I am so incredibly fed up with seeing people who have chosen to be parents, and who have a perfectly comfortable life and perfectly normal children, whining on and on about how haaaaaard parenting is.
Frankly, suck it up, cupcake. This is not a magazine shoot. It’s not Top Billing. It’s real life. And in real life, raising your snot-nosed horde into responsible citizens is a job. It’s work. And more importantly, it’s work you chose. So stop moaning so much, for goodness’ sake. Put on your big person underwear and get on with it.
Parenting never used to be a Thing. The word didn’t even exist. You had children, and you raised them as well as you could. You got advice about what to feed them and how to keep them healthy, and there was — admittedly — bad advice about corporal punishment as a form of discipline, but then you just got on with it.
There weren’t slews of blogs and books and columns and magazines and baby shows and baby shops. People didn’t agonise about every tiny little developmental hiccup. Kids just grew up, developed at their own damn pace, and most of them turned out more or less okay.
But you know what did exist? Children who knew how to behave. Children who knew how to say “please” and “thank you” and who looked people in the eye and greeted them, and who could sit through a boring speech or sermon or concert without needing a pantechnicon of toys and games and apps to entertain them.
I’ve seen 10-year-olds throw tantrums because they didn’t want to go home from a party and the mother comforted them and asked in a teeny-tiny sympathetic voice if they were tired. I’ve seen children running riot in restaurants, and not even in the play area — all over the chairs, tables and other patrons. And don’t even get me started on the play areas. Your children can’t sit still for the length of time it takes to eat a meal? Seriously? How are they ever going to make it through a full school day?
I’ve seen parents feeding their toddlers dinner by following them around the garden with a plate, coaxing and cajoling and pleading with them to eat. And I’ve seen parents wailing on social media that their child doesn’t like them anymore and they used to be such good friends.
You are not supposed to be your child’s friend. You are supposed to be the adult who teaches them how to negotiate the world. You are supposed to teach them good manners — just basic common courtesy — so that they can function in society one day. You are supposed to teach them empathy and tolerance and patience and kindness. You are supposed to give them boundaries. You are supposed to teach them that life can be wonderful and fun and amazing, and it can also be disappointing and difficult and downright shitty sometimes. And how will they learn that, how will they learn that “no” means “no” if you never teach them?
Children are not that difficult to control. You set the boundaries, and you stick to them. And if they cross the boundaries, there are consequences for their behaviour. You certainly don’t hit them, but you find a punishment that fits the crime and the child. And I don’t buy the naughty step, frankly — it’s too bloody namby-pamby. And yes, positive reinforcement can work, but it only works up to a point. Sometimes children have to feel in order to learn. (And I am not advocating physical harm to them in any form.)
And yes, it’s difficult. You will want to give in. You will be driven mad by the whining, tantrums, door-slamming, begging and sulking. But if you want them to learn that you mean what you say, you have to do what you threatened to do. Just do it! And this won’t just teach your kids to behave — it will also teach them to trust you, and it will give them security because they’ll know what’s okay, and what’s not.
And the good news? You don’t have to do it forever — not at that intensity, anyway. You lay those ground rules early, and then everybody knows where they stand. There will be bumps in the road, sure, but the “parenting” part of your job will actually get easier if you just dig your heels in early. My mother, a teacher, used to advise newly-minted teachers at the beginning of the school year not to smile until Easter. You can apply a similar principle to parenting. Stop mollycoddling that kid and start teaching them a little about life in the microcosm that is your home.
It’s not too late. You can start now, and it will be a bit of a shock to everyone, but you’ll get there. And then society will be eternally in your debt, both at the local Spur, and when we have a society of decent human beings in homes and workplaces across the country when they’re all grown up.
Image – South Korean takes a selfie near a giant yellow rubber duck in Seokchon Lake on October 15, 2014, in Seoul. (Getty)