It’s hard to watch the tail wag the dog, even if the dog’s a cute one.
By Carole Townsend
I love children. I say that without equivocation or hesitation, and I’ve felt that way for as long as I can remember. I think children are charming, hopeful, passionate, exciting, innocent little creatures, and they are to be treasured.
I say that with a bit of extra conviction this year especially, because of our perfect little granddaughter.
Everyone has his or her own parenting style, and there’s more than one style that works. I’m O.K. with that, but that’s not true for everyone. If you’re a parent, I’d be willing to bet that at some point during your journey, you’ve known one of “those” parents (and aren’t they usually moms?) who just can’t resist telling you how to do it better. I was always annoyed by those who doled out their unsolicited parenting advice like door-to-door subscription salespeople. I could never figure out how a mom my age, with kids my kids’ ages, figured she knew more about my job than I did.
Having said that, here comes some unsolicited advice from a mom who’s been there and done it, with the stretch marks, gray hair and cancelled checks to prove it. I was doing a little Christmas shopping a few days ago, and I was actually enjoying myself. It was one of those rare December days on which the approach to the Mall of Georgia didn’t require a helicopter and riot gear. I was shopping at a leisurely pace and enjoying the Christmas music, able to think and follow my list (sort of). It was just a good day, peaceful and enjoyable.
Out of nowhere, a high-pitched, ear-piercing screech shattered my Christmas reverie, its effect no less painful than an ice pick being driven straight into my temple. The screech disintegrated into something akin to one of Diane Keaton’s famous on-screen crying jags – never-ending and positively nerve wracking. The kid from which it emanated was winding up to pitch a high holy fit. What was his mother doing all this time, you may wonder? She was telling him that he couldn’t have the toy he had picked up, but he wasn’t of the same opinion. Mostly though, she just jabbered on her cell phone.
I watched the back-and-forth between this kid and his mom for several minutes, longer than I would have under other circumstances, but I was standing in line to pay for an item. I had no choice. Even if I hadn’t watched, I could have told you how the scene would play out. Mom, who vacillated between cajoling her unruly child and pressing phone call, eventually gave in and gave her son what he wanted. I knew that would happen but more importantly, her kid knew that would happen.
In the supermarket recently, I and dozens of other shoppers endured the five (yes, five) wild offspring of a woman who strolled through the store talking on her cell phone while her angels ran up and down the aisles, scanned items at the checkout, screamed, jostled some displays and knocked over others. The store manager was almost in tears, yet Mom was completely unaware, or better yet, unconcerned.
I get that every child has a moment or two out in public, one that, for whatever reason, erupts into a whopper and disturbs those within earshot. But more and more often, I see parents who take the attitude that everyone within earshot should suck it up and listen to their little darlings, wherever their meltdowns take place. There are parents who take the attitude that their children are everyone else’s responsibility in restaurants, letting them run wild among servers and patrons. In fact, it’s both annoying and dangerous.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old woman, I’d like to offer my humble opinion on the topic of children and their behavior in public. I hold the belief that, when we are blessed with a child, that child is only on loan to us until he or she becomes an adult. Then, the rest of the world is blessed (or not) with the adult that child has become. Spoiled, neglected, unruly, demanding children become spoiled, neglected, unruly and demanding adults. You’ve probably known one or two. Do you think the world needs more?
There is a happy medium between the old school adage, “Children are to be seen and not heard,” and today’s “Go ahead kid, as long as you’re not bothering me.” A smart phone is not a substitute for a parent’s attention, and your desire to be on the phone rather than aware of what your children are doing is rude. A child is not going to suffer damage by hearing the word, “no.” Before you know it, you’ll just have to say it once (can you imagine?). And it won’t kill a parent to pick up a screaming child to remove him from the store or restaurant in the event of a nuclear meltdown. Your fellow shoppers and diners will thank you for it, and your kid will be better off for it.
I never wanted my children to be those kids that other people cringe to see coming. I always wanted my children to be respectful, well-mannered young people who, when old enough, understood and exhibited self –control. That’s not stifling their spirit; on the contrary, I believe it enhances it. I think we’ve seen enough of what happens when children run the parents or, as that famous bald TV psychologist says, when “the tail wags the dog.”
To the mom who let her son bully her into giving in to his crystal-shattering demands the other day, I wish you the best of luck. If something doesn’t change – and soon - that same kid will be six feet tall and about two hundred pounds before you know it, but his behavior won’t be much different than what we all were unfortunate enough to witness as we tried to shop.
Here’s an idea. Does the “Santa is watching you” angle work at all any more?
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.