Monday, April 28, 2008

A Rant (Sorry, sorry, sorry.) and an invitation

"If you don't stop that, I'm going to buckle you into the cart."
"You better keep up with us, or I'm going to buckle you into the cart."
"I am getting really mad. I have been yelling at you all day. Stop it, or I am going to buckle you into the cart and you won't be going ANYWHERE!"
These were three of the statements I heard from the same mom, seen at a local grocery store weaving up and down the aisles, her about-4 year old boy on the loose. They were three of about 15 identical threats I witnessed.

Now, we are all guilty of empty threats. I am absolutely no exception (although I do try to make a point to justify and explain myself out of my empty threats, even to my kids)

But this is what I saw, as the outside observer:
When we fail to discipline (i.e. follow through) then we are crankier, ruder, and essentially more awful to our kids.
So this could have happened: after the first warning, she could have picked him up, and buckled him into the cart like she said she was. Then, she could have dealt quietly with the ensuing tantrum, gently placing things in the cart and talking about the things they would do that day, asking questions, begging distraction. This is not to say this would be easy, but it could be done. She could have just grabbed eggs and milk and a box of cheerios and checked out.
Empty threats do nothing for our kids but make them feel uncertain about who is in charge.
There is a hesitancy towards parenting with a heavy hand (justified) which sometimes leans towards parenting too lightly. How confusing is it, as a child who is yearning for some guidance through the world, when nobody is there to guide you? This is why human children live with their parents for so long, so that their parents can structure their world and show them what to do in it. When all their parents offer them is choices, with no guided answer, and empty threats, there is no clear path to follow.
The reason why this makes me mad is not because I am a perfect parent, which I am absolutely NOT, but because I feel so sorry for kids that end up being impulsive and uncooperative as the result of no clear guidance, guidelines, and consequences in their life. It makes parents so miserable to have kids who are constantly doing the wrong thing and testing testing testing and it makes kids so miserable to have parents who are always telling them what not to do, but never really showing them or telling them, flat out, what they are supposed to be doing instead.
I had one little boy in my kindergarten class once who was so high strung, so badly behaved for lack of better words, he was lovable and beautiful but just so hard to be around, and he drove the other kids crazy. My heart ached for him. I was always very, very firm with him, and clear with him that I was in charge of the class, and thus in charge of him. This sounds like I am some kind of dominating presence, but a warm, loving, kind, gentle dominating presence is just what kids crave. It's security, in a nutshell. Someone dependable. At a conference with his parents, I communicated this to them, their son's difficulty with authority, his desparate need for a guiding light, for someone, anyone, to show him the way.
"That must be sinking in," his mother said. "The other day he asked me who the boss was at our house. I told him we didn't have one."
I wanted to scream. "It's you! IT'S YOU!" Who will show your little bunny the way if you are not there to do it? It is not a gift of freedom to let a five year old child chart his own course through the world. You do not create or breed an independent thinker by giving a four year old no rules. You confuse them and you make them wonder and they don't know what the parameters are.

So anyway, that's what I think about that.

My little rant for the day. I hate to rant because these are the types of things that piss people off. Also, I don't like for people to think that I think I am a perfect parent. Sometimes, I think the reason why it helps me to rant, is because then I realize that these are things I feel passionate about and things I am going to try my hardest to act out in my life. If I have ranted about it, I must try my most everly hardest not to do it. For example? I have not purchased a disposable diaper since my rant about diapers (although I do confess to using some previously purchased ones while on vacation for a week in Alberta). Because it made me realize that I would be a hypocrite to do that after having publicly ranted about it. Last weekend I went away for 2 days and toted the ammonia-stenched, poopy diapers around with me, and I felt very true to my diaper rant, and also decided that it was absolutely disgusting and not for me. So I will go against myself and my own principles next time I go away, but the rant made me aware, at least.
So hopefully you can see the purpose of a rant, and I encourage you, in the form of a comment, to rant about something that has been driving you nuts. It feels good and makes you more aware of what is meaningful to you.


Aimee said...

I'm going to comment so you know I'm reading...but you already know that. The mother you describe is exactly like my neighbor that I told you about with the little boy named Ben. Now you know why he throws books. Probably not "because he is a boy."

Jen said...

A few thoughts: first, I like rants even when I don't agree with them, because they are impassioned, and in general I think it's better to get worked up and express yourself and open up opportunities for debate. I also happen to agree that guidance and structure and sensible limits are good for kids.

I also remember your rant about disposable diapers and appreciated it, although right now I'm primarily using disposables. I thought it was interesting because you said something along the lines of "why would anyone not do this" and I have one response. I don't own a clothes dryer. That doesn't make it impossible for me to use cloth diapers, and in fact I did use them quite a bit more when Lily was smaller, but there were a number of intervening factors that made things complicated. The easiest kind of diaper to line-dry is a pre-fold. We were given a whole bunch of hand-me-down pre-folds when Lily was born. We were also loaned a few diaper covers (size small). We were also given three bulkier, fitted cloth diapers (which would take days, literally, to dry). We used all of these, but not on the days I would go to work with Lily in tow. I can't describe how stressful it has been to go to work with a baby. I'm still doing it. I know I'm lucky to have an employer who has allowed it but it's really quite difficult, and the thought of trying to deal with cloth diapers at work was more than I could handle. So there was work, and not having a dryer in order to conserve energy and save money, and then we used only hand-me-down diapers and gift diapers rather than spending money on a bunch, and then Lily rapidly outgrew the diaper covers, and then we've been trying to do EC with her to hopefully get her out of diapers somewhat faster. I also have to admit that the absorbency of disposables has made me less frantic in terms of number of diaper changes and being able to sleep more at night.

