Sunday, February 28, 2010

Other People's Kids

So, I have been invited to join Perpetua as she and other bloggers take on some of the more controversial issues of parenting in Controversundays. I have always been more apt to shy away from conflict rather than stepping up to the plate, even when I feel strongly about something. This is because I am a very delicate flower. But, becoming a mother has emboldened me, forced me to come to terms with my flaws, and try to become a better person. You could argue that I shouldn't have needed to give birth to a child before trying to become a better person, but DON'T! Lest I wilt. Remember? Delicate flower. Get it? Okay, moving on.

This week's topic is on other people's children. She left it pretty open, so I'm going to focus on discipline. What is our role? Do we discipline them? If so, where is the line? I love this topic because, as someone who has extensive experience caring for other people's children, it has come up A LOT.

I got a job at a private school as a teacher's aide when I was eighteen. I had always dreamed of working with kids, especially little kids, so I was really excited. I had visions of running reading groups, passing out snack (because in elementary school, you eat "snack". Not "snacks" or even "a snack". Just "snack"). These dreams would eventually come true. But, part of my job description also included yard duty. And, as soon as they handed me that walkie-talkie and whistle? I was TOTALLY drunk with power. Oh, how I loved bossing those kids around! I became a total hard-ass, and it was not uncommon to find at least half a dozen timed-out kids pouting and scowling in my general direction when you visited the playground under my jurisdiction. Don't, however, assume that I was some kind of nursery school nazi. The kids loved me. I played with them, made silly jokes, fixed their ponytails, and held their little hands on the way to the nurse's office for Band-Aids. But, when they misbehaved, I was a force to be reckoned with.

I've always been a bit of a stickler for rules. I rarely break them myself, (a personality trait which has earned me much scorn and derision from my friends)so it is not surprising that I have always had pretty strong opinions about how kids should be disciplined. And worse, I was also sure that if I were in charge, those kids screaming in the toy store or throwing food at the restaurant would be in check so fast, it would make their bratty heads spin. And, even though I'm not there yet, having Charlotte has definitely made me more sympathetic. She may not be old enough to talk back or defy me, but I know it's coming. There were so many opinions I had about parenting that I recanted upon becoming a parent myself, and I think that has made me more cautious about judging. Of course, there are exceptions: there are many things I see that are just WRONG, and although I have never been the variety of person who actually approaches people, it is difficult to refrain when I see parents with an utter disregard for the safety and health of their children (and others).

Having said all that, I do think there is something to be said for what I will call "community parenting". Did I make that up? Or is that a thing? What I mean by this is that if I send Charlotte to play at a friend's house, I want her to fear that child's mother as much as she fears me. Did I say "fear"? LOVE! I meant "love"! I want her to respect other adults and to know that there are consequences for her behavior WHEREVER she goes. So, that means Grandma can and should put her in a time out. Her aunts and babysitters should feel free to take a toy away from her if she isn't sharing it, and so on. Sure, there is a limit to what I expect others to enforce. After all, it is mine and Chris's job to discipline her, primarily. But, I am also a big believer that anyone who is a part of her life will influence her, and I want it to be for the good. It won't always be easy to see others be stern with her; I have already been known to bristle at the suggestion that Charlotte "needs to learn" this or that. I know as much as I want to guide her with a firm hand, I also LOVE to indulge her. And so will everyone else. Just as long as she doesn't become a tyrant the second she leaves our house, I'll be happy.

I think maybe we all get carried away with the not judging, not butting in thing, and are too scared to speak up when other people's kids are terrorizing our homes, our kids, our pets, our sanity. When I was child-free, I adored parents who were conscious of what their kids touched, said, or asked for, and gently reminded them to behave, and it was even more refreshing when they didn't mind me chiming in with an admonition for their kids if something escaped their radar. Watching my nieces has always been a pleasure because they are delightful girls (most of the time), but also because my brother and sister-in-law encourage the adults in their children's lives to aid in the discipline. And so when my middle niece was in her terrible two's and heaving herself onto the floor amidst shrieking and violent kicking because I would not let her "make dishes" (a term she used to describe her version of washing all the plastic dishes in the sink) for another five minutes, I had recourse to put her in her room until she calmed down, rather than feeling pressured to indulge her when she looked seriously into my eyes and said through sobs, "I. WANT. TO. MAKE. DISHES!". And, I truly believe these girls are as polite and respectful as they are because of this shrewd move on their parents' part.

