent stays in the room with the child. Those who don’t go into the room, are glued to the glass tapping it and waving to their now distracted child. Then there is the parent that goes into the class suggesting alternate dance moves and specific music requests of the teacher. My close observation of these humans makes me understand the high turn around of teachers for these classes.
The second class of participants arrive about 15 minutes before the first class begins and they are allowed to spread their toys all over the floor outside of the class which is also the walkway to the studio where I’m sitting. I watch in awe as adults and seniors coming into the workout studio gingerly navigate their way through a spread of dolls, miniature cars, Lego and a version of Pick up Sticks with no attempt from the parents to clear the path for others, no telling their kids to move into a corner so that others can get by them, no apology for taking over the entire walkway. One child not interested in the toys on the floor, is finding joy in spilling water from the drinking fountain all over the floor because the obstacle course created by the spread of blocks isn’t challenging enough for the adults and seniors to navigate. Excuse me for a moment while I go to the utility room to retrieve a mop to clean up said child’s mess. And in case you were wondering, I’m not mopping the floor. My children didn’t spill the water.
……Okay, I’m back. The water is being mopped by the child’s father and the precious angels have gone into class and there is a repetition of the running in and out of class to mummy and daddy. Oh dear, one father just got a premeditated back hand to the face and he is responding by hugging his child who continues to strike him. Wow. I have no words. One little girl from the previous class is playing with the Lego on the floor as her mother tells her over and over that it is time to go. The child screams a loud shrill “NO!” Mom, holding a baby just smiles and waits and repeats her request to leave. I think they are going to be here a while.
Call me archaic but I think in addition to laying down some guiding rules and some consequences for their actions, we also need to give children a chance to grow and be independent and to learn from and be guided by other people. They don’t sit beside them all day at school so why are they in the dance class with them? Children need a chance to fail so that they will have a chance to succeed. They need to learn that mom and dad can leave them to learn from someone else and that they will be fine until they return for them. There are three parents right now doing the dance class with their child. Three parents who look like they can use a break, so why aren’t they taking one?
The classes are over and the little darlings have gone. The custodian is shaking her head as she mops up the sticky spots of juice and picks up the fruit roll up wrappers off the studio floor. The hallway looks like a tornado came through it and so does the gallery to the pool where the siblings of those taking swimming lessons are left to run wild and wreck the place.
I don’t know what books, or websites these new parents are reading nor do I know who is giving them bad advice but here is what I know –
It’s okay to take the weekend back and empty a trunk of toys on the floor and let your kids play. It’s okay to play with them for a while then walk away and let them play on their own. Having a friend over or going to play at another kid’s house is a healthy activity. Video games in moderation isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact some kids develop excellent hand eye coordination from playing video games. Whatever happened to Saturday morning TV? That used to be a great thing. I remember many winter mornings when Thomas the Tank Engine and the Clone Wars made for a cozy time indoors. When the shows were over many hours were spent by our two little boys creating their own versions of the stories they had seen in our basement with all the make shift costumes, props and noises of children at play. Very often there was a sign that said “keep out” or “kids only” that let us know that this was their parent free time to pretend and we respected that.
Maybe we can go back to keeping things simple. You know how little ones get a fancy present and they are more interested in the box? It’s because kids are simple people. No need to make things with them over complicated. My husband and I didn’t get suckered into expensive toddler classes that pretended to promise cognitive and motor skill development. We knew these skills were important but our kids got all that stimulus at home and eventually at school and through sports.
Parents, it’s okay to give yourself a break from your children. Learn to take turns. Both parents and kids don’t have to be everywhere together all the time. From time to time we did take our kids shopping or to run errands with us but there were also days when we took turns staying at home with them while the other parent did the errands and such. Alone time is good for mom and dad and kids have a lot of time ahead of them to go shopping when they are older and more tolerant of crowds, noise and other stimuli. To keep our sanity we knew it was not possible for both of us to be present at all times at our children’s’ activities. We did not all have to go to the store all the time. We took turns going to the gym and to church. We gave our boys boundaries. We told them “no” and they learned to be disappointed and they learned that disappointment passes. They learned to be in a class or an activity without us and today at 20 and 17, I have 2 happy, independent, generous and polite young people (one with autism) with jobs, commitments and responsibilities and they are turning into very respectable men of whom we are extremely proud. I look at our autistic son (who has his own apartment going on three months now) and I am thrilled to see that all my instincts were right. Nothing in any book about parenting ever applied to him and I am so grateful he is a part of our family because having him made us better parents and it allowed us to raise him and his brother with our minds wide open without getting caught up in this overprotective, micromanaging, coddling style of parenting that seems to persist.
