If you missed Part 5 of our Unschooling Journey you won’t know that this is the second in a series of posts I’m writing to address the epidemic of entitlement among today’s – wait for it - parents.
If you thought I was going to say “kids” then this may be your first time reading me. If you found yourself rolling your eyes at the thought of another “kids these days” diatribe, you’ll probably like what I have to say.
If you found yourself salivating at the thought of such a diatribe, you might not like what I’m about to say, but you need to hear it. Take it from someone who would have agreed with you not so long ago.
Probably the most widely spread sense of entitlement among parents is the very fact that we expect children to be “well-behaved.” And understand here, I’m not talking about some perfectly reasonable and age-appropriate expectations, like your 8-year-old not shitting on the floor and painting with it, or cussing you out in the grocery line (or anywhere else for that matter).
I’m talking about expecting your three-year-old to sit quietly at the table in a restaurant that does not feature a playzone for the hour or more it takes to order a nice meal and eat it at a comfortable pace. I’m talking about expecting your 8-year-old to smilingly accept that you won’t let her wear the clothes she wants, no matter how good your reason is. I’m talking about expecting your 15-year-old not to roll his eyes when you tell him to wear a coat even though he feels like he doesn’t need one.
In short, too much of the expectation of well-behaved children is focused on suppression of perfectly reasonable reactions.
For very young children, temper tantrums and violent outbursts, and for older kids such things as eye-rolling, stomping, or even yelling are not unreasonable; they don’t occur in a vacuum. They are a response to frustrated desires, but for some reason they are treated as an affront to the very sanctity of the parent-child relationship. Such things as “talking back” (we call it having a debate), and “giving dirty looks” (we call it facial expression) are looked upon as harbingers of the end of civilization.
But, why? Because children are younger and we are older? If that is the case, are we to believe that inexperienced youths should somehow be magically more emotionally stable than their parents? Or are we to believe that children are second-class citizens with no right to express negative emotions until they become adults and move out of our houses, whereupon the reward for self-sufficiency is the right to be a dick sometimes? Or, should we admit that this need to control a child’s emotional expression is all about us: Our peace, our reputation in the playgroup, and our refusal to invest the time and emotion required to see things from our child’s perspective?
I think about how I respond when my own ends are thwarted. The number of times in a week (sometimes in a day) that I call @nayzer to “vent” my frustration is frankly embarrassing so I won’t give you any solid numbers. Let’s just say more than a little and fewer than enough to make her block my calls. So far.
When a toddler is fascinated by the street or what’s on the other side of it, and you thwart their progress toward the shiny bauble that is the broken beer bottle in the gutter, they can’t IM their bestie and be like, “OMFG you will not BELIEVE the day I had! I was totes about to pick up this awesome new piece for my collection when that bizzatch of a milk-cow actually PICKED ME UP and stuck me in a freaking CAGE!” They don’t have the language skills, typing skills, or (please-god) even a cell phone to IM on. They don’t have experience processing their emotions in calm, quiet, thoughtful reflection over a glass of wine and three bags of chocolates. They don’t have the context of years of life to mediate the gravity of this one perceived injustice and let’s be honest: Even adults with such a context can be huge crybabies.
For example, I currently live in a pretty run-down restoration. Like, there are rooms that still rely on extension cords for electricity. 12 years ago I was in a two-bedroom trailer with two kids under 5 and a four-foot wide hole in the kitchen floor, no working cooking appliance, and wasps coming up around the plywood covering the hole. I’ve lived rough, okay? But three years ago I was living at my employer’s expense in a half a million dollar architectural gem built into the side of a mountain in Boise, facing west where we could sit on the expansive deck and watch the sun set over the pool, or just watch it from the fully glass living room wall with electric shades and blinds. And just let me tell you how pissed I was when those blinds broke down and we couldn’t raise them for several weeks while waiting on the repairman.
And I’m sure everyone reading this can think of times when they’ve been so angry or frustrated over something that – in the grand scheme of things – is not that big of a deal. It could even be said that being upset about your toddler’s temper tantrum is ridiculous when people are dying of starvation, right? But we as adults give one another the benefit of compassion and understanding. @nayzer will say to me, “No! I get why it would upset you so bad,” every single time I call to babble about some shit that is really minor in comparison to say, the plight of the Syrian people, or even compared to the struggles I’ve faced in my own life.
Can’t we give that same dispensation to our kids? If you or I are not expected by our friends and family to just STFU about our minor inconveniences when out there somewhere woman is wondering how she’ll feed her kids today, then why the hell do we expect a 3 year old to STFU about his minor inconvenience in comparison to how ‘bad’ we have it? Or our 17-year-old to not grumble about having to take the trash out, since it’s such bullshit when he doesn’t have to work all day like we do?
I’ve spent the past 6 years trying every day to be better and better at seeing my kids’ emotions as every bit as valid as my own regardless of the context. I won’t lie, sometimes it’s really hard when I’ve worked 8 hours on 3 hours’ sleep and dinner still needs cooking and it’s 91* outside with no air conditioning and I still need to go to the grocery store in a truck that feels like it’s going to literally shake itself to pieces at the stoplight, and my 10-year-old is having a meltdown, yelling about the guy on Roblox who just “stole her kill” and got some hat or gem or god-knows-what, but I know it’s going to be a good thirty minutes of listening to this rant when all I can think is, “You think your day was bad.”
But I stop that thought in its tracks and I take that thirty minutes. I give that time and commiseration to my daughter because it’s the very least I would expect from anyone I would call my friend. If I were ever to call @nayzer and hear, “Gawd. You think you’ve got it bad!” I would be hurt, humiliated, angry, and sad.
As parents our goal should be never to contribute to our children feeling any of those things, no matter how trivial their emotions and the frustrations that lead to them may seem to us. We brought our children into the world without their petition or permission. We are not entitled to well-behaved children regardless of the cost to their hearts; they are entitled to parents who understand their emotional immaturity and rather than forbidding its expression, partner with them to find ways to more peacefully express it, while modeling that peaceful expression themselves.
Thank you for again making it to the end. If you've got a story to share, I invite you to comment. Would you like to read more of our journey from fear to fun? I would be thrilled if you would follow. Do you think others might find help or hope in our story? I would be honored if you would resteem!