Parenting... you're doing it wrong
“Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special,” [Madeline Levine] observes. “Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.” (page 2, emphasis added)
I saw a little blurb at Slate on Monday, and then Wednesday- another one at Jezebel. So I got off my ass and went over to the New Yorker to read this article, “Spoiled Rotten, Why do children rule the roost?”
I've said before that I'm not the best parent. I don't helicopter, I don't over-play or schedule; I don't ask, actually. I tell.
I don't look at my children as friends of mine. In fact, not one of them would be someone I would choose to be friends with. They're too young, to immature, and their world-views, while larger than their peers, is still very small. They're kids; even my 15 year old is a kid. I am not friends with kids. I did not procreate so that I would have a friend, or a shopping buddy, or so that I could live out my dreams through my kids.
I also know I've been very much an anti-American parent. I don't hover, I don't supervise. Most of the time, I let them do their own thing, and I ignore them and do mine. Yes, even my eight year old gets ignored if I'm in the middle of something. He can, and will, wait for my attention. Interrupting is rude, and they will have manners, god-dammit!
When they were little, I wasn't afraid to take a shower while they laid in their bouncy chairs, even if they were awake. I wasn't afraid to eat food-- even if I knew they'd be hungry soon. I made my meal and fed them while I ate-- or after I ate. I still read, all the time-- even if the baby didn't like the book near his/her face while I fed them. I didn't care. I was, and am, the parent here, and my children, while offspring, are not my life.
I also wasn't afraid to sleep through the night when they were little. I didn't wake up to check in them. I was comfortable going outside to smoke while they were inside-- awake-- and playing on the floor. I did my own thing, even when the children were babies and toddlers.
My life has never revolved around them. Hence my admitting that I'm a terrible parent. At least a terrible American parent. As European parents go, I guess I'm middling, because my children can't cook very well, yet. But they can use the microwave.
In fact, I've done everything I could to be the opposite of a “normal” parent these days. I don't want to be the reason my children suck at life-- and believe me, there are a lot of people in their 20's who will forever suck at life because of their parents.
“Today’s parents are not just “helicopter parents,” a former school principal complains to Marano. “They are a jet-powered turbo attack model.” Other educators gripe about “snowplow parents,” who try to clear every obstacle from their children’s paths. The products of all this hovering, meanwhile, worry that they may not be able to manage college in the absence of household help. According to research conducted by sociologists at Boston College, today’s incoming freshmen are less likely to be concerned about the rigors of higher education than “about how they will handle the logistics of everyday life.” (Page 3, emphasis added)
Huh, so these kids who had parents who did everything for them worry they can't manage college without their Mum to wash their dirty socks. At least, that's what that sentence says to me.
My children do their own washing. They will be able to handle college, and their own dirty socks.
The article also talks about a study of homes in Los Angeles in 2004. The parents asked their kids to do chores, and even asked them to take showers (it's on page 1 of the article).
That bit gave me pause.
I can't imagine asking my children to take a shower. I might ask them if they have taken one, but “please go take your shower”? No fucking way!
I tell them, “Get in the shower!” Then fifteen minutes later, I tell the next one, “Tell your sibling it's time to get out, so you can get in”. There is no “please do this.” There is only “Go. Now. Do This.”
Why would you ask your kids to do their chores? I tell them, “Do your chores. Now.” I do not ask. They live here, in the house with me. They will contribute. They ask me, “Hey, Mum, can I throw my clothes in the wash?” I say yes, of course, unless I'm using the washer, then they wait their turn.
I also never argue with me kids. I'm nasty about it actually. Just now my daughter is trying to whine and throw a fit because I told her to put on clean clothes. I didn't ask. I demanded she put on clean clothes. “But but but,” she says in her whiny tween voice, with an added quiver to herald the tears she can turn on and off instantly.
“Do not argue with me. Be quiet and listen,” I said, speaking over her. I know that she's not listening, but dammit, I'm not going to let her whine and whinge on like that. It irritates the ever-loving shit out of me.
Yet another reason why I'm not a good parent. I don't let my precious little snowflakes argue. And I don't consider them precious little snowflakes*. I'm the adult, I do know something more than they, and they will shut up. Do I ask them their opinions? Sure, some times. Other times I tell them. But when I ask, rarely does their opinion have any bearing on my final decision.
I've said before that this house isn't a democracy. It's a totalitarian dictatorship. There is no consensus, only what I decide.
As they get older, they have more freedom to make their own choices. Rarely do I have to get after my oldest at all any more. When I do, he's being a dick to his brother, and I tell him, “I do not need back up singers. You are not his mother. Be quiet and go to your room. Take your attitude away from me and everyone else. When you're ready to be polite and kind, you can come out.”
He really hates the back up singer line.
If I ask, it's “Please do your chores. Now.” This is more habit of asking please, but enforces that they don't have the ability to refuse to do their chores now.
