Over the holiday break from work, I took the opportunity to do some left-over items on my honey-do list. Of course, these items always involve buying hardware or tools. It’s an unwritten rule of nature. Right, guys
As I was walking into one store, I saw two women, whom I assumed to be mother and daughter, and a 2- to 3-year-old get out of their car and head in as well. The young mother seemed to be in a foul mood, and was griping at the child. As we reached the doors, the child said something I didn’t understand. His mother stopped, bent over and proceeded to give the toddler a lecture. The gist of it was “No. There will be no talking. You will sit in the cart. You will not move. You will not talk.”
He didn’t cry. He didn’t fight. And he never made eye contact as he uttered his is soft-spoken response, “Yes, ma’am.”
I was completely nonplussed. It almost brought me to tears – probably because he reminded me very much of my own 3-year-old. Days later, I was still affected by it, wondering about that child.
The boy was in clean clothes, with no holes. He was appropriately dressed for the weather. And he was polite in his response. This mother seemed to take care of his physical needs. But he was basically being told, “Don’t remind me that you’re here.”
Now, I have to admit that I have no knowledge of what transpired prior to what I witnessed; there may have been reasonable cause for the lecture. I know that we’ve gotten out of a car mid-lecture, and continued it as we entered a store or restaurant. It happens.
But, given the demeanor of the mom and her child, it seemed to me that he was getting a lecture because his mom was having a bad day and didn’t want to deal with him being a kid. Perhaps she was already frustrated before he asked one-too-many questions in the car on the way to the store. Anyone with kids has been there.
Unfortunately, some kids get this kind of lecture all the time. And it pains me to think of this little boy who appears to want for nothing physically, but who can’t even behave like a kid without it upsetting his mom. What lesson is he learning?
Now, I’m not, in any way, suggesting that parents should just let kids do what they want. It’s our job and responsibility to guide our kids with appropriate “no” and “yes” responses. And parents who refuse to say “no” aren’t doing their kids any favors either.
But finding the middle ground is hard. It’s a constant effort to balance the noes with appropriate yeses, to guide behavior and not stifle creativity. What I witnessed on that afternoon has me questioning the messages I’m sending my kids.
And I hope they know that, not only do I want them to be taken care of physically, but also that I want them around and enjoy their company.
After all, one day I’m going to be paying college tuition and missing those little annoyances that come with having kids at home.
Derek Gwinn is the father of three living in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.