Thursday, February 23, 2012

Some Kids Have Choices, But Some Don't

After the recent uproar about the asshole Dad who chose to teach his daughter a lesson by shooting her laptop, I was very grateful to see so many parents speak out against behavior that is abusive or coercive. Once again, it sparked the debate about the benefits of spanking and this general notion - which is the ultimate fallacy - that we can coerce or punish or manipulate our children into doing what we want them to. Of course, we can condition our kids to obey for a time through physical or emotional means, but only for a time. Eventually, they will grow up to make their own choices and all of that effort, all of that abuse, all of that pushing your children away from what they want into what you want will come home to roost in the most disturbing and horrible of ways.

The issue here is how we treat our kids. As parents, we have choices. Will we choose love, peace, cooperation, respect, and then model that? Will we choose to teach, to guide, to facilitate, to support? Or will we be allow our kids to be victims of our own baggage, using coercion and threats and punishments to get OUR way and enforce OUR ideas, thereby modeling a whole other kind of behavior? We're not perfect, we will fall and fail at times, but if we operate from a place of respect and love it stands a good chance of being returned.

The Dad in this video chose differently, and his relationship with his daughter will suffer-as will her relationship with her kids unless she can break the cycle.
Parenting like this is very common, and for generations we've all been taught to simply deal with it and try to survive it. What bullshit. The parent-child relationship should, and can, be enjoyed, celebrated, reveled in, not simply survived. It can be a walk in the park on a beautiful day, not a trial or tribulation to be slogged through like a right of passage. People who think otherwise are simply unable to look beyond their own sense of what they believe they are entitled to so they can find a better way.

People like the ones in this horrible story, who punished an eight year old girl for lying about eating candy by making her run for three straight hours until she died of exhaustion.

Where does this come from? Does it come from an upbringing that was so scarringly abusive that it simply cannot be outrun? Does it come modeling behavior that was seen or experienced? Does it come from laziness or an unwillingness to to seek new ways of dealing with being a parent? Or does it simply come from a hubris that parents always know better, always do better, are always right, and should always be obeyed?

As I see and hear of parenting like this, I am struck by several things:

Why does the child have to speak quietly and respectfully to the adult, while the adult gets to be verbally abusive and rude to the store clerk when they can't find something?

Why does a child have to be respectful when speaking to a parent, while the parent can be short and rude to the child?

Why does the child have to wait for the parent to finish speaking before they can have their turn, but the parent can interrupt at will?

Why does the child have to accept bad news readily, while the adult can react in whatever way seems natural?

Why does the child hear an angry "Listen to me when I'm talking to you!" when she tunes out, while the adult can walk around the whole store hearing "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!!" for ten minutes straight and never bat an eyelash?

Why does the child have to handle change with logic and acceptance, while the parent can use emotion and resistance?

Why do parents leave their babies to cry it out, but immediately cuddle and console a friend who is upset?

When waiting in line, why does the child have to sit quietly while the adult gets to talk on their phone or play games on their iPhone?

When in line, why does the child have to keep their hands in the cart while the adult leaves through the magazine they got off the shelf?

Why is the child prevented from buying a pack of gum or piece of candy when the parent has three boxes of Twinkies in their cart?

Why can an adult listen to a new CD 30 times in a row, but the child cannot hear the same song from Barney or Elmo more than three times in a row without the parent losing control?

There are thousands of other examples of this non-physical child abuse, but my heart is too heavy to keep going.

In these examples, I may not be describing you and your relationship with your children. But I am describing real adults and their real relationships with their real children - I mean, it happens, it really does. And the saddest part is that our children, these children, see their parents as the ultimate model, and teacher, and authority in their lives, and they can grow up with a sense that the parenting they experience every day is the way parenting is supposed to be. And so they come to expect such behavior in their own parents, and in other parents - and so they stand a reasonable chance of becoming such parents themselves.

So suspend reality for a few minutes and think about this. What if one of these poor kids actually lost one of their crappy parents, and had to take out an ad in the paper for a new one? Based on what I outlined above, and based on the experiences of these kids, that ad might look something like this:

Wanted: One authoritarian individual, chronologically (if not intellectually and emotionally) of an adult age, to set a bad example for their children and for other parents. Must be able to be verbally abusive, short-tempered, and rude to a variety of other people, with or without advanced notice. Interruptive communication style preferred, ability to outright ignore is a plus. Must be willing to have whatever reaction seems appropriate for the time, with no regard for others. The ability to set and maintain a double standard is required. Strong preference for those who are self-centered and too busy to care about anyone else's feelings. No previous experience or training is necessary, but knowledge of corporal punishment is a plus.

Would you ever hire such a person? Would you ever date them? Would you ever even talk to them? And would you, under any circumstances, and regardless of where you are on your own parenting journey, put that person in a position to actually be responsible for the well-being of anyone else, let alone a child? Of course you wouldn't. You would never tolerate it, would never even allow that kind of negativity into your life at all.

The irony is that these crappy parents wouldn't tolerate either; in fact, if you read my examples above they won't even tolerate such behavior from their children, let alone from another adult.
These kids may not be able to choose what kind of parents they have, and how their parents treat them. But they can certainly choose how they respond to it, provided the parent doesn't actually kill them.

Kids, in my opinion, don't expect a lot from their parents. They see the world in simple terms: fun or not, good or bad, happy or sad, etc. And because they are so free in their thoughts, unencumbered by the "benefit of perspective and experience" that drives so much fear and caution in adults, they are free to explore the infinite details of their worlds. Their world involve newness, and wonder, and freedom, and possibility, and joy. And so many adults do the exact opposite to their children - they make them live in a world of experience and training, and realism, and restriction, and probability, and structure - mostly designed for the convenience of the parent, not for the benefit of the miraculous child. For a child, the ideal want ad might look something like this:


Wanted: Someone to love me, to play with me, to listen to me, to help me, to comfort me, to believe in me, to read with me, to tuck me in at night, to be real with me, to partner with me, and to like me. No experience or prior training required, but must be willing to grow and have a strong desire to improve. Oh, and it helps if you like Vanilla Wafers and make good sundaes.

It's really just that simple, isn't it?

Your kids have choices in life, about what they do and how they think and how they feel about you and whether or not they will want you in their lives. Act accordingly. Hug. Laugh. Support. LISTEN. Be humble. Ask questions. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. And never, ever, assume that you are better, smarter, righter, or more entitled just because you are their parent.

5 comments:

  1. Love this very clear explanation of the double standard. As an abused child I used to wonder about this. Little kids 'get it' and know it's wrong.

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  2. Simply put, perfect! Sharing this with everyone who will take the time to read it.

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