So, that's my take on it. Don't go grabbing candy bars out of a stranger's hand just as they are about to appease their bratty child with it. Don't yell at a mom who is choosing to ignore her child's screaming so as not to give in to his whim (Yes, it is a public place. But if she buys him that toy, he'll be encouraged to do even worse next time, so suck it up and be glad she is at least TRYING not to raise a future delinquent). But, if your friend's kids are walking on your couch, tell them to get off! And if their mom doesn't like it, too bad. It's your house. Your rules.

What do you guys think?


  1. I discipline my friends' kids all the time when they come over, and she appreciates it. I suppose it's a little different at the grocery store or playground. We already do time-outs with Kellen, and he is learning that there are firm boundaries in our house. I'm all for that. It's a good things we didn't get into spanking though cuz I'm not all for that.

  2. The few times I've said something to a parent about their child's behavior didn't go too well. Usually the first thing I hear is "well, you don't have kids so you don't know what it's like." Fair enough, I guess.

    I thought that maybe they believe that if you criticize their kid's behavior, you MUST be criticizing their parenting skills. That over-sensitivity could be the reason why some people choose to remain silent when they know they should speak up.

  3. It takes a village to raise a child! I am a firm believer in that. I am all for discipline, the hard thing is, you can't always judge because each child is different. I have disciplined in many different ways all depending what they are in trouble for along with how old they are. I have done the time outs, I have done the spanking, I have taken things away, I have grounded them, I have even put soap in their mouths. I try to always be consistent and also not give in. I believe discipline is just as important as loving them. They need a lot of both! Each house hold/families are different. I try to be everything for my kids, but I have friends that tell their kids " I'm not here to be your friend, I'm your mom" That may work for them but doesn't for me, but it is our job as parents to teach our kids right from wrong, consequences, to be polite, stand up for them selves, etc.

  4. I totally for got to mention others peoples kids! Kids need to know the rules in your house just like school. If you need to put them in a timeout so be it. If the parent doesn't like it, stop watching their kid. If it is a play date and the kid doesn't listen, call the parent to pick them up. I believe people should be honest but also polite, after all you are the example to children, and gosh knows they pick up and listen to everything! As for family and very close friends, they should discipline your child, but they should already know what you accept or don't accept for behavior, as the same for you knowing their rules in their house. You might let your child eat cheerios in front of the t.v but that might not fly at grandma's.

  5. Bravo! I agree wholeheartedly. (And wasn't it Hillary Clinton who said it "Takes a Village?" I kid, I kid... I know she totally stole that.)

    My aunts and uncles have also encouraged me to mind their children. (I don't want to say "discipline" because that's not really what it is... They've encouraged me to be a RESPONSIBLE adult in those kid's lives and that includes knowing the rules and enforcing them!) I can't say how refreshing that is and how good it feels knowing that as an adult you'll be backed up by those kid's parents when you put them on time out for pulling all the roses off the bushes. I do think it has made for better, more well-behaved children.

    One of my colleagues takes that principle to another level though-- one I wouldn't take it to myself. Her daughter treats all adults with extreme deference. (I adore her daughter-- one of the cutest, most well-behaved kids I've ever met.)

    But... She calls me "Miss Hypatia" (no, I'm not a teacher (anymore)). She calls all adults Mr. or Mrs. or Miss. She's under orders to follow rules from adults.

    Now, I haven't seen this become an issue, but I could foresee it leading to dangerous situations. Children need to respect authority, but at the same time they need to be taught that sometimes authority is abusive and they need to go to another adult. I don't know how you teach kids where that line is though...!

  6. @ Brooke- You know, it's funny. Chris and I were just talking about spanking. I've always been of the mind that I would probably do it, not like the kind where it's an event, but just a swat on the butt. I never really thought it was a big deal. And, I still don't, if you choose to do it. But, I just can't imagine ever doing it to Charlotte. Maybe it's because she's so little and cute, and maybe I'll change my mind later. But, I really don't see the merit in it anymore, so I don't think I will.

    @ Steve- Well said! I agree about the hyper-sensitivity. It really scares me how much our society will let slide just for the sake of not offending someone.

    @Shara- Thanks for your input. :) I think I will want to be Charlotte's friend, too. I was always friends with my mom, but I ALWAYS respected her, too, and I knew where the line was.

    @ Hypatia- I think that "Miss so and so" is creepy. You can take it too far. And I SO agree about how taking that respect issue too far can be dangerous. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Community parenting--I love that! Hypatia makes a good point--that kids need to know that there are some things adults do or say that are wrong (like abusive situations--but for the most part, when you're at a friends house, that mom is the MOM, and you must listen to the parent on duty.

    I don't have any real parent-friends right now, but I wonder how this will work in a few years. I see myself being the semi-strict parent; I hope we make some parent friends who are on the same page!