Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Some thoughts on child rearing, tolerance, and respect

Sounds deep, no?

A friend posted the following article on Facebook, and for some reason I’ve been dwelling on this all morning. I’m sure it’s because I’m hormonal and only 3 weeks from giving birth, but I thought that perhaps airing my thoughts on this matter would let it die in my mind.

“Offending” article: The no-kids allowed movement is spreading

For those that don’t have the time or inclination to read the article, the summary is this: Airplanes, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, movie theaters, and even outdoor areas are banning children, and it seems that the majority of the public couldn’t be happier about it.

Actually, I have no issue with banning children from places they are not welcome. I, as a parent, would much rather know that my children are not tolerated and take them someplace they are welcome. If a hotel is not child-friendly, I want to know about it. If I’m going to get an eyeroll from every server that walks past my table, I want to eat somewhere else. If there are going to be activities that are not child-appropriate going on, I want to know and take them someplace safe.

There are plenty of places that are appropriate for or even aimed at children. Disney, Costco, Chili’s, summer movies at the theater: I’m talking about you. If I want to take my kids somewhere, I’m going there. If I want to go out to a late movie or to a nice restaurant, I’m hiring a babysitter.

So, on the surface it would seem that I have no problem with the article. But I do. And the 12,000+ comments make it even more obvious what my real issue is. People have no idea how hard it is to be a parent and have zero respect for the role of families.

Sure, there are parents out there who are rude and oblivious and who have no clue that their little darlings appear as hellions to everyone else. But in my experience, that’s not the norm. The fact is, kids are kids. Their self-control is poor and their judgement is usually worse. They do stupid things. They get frustrated. They cry—sometimes for no perceivable reason. A parent’s job is to teach them how to control themselves and how to exercise better judgement.

When we had a dog (so very, very glad that is in the past tense!), I did a lot of research about training. A dog cannot be trained in only one environment. He needs to be taken to new places and have new experiences to learn how to behave in all sorts of conditions. No matter how well your dog can sit at home, he often cannot translate that to different environments if he is not exposed to those environments and trained there. There is a reason guide dogs are brought to every conceivable setting to be trained.

Like it or not, training a child is very much like training a dog. A child who never leaves home will never know how to behave outside of the home. How is a child supposed to learn what manners and behaviors are appropriate for a restaurant if she has never been to one? How will a child learn how to sit through a quiet meeting if he’s never been expected to do so? As a parent, part of your job is to expose your child to new situations. And that’s where the trouble begins.

One commenter to the article mentioned that he had no respect for parents who let their kids cry in a store without leaving. I would have laughed if I wasn’t so annoyed. Who HASN’T had a kid that has had a meltdown in a store? Kids do that. And trust me, even though we may be trying to be stoic and stone-faced, it’s mortifying. But a parent faces only a few options: 1. Do anything to make the kid shut up. Not usually a good plan. This generally involves acquiescing to whatever demand the child is making at the time, which is leads to the brats everyone claims to hate. 2. Shout at kid and/or smack them. Again, not a good plan. 3. Leave store immediately. Sounds good in theory, but not always practical. If it is practical, do it. It saves everyone a lot of headaches. But sometimes you really do have to buy those groceries. And so leaving a full cart unceremoniously parked in an aisle is not always an option. I’ve done it in the past, but it’s generally not something I’m willing/able to do. 4. Try to reason with child. Ha. Anyone tried reasoning with a 2-year-old lately while they’re in the middle of a tantrum? 5. Ignore child so you don’t reward him with your attention and get out of there as quick as you can. This is generally what happens. Grab the milk and the bread and run to the nearest cash register.

Now, if I’m crazy (and I frequently am) and out pleasure shopping with my adorable minions in tow, I will leave if someone acts up, and they know it. There’s seldom a reason you HAVE to be at Gap. But if I choose to finish my grocery shopping with a crying child, it doesn’t make me a bad parent or my children brats. It means that I’m desperate, embarrassed, and in a hurry.

I’ve found that people who are intolerant towards children generally fall into two demographics: those who have never raised children and those who have but seem to have forgotten what it’s like. This second group is usually at least in their 50s and usually women. These are the women who come up to your nine-month-old, grab her feet (which neither cold nor hot), and say in a sickly adorable voice, “Oh, poor baby! Your feet are freezing! You should tell your mommy that you need socks on!” Mommy then pulls out the sock from her pocket which she has put on and picked up off the floor no less than seven times in five minutes. Annoying lady shakes her head, thinking something about how incompetent mothers are these days and how when she was raising kids, her baby would have been well-mannered enough to keep her socks on.

Not helpful.

Essentially, the solution to the problem is two-fold: respect and tolerance. Parents, be respectful of others. Don’t take an over-tired 3-year-old to a 10pm showing of Eclipse. Don’t look the other way while your child runs amok in a restaurant. Don’t go out if you know your child is likely to have a meltdown. Don’t push their limits more than you absolutely have to. Apologize to other (if appropriate) for your children’s misbehavior.

People without young children, be tolerant. Being a parent of young kids is hard. Very, very hard. Parents aren’t perfect. Kids aren’t perfect. But in general, we are trying. I will be forever grateful to strangers who have helped me out in awkward situations. I wanted to kiss the lady on the plane who entertained Averi for 30 minutes with the mirror from her purse. Another kiss nearly went to the security guard who found my lost child and didn’t make me feel like a bad parent, even when it was obvious I hadn’t realized she was even missing. Although the eyerolls and condescending remarks seem to outnumber the kindnesses, I remember the good things more. Strangers can make a world of difference.