About ten years ago a woman I worked with mentioned that she didn’t let her children watch The Simpsons because the children are disrespectful to the parents. She mentioned it in passing and I didn’t say anything, but I thought her attitude was pretty square and probably inwardly rolled my eyes a bit. Now, however, I totally get it.
In many of the circles in which I find myself, there seems to be this tendency to put children at the center of everything in a way that isn’t in anyone’s interest. I’ve read a few books* over the past year or so, ones that point out the pitfalls of giving children too much power, that ring very true. Actually, I haven’t finished any of them, because I only need to read part of it to kind of get the reminder I need: that the parents should be in charge and that forgetting this is a good way to grow little tyrants who are very unpleasant to be around.
Lately with Clay, we’ve been stressing politeness, respect, and gentleness. God knows it’s an uphill battle; these traits don’t come naturally to kids, not to mine at any rate. You have to train them into it, but once the training starts to kick in, it’s really a pleasure. Clay is very close to internalizing that when offered something, the two acceptable responses are “Yes, please” and “No, thank you.” I don’t think this training impinges on his individuality, or if it does, I don’t care. He’s also getting close to knowing that when we’re at the playground and I say it’s time to go, it really is time to go.
So after working very hard to teach him this kind of thing, it pains me to read him books that depict bratty, impolite children who make demands without saying please or thank you, and parents who acquiesce to the demands as if they have no choice. We picked up a book at the library, a collection of stories** about everyday episodes in the lives of the two to five set. It’s kind of dull but Clay loves it. The dullness I can tolerate but some of the family dynamics I can not.
In one story, a little girl plays in the snow with her parents. They tell her they want to go inside, they are cold. But she doesn’t want to go in so they all stay out. In that situation, I’d give Clay the option of staying out by himself for a bit while I kept an eye on him through the patio doors. Of course he wouldn’t want that, he’d want to be out there with me. So he’d get a choice between staying outside playing or coming inside with me; he doesn’t get both. He got both for a while but then I had enough. If I stay out at the point—and it’s not as though I never have—the resentment begins.
Lots of contemporary children’s books I’ve stumbled across seem to feature this kind of give-until-it-hurts parent. There’s a fair amount of sacrifice involved in having a kid. We make plenty of choices with Clay’s enjoyment in mind, and that’s as it should be, it’s given freely. And I don’t expect him to be happy when it’s time to leave the playground, but I do expect him to be a good sport about it. And I make it clear that if he can’t be a good sport, we might have to stop going there for a while.
I don’t enjoy being the heavy—it’s exhausting, frankly--but I think it’s necessary and that it will pay off. In a kid who doesn’t take everything for granted, who thinks of others a bit, who doesn’t think everything is about him. I think it’s harder when there’s only one kid, too. With two, it’s impossible to put both at the center.