The great parenting paradox
I think I missed the parenting class which instructs well-meaning decent moms and dads to completely ignore their offspring when misbehaving in public. Either that, or these well-meaning parents missed the class which tells them how to discipline. Not sure which.
When kids suddenly become foul-mouthed, rude, obstinate or just plain lacking in manners in the presence of other adults, it can be awkward for parents to correct them. Or even to claim them as their own. But what’s worse is ignoring the child’s behavior sends a clear message it’s OK to act up in public.
Stopping to chat with one father recently after school, his (clearly annoyed) third grader immediately began tugging on Dad’s arm and saying emphatically, “Let’s GO.” Dad tugged back and said, sounding a little embarrassed, “OK, OK, but can you say hello first?” To which his son stared in the opposite direction of me and said in a monotone but loud voice, “Hi, bye, let’s GO.”
Dad rolled his eyes and said to me, “Sorry, clearly someone needs an after-school snack.”
“Let’s GO!” he said again as he nearly tugged Dad’s arm out of its socket.
Normally I have some tolerance for a child who is hungry, tired, and exhausted from a long day at school. But for an instant I wanted to reenact the role of Penny’s sanctimoniously-pious mother in “Hairspray” and shout, “Devil Child! Devil Child!” as I tossed holy water in the kid’s direction. I refrained. Here in front of me was a child who wasn’t demonstrating the decency I knew he had in him, or the respect I felt he should show his father.
Then it occurred to me, maybe fathers and mothers aren’t showing the respect they should for their children. Where else are kids learning to stoop to this level?
Take, for instance, a recent afternoon in the football stands. I watched a young mother shouting at her pre-schooler to “Get over here NOW!” When the demand wasn’t met immediately, Mom grabbed him by the arm, shouted it again, and yanked him with enough force to make a few adults in the vicinity cringe. “I said get OVER here,” she hollered, dragging him out of earshot. Child abuse? Probably not.
Malicious? Maybe a little. Disrespectful? Absolutely.
I don’t know why parents feel it’s OK to disrespect their kids. They want the absolute best for their children, but give them their absolute worst. The ultimate parental paradox.
And the illogic of it leads to a twofold problem: kids who misbehave (and you can bet it’s not just in public) and parents who don’t have the cojones to deal with it.
It may be easy (albeit alarming) to yank a toddler up by his arm and tell him to behave … or else. But try that with a ten-year-old, a fourteen-year-old, or your college freshman son. The younger our kids are when we begin to practice respect and consideration even in our discipline ” no, especially in our discipline ” the more likely we are to carry those habits forward as our kids grow up. Not only will we be able to deal with rude behavior in public swiftly and directly, but the rude behavior likely won’t happen at all.
That’s a parenting paradox I’d be happy to contend with.
Charla Belinski’s column appears every other Sunday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Contact her at email@example.com.
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That sideline parent is me, parading to the field with a foldable chair, carrying an iced-coffee, armed with a bag of band-aids and a salty vocabulary ready to slay the referee or opponent that meddles…