I once asked my 17 year old how he felt when I dropped him off at Kung Fu when he was 5. He said sometimes he felt a little scared that I was leaving him but Sifu didn’t allow other parents to linger and no one cried for their mom or dad and he didn’t want to be the baby that did. He said, me not being there helped him focus on Sifu and the moves he was being taught. He said he learned how cool it was to stay quiet and be still and focus on the move he was about to do. He said he liked learning stuff without us there so he could surprise us by showing off his moves when he got home. He also told me he always knew one of us would come back and pick him up and he never felt that we would forget him. He also said, when he was little he sometimes felt like everyone was a big kid – better than him, bigger than him and faster than him (he was a short, stocky little thing who is now a lean 6’3″) and that learning to be in a Kung Fu class with mixed ages and heights made him feel like a big boy; made him feel proud that even with his size, he could sometimes take down someone much bigger and taller than he was. He said it made him confident and taught him that if he tried his best, he could take on anything. He does not practice Kung Fu at the moment (maybe he will get back to it one day) but that activity combined with all the other sports and activities he participated in allowed him to learn from other people and given him skills he would not have developed if we were constantly by his side.
By trying to be all inclusive parents, trying to be the perpetually positive parents trying to make life perfect for your kids, you’re setting them up for failure. Isn’t it exhausting doing everything in your power to make every moment of every day a successful one for your child? Take it easy parents. Say “no” once in a while and hold your kids accountable when it comes respect and give them rules and boundaries so they can actually successfully live in society. Loving them does not mean doing everything for them and giving them their way all the time.. By hovering over them all day, you stifle their independence and creativity. Helping them every step of the way does not set them up for the bump in the road that will make them stumble. If they don’t stumble and fall they will never learn to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and try again. I know it’s hard to not jump in and help them every chance you get but what you are actually doing is hindering them and making them unprepared for that roller coaster journey that is life.
Finally, be considerate of others. Your children are lovely and all children are gifts but they are not lovely gifts to everyone. My children are grown. I put in the years with the sleepless nights, the worry, the teaching, potty training, the feeding, healing, reassuring …all the verbs that go along with parenting and even though they are grown, I still am concerned for them and concerned about things I cannot control. But I know my husband and I have put in the time and work and love and all I can have now is faith that they will make the right choices and that they will be safe. My husband once said, parenting is 50%what you teach them and 50% what they do with it and we need to give them the chance to exercise their 50%.I don’t have little children anymore and the few kids I know between the ages of 1 and 12 have really great parents with a strong, admirable parenting styles so when a poorly parented child comes into contact with me it usually leads to an inconvenience to my day somehow. I don’t want to be subjected to poorly parented kids, yet I am on the daily with the hovering, over helping and hindering parents everywhere I go. Because I don’t need to hear you negotiate with them at the top of your lungs, I grocery shop listening to music through earbuds. I don’t appreciate them running around my grocery cart, randomly stopping and starting, yet you let them crash into my cart anyway. I don’t always want to have a conversation with your kid who can barely talk. I am a complete stranger. Why would you let your child wander around talking to complete strangers in an arena? I am there to watch my son’s team, I don’t want to miss the game because your child whom I don’t know, wants to talk to me. And for the love of all that is right and just, please don’t allow your child to linger in the entrance of a busy store. Don’t let them play with the doors and don’t let them lie in the aisles of the grocery store. No one enjoys that…plus, it’s unsanitary.
Dial up the discipline and tone down the hovering and path paving. Prepare your child for their path. Do not prepare the path for your child. Keep it simple and it will be special. Sign your toddler up for less activities and let them enjoy being active through play with their friends, with you and on their own. Take the time to breathe, Mom and Dad, guide them, teach them and take more time to enjoy them. You don’t need to take them to organized classes when they’ve barely learned to walk. Kiddies are simple beings. Don’t make raising them more complicated than it needs to be.