I was at dinner last night at a restaurant filled with families. We sat at a table that was very, very close another table seating a lovely couple and their not so lovely 3 ½ year old. Every word, every demand, every action dripped with sass, whine and audaciousness. She cried and complained when she had the wrong drink. And continued to cry and be belligerent until the correct beverage arrived. She whined when she wanted more pretzels and dipping sauce. “I want more PRETZELS!” Her nose was wrinkled and her brow furrowed. She yelled “NO!” at Henry when he looked at her. I turned on my best kid smile (I consider myself a bit of a child charmer) and challenged myself to find a smile and a lightened, brightened mood. No dice. I didn’t blame this little 3 ½ year old for her behavior. I blamed her parents.
How did they handle the situation? Well, I can tell you what they didn’t do. Her parents never once requested that she say please. Never did they ask her to rephrase her rude requests—they just gave her what she asked for. They rewarded and reinforced every rude sound, glance and grunt by fulfilling her requests. One after the other.
So, there I sat in my uncharmed seat, recoiling at the lovely parents’ choices and perceived lack of parenting savvy. I was judging them. I would like say that I don’t judge others but then I would be lying to you and me. I’m guessing that you’ve found yourself in a similar situation and judged another’s parenting choices, too. If you haven’t, please contact me immediately and let me in on your altruistic secret.
So, back to me and my judging. I thought about how differently I handle my children and was very grateful that my husband and I are relentless about expecting manners and respect from our children. We treat them with respect and we expect the same in return from them. I don’t deliver on whiny, rude requests. These requests are ignored until my children deliver them in a nice, polite manner. Yeah me! Yeah us!
The next morning I woke up recalling the previous evening’s events. I was struck by the ease with which I was able to judge other parents’ actions because I had the gift of distance and perspective. I wondered how I would judge and edit my own parenting if I was able to offer this same gift to myself. I wished for a hidden video camera to record our daily interactions that I could later watch and edit. Hoped for a visit from the Super Nanny so I could brush up on my child-rearing acumen.
As I don’t see either of these options materializing, I’m going to do my best to remember the following:
1. I am not perfect.
2. I, therefore, should not expect perfection from my children (or other parents).
3. One of the best gauges of the parent is the child itself.
4. I will continue to do my best. When I do not, and, as Dr. Seuss says, sometimes I will not, I hope that I will see my mistake, accept responsibility for it, correct it and LEARN FROM IT.
5. Through this, I will show my children that I am fallible. This is crucial. I will show them how I handle my fallibility. This is essential. Hopefully they’ll sponge this up like a dry piece of toast with an egg over easy.
It is with this constant strife and desire to learn and grow that we become better parents. And since we cannot always see the errors in our work, the next time I mess up, I hope another parent is present so they can mentally edit my mistakes and carry away an affirmation of their own.