Tuesday, June 16, 2015

We Weren't That Good

Look at that rambunctious 2 year eating ice cream with her bare hands back in 1977. 
Sometimes, it feels like my Facebook feed is just bursting to the seams with posts about how kids today are brats and how much better they'd be if their parents just smacked them around a bit.

"When I was a kid I didn't get a choice - I ate what my mom cooked."
"If I talked to my dad the way that kid did, he would have popped me in the mouth."
"I wouldn't have gotten anything to eat at all if I threw a fit like that in the restaurant."
"My mom wouldn't have let me looked at her IPad - had such a thing existed - while on an airplane."

While this is, by no means, the only way modern parents are criticized (we look at our phones too much, we breastfeed too long or not long enough, we obsess over organic food or feed our kids crap, we hold them too much), it's quite possibly the criticism that bugs me the most.

Why? Because the insinuation is that we, as kids, knew our place. We didn't talk back, we ate our brussels sprouts, we didn't dawdle while getting dressed for school, we went out to play the moment our parents asked us to.

But the thing is, I have a really good memory. Part of my love for storytelling comes from the fact that much of my life just hangs out right below my surface, begging to be examined from time to time. And I need to tell you guys that we kids of the '70's, '80's, and '90's were no better than kids today.

Like most kids of my generation, I was spanked. I lived in a house where parents were in control, and the rules were clear and explicit. And yet, every time we went out to eat, I hid under the table, tickled my mom's legs, and stood up in the booth to stare at other diners. I threw fits for toys I wanted in a store. I refused to eat certain foods and cried until my mom made me something else. I came up with excuses for not going to bed, not getting dressed for school, not cleaning my room. I will testify that my parents did not spoil me. Not at all. But testing boundaries was pretty normal for me (and my siblings).

And I hate to burst your bubble, but you did the same thing. Maybe you, like me, were afraid of a spanking. And maybe that fear kept you from breaking the rules. Sometimes. But that urge to test out your parents' limits? Well that was too strong to resist. And so you, my friend, were a brat when you were a kid, too. And if you don't believe me, feel free to call up your parents to confirm the fact.

So what's different? We are living in a time when people are more free to live an adult life without kids. Whether a person's child-free life is by choice or circumstance, more and more people are walking this path, and society is learning to be accepting of it (though we have a ways to go in that department).

This is good news! Having kids is not for everybody, and it makes me happy that people are able to live a life that feels authentic and meaningful to them, even if it deviates from societal norms.

But the fact of the matter is that most people find other people's kids annoying. I have two of my own kids, I taught kids for 13 years, and I STILL mostly get annoyed by other people's kids. But I have a strong sense of empathy for other parents. So today, at a local story time, I smiled at the mom whose toddler screamed over a broken crayon, because I knew it was only a matter of moments before my own son would scream (over a folded piece of paper). When someone's baby cries on an airplane, I put in my headphones and remember that time Stella pooped her diaper right as the plane was descending and the seatbelt sign was lit and she screamed at the top of her lungs for 30 minutes while I tried every trick in the book to get her to stop. When a dad lets his son look at his IPad while the family waits for their dinner, I remind myself to give it a try with my own ansy kids next time we eat out.

Are there jerky and entitled parents? Oh yes. No doubt. And I'm sure someone reading this is just dying to talk about the screaming baby at the 10pm movie screening or the toddler in a bar or the kid who ran around and knocked everyone's plates over at a wedding. But again, and forgive me if I blow your mind here, there were crappy parents in our day, too. But in those days, you probably envied their kids for having cooler parents than yours.

So as we read more and more stories about parents getting kicked off of airplanes for having a crying baby and news article after news article about how our kids lack grit, I urge you all to find empathy for modern parents. We are doing things a bit differently. We're learning as we go, we're making mistakes, and we're doing our best. Many of us don't hit our kids, but we do provide boundaries for them. When they act out, we are seeking out ways to curb their negative behavior without obliterating their curiosity (a trait that often causes kids to test boundaries). We're in the trenches, day after day, trying to raise a capable, kind, not-as-neurotic-as-we-are generation to inherit this earth. And that 5 minutes of bratty behavior you're witnessing doesn't tell you the whole story.

Imagine of all someone knew of you was that time you were a brat when you were little.

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