They do have bodily autonomy; I never made them hug anyone, or kiss any relatives or anything like that. I hated it when I was little, and there are a lot of cheek-pinchers on my mother's side. I never wanted them to feel that they had to let an adult man-handle them; this caused me a lot of grief from my relatives, but I just shrugged and told them “I'm not comfortable forcing them to be physically intimate with anyone”. That shut up the assholes, pretty quickly.
They have their own space, too. I don't spend time in their rooms, and rarely go in them unless I have to. I will walk in and turn off their ceiling fans, if I hear them on. If my daughter gets dramatic and slams her door, I walk back there and open it with a “Do not slam my door. You know better.” If she's crying-- which she does all the fucking time-- I tell her “Dry up. You're not hurt. I told you something you didn't want to hear. That's not cause for tears.”
[She is a typical teen-aged girl, even though she's still 12. Dramatic, loud, annoying, weepy, and generally a pain in the ass. Every time she's told No she turns on the water works. Tell her do her chores, more tears. I'm immune to tears by this point, and it takes everything I have no to laugh in her face every time she does that. I'm looking forward to puberty kicking her ass so she stops this rubbish.]
They can talk to me about anything... and believe me, they do. I get asked all sorts of strange things, and as I've said before, I talk to them. I'd rather they heard from me, than some kid they go to school without who knows just enough to fuck shit up. Some things are wide open; some things get a basic answer and the “I'll explain more when you're a little older, and you can understand better.”
What they don't have, though, is a world without rules.
I was talking to my sister this past weekend. She told me she and her boyfriend broke up, and one of the reasons was her children visiting over the summer. She has custody of two of her children, the other two live with their father in Georgia so she sees them on school breaks.
My oldest nephew, S, has to repeat a grade next year, because he decided he didn't want to do the work. I was actually pretty shocked that she didn't try to get him out of it. He's never really had consequences in his life-- and he's 14. I'm not exaggerating when I say I'm waiting for the phone call to tell me his girlfriend is pregnant.
Anyway, her boyfriend told her something like, “We have to have some kind of bedtime for the kids while they're here. So at the least, we can watch a movie or something, together.”
Sounds reasonable to me, right? I mean, my kids have bed times. They don't like them, but they have them, even in the summer.
Not her kid, no way. “I'm not telling S he's got to go to bed at 8! He's 14!”
“Well, not eight, no,” I told her. “My oldest has a bed time, and he goes to bed about 10 every night, no questions asked. S needs a bed time, too; he's still growing.”
That set her off. No one was going to tell her that her kids needed a bed time. Especially not some guy who wanted to spend time with her. Oh no! Can't have that! It was the stupidest reason ever, in the history of reasons, to break up with your boyfriend-- the boyfriend you were living with. I didn't understand that bit, but I'm sure there was more to it.
What I did understand was that she still doesn't have rules for her kids. Let me repeat that and bold it: Her children don't have rules when they're with her. The two youngest are almost 7 and almost 4. They rule her house. They're adorable kids, don't get me wrong. But I do not answer to small children, no matter how demanding they are. She answers to her kids. The only reason they act like humans instead of animals (and this goes for the older two, too) is that they spend/spent a lot of time with my mother, and she will beat them with a belt if they don't be doll-like children when she tells them to be. They just know that their grandmother is mean, but their mother, she's a pushover.
She is also very much a helicopter parent. She's got that snowplough all ready to shove everything out of the way for her precious children, so they never fall down or fail, or have to be frustrated.
I don't like spending time with her children. I don't like spending time with my children's peers who are being raised the same way; I am irritated by children at the best of times, but special snowflakes make me want to vomit.
She doesn't like spending time with mine, either. That whole “May I be excused, I'm not hungry” thing bothers her; or the “Take out the rubbish!” followed by a “Sure thing Mum” as opposed to “please, I beg of thee, take the rubbish to the bin?”
I want my children to be frustrated. I want them to have room to grow as people, and learn to be silent sometimes. I want them to know that they're not the "most specialist of all children in the whole wide world". They're unique in their DNA combinations, and their personalities. They are special like everyone else, but they're also the same as everyone else. If they want to be truly special, they have to work at it, and they know that.
Learning how to fail is important. We have to know how to get back up. We have to know what it's like to be frustrated, to have to do things we don't want to do, because that's our job. That's my job as their mother to teach them.
I don't have to be their friend. I have no desire for that. I have to be their mother.
If you are a parents, you have to lay down rules and laws, and tell your kids, who you love, No.
But you do it. If you don't... well, you've seen those shallow, vapid blondes in the club with permanent duck-face, of the asshole PUA's in their popped collars? Yeah, they were never told no.
Don't turn your kids into duck-faced girls, or PUA's... Tell them No. And fucking mean it!
*The thing about snowflakes, is that they melt as soon as the temp gets a little warm. Treating your children like snowflakes ensures that they, too, will be unable to handle life when it gets even a little out of their comfort zones. Besides, there are enough useless, pretty people out there, I don't need to add more by coddling my kids into useless fuckface-ness. So no, they're not snowflakes.