“Why do you have to act like that?” the woman asked her young child, anger and disdain dripping from her tongue.
This was the latest in a long stream of spewed venomous words that had me checking the transit app for a different route home just so I wouldn’t have to listen to it.
“Stop pushing her!” the woman had yelled so loudly, as soon as she and her three kinds were on the bus, that it startled me from my reading and made me jump.
“Stop whining,” She snapped moments later, “I don’t want to hear all that!”
I don’t want to hear all the yelling, I thought to myself as I turned the volume on my phone up to what I had hoped would be deafening enough levels to drown it out. It didn’t work.
Finally she said it, “Why do you have to act like that?”
And I thought the only answer that made any sense: “Because you don’t love her!”
I have a friend with a six-year-old son. I hear her yelling at him all the time. The boy is just being a boy. More importantly, he’s being a boy in a room full of adults. He’s being a boy, in a room full of adults, who is trying to get noticed. Because isn’t that what little kids want? To be noticed? Paid attention to? Acknowledged and validated? Isn’t that what everyone wants? This little boy, isn’t trying to be bad. He isn’t trying to be destructive. He isn’t trying to be a brat. He’s trying to fit in, to belong, to be part of the group, even though he can’t fully assimilate with the adult crowd. But instead of trying to understand those things, instead of trying to acknowledge his needs, she yells at him to stop whatever it is he is doing, and when he looks at her with puzzled and hurt eyes, she gets indignant that he “just keeps behaving this way”.
My whole life I’ve been amazed when I’ve been out in public and kids have been asking for their parents’ attention and the parents ignore them.
No answer, but the objective observer can see the parent’s patience wearing thin.
“WHAT!?!?” the angry parent yells at the child.
By now, whatever the child wanted seems trivial and unimportant to the parent, compared to the annoyance she feels at the child’s persistent demand for her attention. Because I generally observe these behaviors out and about, the child is usually asking the parent “Can I have this?” or something like it, to which the parent angrily answers “No! Put that down! Stop touching things!”
I want to be clear here. Dad’s are just as guilty of these behaviors. I’m not deliberately singling out mothers. It’s just that my friend is a woman. The parent on the bus today was a woman. And misogynistic as it may be, it’s usually mother’s that are out doing the shopping with their children. These are the examples I’ve observed.
I understand. I know it’s hard being a parent, especially if you’re doing it alone (though my friend isn’t). I know it’s a thankless and never-ending job with no breaks and no vacations. I know it can be tiresome. But being a parent is also a job with no excuses. You can’t take a day and just slack off. You can’t put off being a parent until later while you relax and surf the internet and ignore the job. Children are alive 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that means that parents are parents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every interaction a parent has with a child is a moment in that child’s personal development. Every one! Each experience builds on the last. While a parent might say, “He’s just working my last nerve, today. He just needs to shut up!” The child is thinking, all she does is yell at me. I just want her to pay attention to me and love me. Maybe this will get her to pay attention.
In my experience, children are far more capable of reason, than we give them credit for. No, they’re not as advanced as we are. We can’t explain every dynamic of a situation to a child and expect them to understand, agree and comply, but we can tell them what is expected of them in simple terms, for finite periods of time, and expect them to comply fairly closely. We can, in small bursts, give them specific information about what we want from them in a situation and expect them to do as they’re told, even if they don’t understand why. (And by the way, we can tell them why, even when we know it won’t make sense to them, because again, every interaction is a moment in that child’s human development. Over time, it will come together. They will begin to understand.)
It’s raining buckets today. When this woman and her three children boarded the bus at the train station, they had gone a long way out from under cover to get to the door of the bus. Of course the offending child wanted to get on the bus and out of the rain, as quickly as possible. Maybe the child shouldn’t have been pushing and maybe the mother should have addressed that, but there was no need to use the tone she used with the child and make the child feel unloved and humiliated. There was no reason to attract the attention of everyone on the bus while she “reprimanded” her child.
My friend’s young son does not desire to misbehave, he doesn’t even know he’s doing it. And while some of his behaviors are inappropriate and need to be brought to his attention and corrected, it’s not necessary to shout his name, in a room full of adults he loves, and yell at him to stop doing something. It would be just as easy to say his name in a stern but loving tone and direct him to come to her before telling him why what he was doing was not okay and that he needs to stop. Even if it happens again, the same tactic can be used before informing the child of the consequences of his actions if he persists.
And that parent and child in the store? Gosh, wouldn’t everyone involved, including the innocent bystander, have been happier and better served if the parent was paying enough attention to the child to respond the first time he called out (and really, in a public place, shouldn’t a parent have one eye and one ear on their young child at all times?)
So often, I’ve observed parents getting angry at their children for behaviors that have persisted for too long, when the parent did not say a word to the child when the behavior began. If the child wasn’t told from the start that the behavior was unacceptable, how was he to know? At that point, really, isn’t the bad behavior the parent’s fault and not the child’s? I think so.
What’s the point of all this?
I know from first hand experience the damage that can come from a parent that is too self involved to give their children the time and attention they need, and the fact is, children need a lot of time and attention. But you see, when a person makes a decision to be a parent, whether it’s by planning to have children, adoption, or choosing not to give up the child that was “an accident”, they are also making a commitment to that child to help the child become the best human being they can be and in order to do that, the parent must be the best parent they can be. And that will never include ignoring a child when they need the parent’s attention, or yelling at the child for no good reason (and by my estimation, the only good reason is when their safety is in imminent danger and the parent needs to get the child’s immediate attention, or when the child has belligerently disregarded the parent’s direct orders and no other means of communication will get through.)
Children often need discipline, but that discipline can and should be administered with love and compassion, not anger and impatience.
There. I think I’ve finished with the soap box if someone else would like to use it…