I suspect that civilization, as a whole, took a nosedive the very moment people started trying to reason with children.
Children are, by nature, unreasonable. Children are basically egos with lungs and legs.
Nonetheless, modern parents seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to coax, cajole and downright beg their progeny to “please, for the love of all that is good and sane, behave!” Sometimes they even go so far as to promise treats and toys.
I try to imagine my mother allowing herself to stoop to this level — to no avail. The only “treat” I ever enjoyed post-tantrum was being allowed to live.
Do mothers not hiss anymore? In my day having your mother hiss at you was a tried and true way of life. A good hiss imparted ample wisdom in a quick exhale between clenched teeth.
A hiss might say “you better behave yourself or else,” or “if you embarrass me, so help me God you will be sorry.”
A covert hiss under a sunny parental smile was more than an exhale. It was a private expression of expectation between parent and child. Everyone knew the rules.
Another great tool in the arsenal of nearly every parent used to be the glare. It might be the narrowed eyes of a father saying, wordlessly, “watch it boy.”
It might be the keen eye of a mother assessing the length of a skirt and finding it — and her daughter’s belief that she’d leave the house wearing it over her mother’s dead body – lacking.
For those parents more in line with a physical way of parenting, there was the grip. A firm grip on the shoulder or back of the neck let you know your parent had both you and your behavior firmly in hand.
Many a mother would smile brightly at her sassy child, leading anyone in the vicinity to believe she found his or her antics to be just as cute as Christmas.
Meanwhile, a death grip on the child’s shoulder let them know her smile was not only disingenuous, but concealed a dagger-like intent to address this transgression the very moment she had that child alone.
Nowadays, all the good sleight of hand parenting seems to have fallen by the wayside, replaced with pleading and public placation. Nothing makes me sadder than to be out in public and witness to some poor, unfortunate soul laid bare by her inability to outwit a child.
“No, no honey, please don’t cry,” Mommy will say. The child continues wailing. “Mommy really doesn’t want you to have candy right now. We need to go home and eat yummy vegetables. Don’t you want to eat yummy vegetables and grow up big and strong like Superman (or Batman or one of the cast members of Lost or whoever the hero of the moment might be)?”
The child continues to flail around and make an absolute spectacle out of them both. All too often the parent in this scenario, sensing they are making a scene, will quickly capitulate to their captor’s demands in order to quiet the child.
I’m always loath to make lofty parenting assessments because my children are still young. I don’t think you can really break an arm patting yourself on the back until your children are well into middle age — if then.
I’m sure Bernie Madoff’s mom would have been quite proud of how her boy turned out up until recently too.
I’m a realist and know plenty of perfectly nice families have gone on to see their offspring featured prominently on America’s Most Wanted so I try not to get overly confident.
That said, I do feel qualified to state that when any child of mine ever acted that way in public (and they did) you never — ever — heard me pleading. Punishing? Probably. Pleading? Perish the thought.
My son was once removed from a Friendly’s restaurant because his behavior was anything but friendly. He was given fair warning that screeching loudly would lead to no good end.
Nonetheless, despite my hiss and a glare, he smiled broadly — boldly — and did it again. Bystanders thus witnessed the flashing blur of one small boy being removed from the restaurant by his overall straps.
We caused a scene, indeed, but it was a useful scene. I think a few people in the back might have applauded.
Although we are still very much a work-in-progress, I am happy to say this incident happened over a decade ago and his table manners have been nearly impeccable both at home and away since.
When it comes to parenting, I’m all for fun, understanding and reason. Sometimes, however, you just need to get a really good grip on a situation.