I find myself sometimes looking back and the beliefs I held when I was younger regarding what I would and would not be a party to regarding the behavior of my future children and I’m forced to laugh at myself. I feel like some one that hasn’t ever seen and episode of Star Trek, yet feels completely justified in discussing all the reasons they feel that it’s horrible. Let’s take a look at a few of these beliefs that I held in my mid-twenties:
1. I would not subject the diners in a restaurant to the burden of the presence of my child. If you have kids, dinner is to be consumed at home, with the curtains drawn and ideally in a small Harry Potter-esque room under the stairs.
2. I would NEVER take my child to a movie theater. Once again, I’ve got all these other people and their feelings to consider. Children are and always will be completely unable to appreciate an animated movie on the intellectual level that I can. No, it doesn’t matter that I’m watching MADAGASCAR at a 10am showing and am drunk…NO KIDS!
3. Most importantly, I would intuitively know how to keep my child from having a temper tantrum. More than likely due to the fact that, by the time I was rich and able to afford children I’d have invented and perfected a psychic/empathic transference helmet that would enable my child to feel my embarrassment and therefore force them to correct their behavior. In essence, I would mind-control them into tantrum submission with no thought of the likely future therapy cost this might incur.
I thrived on two things back then: fear and control. A dangerous mix, for certain. It wasn’t until I could accept that there is almost nothing outside of my own behavior that I have control over that I found my voice as a father. I cannot control Jack. And Jack cannot control the world, as much as he’d like to.
Children are not tiny adults. They do not understand that what they are doing falls outside of the delicate boundary of societal displeasure and, even if they did, they couldn’t give a damn. I once heard that if two-year olds around the world possessed super-human strength there would be a lot more murder. For most intents and purposes, when it comes to what they want, two-year olds are selfish, manipulative and even slightly evil. They will take what they want, attempt to “cute” their way into it, pretend to ask nicely and if all else fails that is when the legs turn to noodles and that angelic face transforms. Remember in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure when the female trucker Large Marge turns into that claymation demon face? It’s sort of like that. Then the wailing starts.
And this is when we get to find out what kind of parent you really are.
Children are constantly seeking ways in which they CAN control their surroundings. They are trying to create ripples in still water. A huge laugh at a child reinforces their behavior. So does a loud yell. Are you going to loudly yell at your tantruming child nearly guaranteeing they’ll react the same way again? Are you going to go fumbling for the iPhone, the Gummy Bears and break to the will of your toddler? Are you going to unlock the tiger cage so your unknowing daughter can feed it a cookie? Are you actually going let your kid know that the world will give you anything and everything you want and all you have to do is shed a few tears?
Yes. If you’re anything like me, you will probably do all of this a few times…at first. I’m not perfect. Not every situation is static and sometimes the world wears on us all in different ways. So, dammit, if I’m 5 minutes away from swiping my debit card to get groceries out the door of Ralph’s, I am probably gonna let Jack play Animal Farm on my phone for a minute instead of leaving ANOTHER cart filled with groceries in the store while I put him in time out. As many books as you read, there truly is no “manual”. We’re all, as parents, in this together, but there are times when we feel very much alone in this. That we are “lesser than” other parents because of how you may have reacted in a tantrum situation. You feel judged.
Eventually, you stop. You and your partner will come up with a game plan because you realize that you suck at this discipline thing. You’ll stick to it. Things will change. Eventually your child realizes that actions have consequences. That throwing food at dinner means they are getting a story before bed. That hitting gets 2 minutes alone in their room. They’ll cry. They’ll tug at every string in your heart. They’ll also learn…eventually they’ll learn. Sometimes even quicker than you do. You’ll be at dinner and anticipate a fork throw a coming and just before you can say: “Jack, that’s one.”, he will put the fork down. He’ll eat dinner and you feel like you’re making a difference.
Everything above relates to me and my family alone. I’m simply sharing a piece of my experience and not advocating a parenting philosophy for anyone. I have friends that don’t do Time Outs and friends that do. Some that never say “no” to their children (God bless them) and some that spank. I don’t think there is a RIGHT WAY of doing this. There are just different ways. I’m only sharing mine because I’m comfortable enough as a parent to not give a damn what you think of me as one.
Some one told me recently: “Everything in this world is perfect, and that includes you.” I believe this to be true. In a world where I can control nothing, I therefore must accept that I’m part of a plan. Even if at times it seems a hastily thrown together, ill-funded plan. It’s a plan nonetheless, and no doubt it is unfolding as it should…without my or Jack’s permission.
Thanks for listening.