I still feel guilty about using disposables, though.

Now I feel like I should do some ranting myself to prove you WRONG about being a supposed blog loser, and to join you in ranting solidarity.

My rants these days are mostly about how we live in an insane culture that does not adequately support mothers, babies, families, single people-- okay, basically everyone. Too many people are isolated and overworked and struggling. Too many people are thwarted in realizing their dreams, or even just in meeting their basic needs. I blame the perpetual growth economy, the prioritization of profit above all other values, and the corresponding breakdown in communities and extended families. And it's not just humans who are suffering, it's every species on the planet, all because of some highly toxic ideas about the "best" way to live. You know what, I think I will nip this rant in the bud, because it would probably go on way too long. But I appreciate the invitation.

rebeccaeee said...

Did you know only people with google or blogger accounts can post? I've been reading for about a month now and am frequently touched by your words and thwarted by my inability to comment. So today, to convince you that you're not a blog loser, I have created a google/blogger account so I can comment!
Rants? I'm with Jen- the sheer inability of our society to comprehend the pressure on families, in my own case the plight of the working mom. We have no infrastructure or support system in place to address the REAL challenges people face (poor or no health insurance, inadequate childcare, inflexible hours and long commutes). And while I feel this moral outrage behind the scenes, always, I am more generally pissed off by people who drive below the speed limit and don't use blinkers, yell at their kids in public (thus scaring mine) and the folks at work who make realllly bad, truck-stop like, coffee. There. Whew. I feel better.

That said, I want to tell you that your blog makes me hug my boy a little tighter, kiss him a little longer and want to spread as much love as I can out there every day. That is quite an accomplishment.

rebeccaeee said...

Oops=- forgot my real rant... I get annoyed with well-intended people (like my many sisters in law) who tell me to stop breastfeeding my son (he's 26 months), let him cry it out and start feeding him McNuggets and milkshakes. GRRRRR!

Jen said...

Rebeccaeee, you just reminded me of another bottled-up rant I've been harboring: I am getting really irritated with a few people giving me overt advice to let the baby cry it out. Specifically I'm mad at statements like "I know it's hard but you have to do it." Says who? I most certainly do not have to do it. Here I am trying to think up creative schemes to gradually ease the baby into sleep habits that we can both be happy about, and then here comes this steamroller advice, in essence saying that I don't know diddly, there's only one right way to do things and it ain't my way, and I shouldn't even contemplate trying any creative schemes. It is pissing me off.

Jen said...

Okay, just one more comment... you apologized profusely for ranting, Carol, and I just want to say, I don't think you need to apologize. This is your blog and you get to express yourself and say whatever you need to say. Sometimes you need to rant. That's okay. I promise that I, for one, do not take this as a sign that you see yourself as a perfect parent, moralizing in immaculate self-righteousness-- no, you are just being a regular person with feelings and opinions.

Hennifer said...

Funny, I don't usually feel like ranting about things like child caring, diapers, BF, CIO stuff but I think that is because I'm either already down on myself of doing too much of one or not enough of the other or I'm just plain moderate but I just had to say that on the tail of divorce, with the ex flying half way across the globe to shag, that his comment the other day about why I still breastfeed our 22 month old was enough to send me over the edge. But not at the world at large :)
This is your blog... I love reading what you write, whatever it is.

Shannon said...

Carol, I love reading your blog, I agree with Jen, you have every right to rant about whatever you want, and I totally agree with you about parents and their empty threats. I have a similar situation I remember from my college days: I had gone out to eat at a Wendy's with some friends and two little boys came running into the restaurant from the parking lot. Shortly after followed by a woman I assumed was their mother. She yelled at them both for running across the parking lot without her (it's lucky they didn't get run over). While in line the older boy kept poking the younger boy and on several occasions she slapped his hand away and threatened to leave if he didn't stop. Of course that never happened. I thought to myself, if I ever have kids (I won't be taking them to Wendy's or McDonald's or any other so called restaurant like that) I will follow through when I say something like that. Because I thought that when you’re a parent it’s not about your needs anymore. I’m sure she stayed because she was hungry and getting Wendy’s for dinner was easier than buying groceries and fixing a healthy dinner at home. I agree with Carol because how will those boys ever learn that when their mother says something she means it. Then later when these same parents complain that their kids don’t listen to them and then need to have “Super Nanny” come to help get the kids under control, or send their kids to some sort of boot camp for unruly children. So, I’m with you 100%.

Rebeccaeee, I don’t drink coffee, but in my cubicle environment, it really annoys me when people have loud conversations about non-work related things (even for work related things), and whistle, tap or hum. Or are otherwise obnoxious and disturbing of people who are trying to work.