I really try not to be a judgey parent, because I know how judged we already feel.
But sometimes it’s hard not to be.
For example, we were attending a pool party when another mom warned me about my daughter’s soon-to-be kindergarten teacher:
“Miss Virtue is old and rigid and just doesn’t understand my son Dougie’s needs. He’s a very high-energy boy.”
This wasn’t the first time I’d been warned about Miss Virtue, so I was beginning to worry. That is, until I later saw little Dougie in action…
The host was barbecuing burgers when the hostess opened up the pool. Every nearby kid stripped down to their bathing suits, their parents affixed floatation devices onto them, and suddenly, Elsa’s and Batmen were everywhere.
And that’s when little Dougie started fighting with with his mom. “You HAVE to wear your floaties,” she kept insisting.
All the other kids were jumping into the pool, squealing, as little Dougie chucked his floaties to the floor then stepped onto the pool ladder, rolling his eyes.
Oh no… he did NOT just do that.
Hearing those floaties thunk to the floor, I prepared to watch his parents open a can of whoop-ass. What was it going to be… a time-out? An embarrassing lecture in front of all the other kids?
“Well, okay. But… just stay in the shallow end. Don’t go in the deep end, Dougie.”
Dougie immediately started thrashing toward the deep end, of course, looking back every few seconds to make sure they saw him doing it.
Hoo boy… he’s had it now.
(His parents were probably just fumbling around for the can opener before yanking him straight out of that pool and teaching him what being The Only Kid Not Swimming feels like.)
Except, no. They let it slide and later did nothing when Dougie kept badgering the hostess to let him into the pool after she’d closed it. She must’ve said “No Dougie, we’re not swimming anymore” twenty times, in an increasingly chilly tone, as his parents argued about whether someone should go watch him.
Look, maybe Dougie was having an unusually bad day, or maybe his parents just didn’t want to make a scene at someone else’s party. But I couldn’t help noticing the utter lack of consequences for Dougie’s actions, even when they became a safety hazard as well as an annoyance to everyone around him.
Plus, it had been the second time that month I’d watched someone let their kid get away with murder. The first was at a zombie-themed birthday party for a boy who likes to express himself…
A lot. Loudly.
His folks had gone to great lengths for three weeks to plan the party, making painted-eyeball doughnut holes, watermelons delicately carved to resemble brains, and grab-bags of zombie-fighting kits.
We hadn’t seen them for the past year and were hoping they’d been having an easier time with their son, who hadn’t been responding well to their lenient, validation-focused parenting style.
Well, our hopes were in vain, because when asked where the boy was starting kindergarten, the dad explained that the boy would be held back another year “because he needs more time to develop his social skills.”
And then, his explanation was actually punctuated by his son picking up a metal truck and smacking the little girl next to him square in the face with it.
After she ran away sobbing, dad told the boy that maybe he’d had enough time playing trucks for right now and I stood there praying that the boy wouldn’t attack one of my daughters like that because I didn’t want to have to choke some kid out in front of his dad.
(Alright, simmer down. I was probably totally kidding about choking out a kid.)
At any rate, I then suddenly realized there were half as many kids in attendance as there had been at his last birthday party. It wasn’t hard to see why. As the party continued, the boy screamed at everyone, didn’t thank anyone for their present, and tossed his grandmother’s gift aside with disgust as the woman looked genuinely hurt.
He went on to spit in his mother’s face and punch her repeatedly whenever slightly frustrated, which somehow upset her enough to complain about his behavior to other guests, after all of her hard work, yet never to him.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this was hurting him.
What do I mean by that? Well, his parents are good people who obviously love their kid. They genuinely believe that giving him complete freedom will help him develop into a creative, self-actualized adult. They make sacrifices each and every day by showing saintlike patience in the face of his ingratitude.
Except… the kid is lonely.
Because nobody likes him.
And that’s the part self-esteem-centered parenting theories often seem to forget: if you allow your kid to ignore every rule, disrespect others, and expect to be catered to without so much as a “thank you,” people won’t like having them around.
Yes, we have to give them reasonable leeway. You can’t always stop babies from screaming and toddlers WILL throw public tantrums on occasion, no matter what we do. They’re still incredibly irrational and have limited communication skills right then.
But by the time they’re entering school, it’s not unreasonable to teach them basic manners. Like greeting people, respecting property, and following house rules when they are guests in someone’s home. It gets them invited back.
Which is also why I’m a really mean mommy:
I expect my girls to say “thank you” when they receive a gift, and remind them when they forget.
If they start bullying another kid, I yank them away from their activity and explain why it’s unacceptable until they either understand or have to stop playing.
I even make them wait to be excused from dinner, because right now it’s the only thing that keeps them from tearing around restaurants like screaming banshees whenever we go out to eat.
All of which, by some parenting standards, is downright fascist. My girls should be broken puddles of damaged self-esteem and unmet expectations by now.
Except they’re not. They’re happy kids with lots of friends.
They’re obviously not perfect and have their bad days too. We parents all struggle with knowing when we’re being too strict and when we’re letting our kids walk all over us, always stressing about which rules are reasonable and which consequences are fair. Most of all, we worry about hurting our kids.
But having consequences, in itself, won’t damage your children. Not as long as you also acknowledge when they’re being good, give them plenty of love and attention, and make sure your expectations are consistent.
And with that, I’m off my soap-box for the day. I won’t be judging Miss Virtue, not just yet.