I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but for the past two weeks or so I’ve suddenly become completely baby crazy. I’m delighted by the thought of tiny people calling me Mommy, by holding someone who has my eyes and Jonathan’s red hair and something entirely and amazingly their own. I find my mind wandering at work to figuring out how we could convert our office into a nursery. And suddenly, although for the last year I’ve thought nothing of it except that I’d like to have children in the distant future, I wish I could have them tomorrow. While I was nannying, there were days that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to have kids anymore. But the last two weeks it’s been like a switch suddenly flipped and I feel totally differently. This hasn’t really changed anything. I am NOT and am NOT planning to get pregnant for several more years. (Just to make that abundantly clear to those of you who are just skimming this. I don’t want to start getting awkward congratulatory messages.)
What this baby-craze has made me think about is, well, children. And parenting. While I don’t have any kids of my own I have done a LOT of babysitting and nannying over the past ten years. During my time last year as a nanny I was “parenting” 40-45 hrs/week. I have worked with about 15 families at different points and in different places and have witnessed a lot of parenting styles and techniques. I have worked with well-behaved kids and with little monsters. I’ve come home saying, “I will never let my kids do that,” or “That’s a good idea, I’ll have to try to remember that when I have kids.” It’s easier when you are not the parent to stand outside of the situation and see how different parenting styles affect the kids’ behavior. Unfortunately, more and more I’ve seen some really disturbing attitudes towards parenting in both Christian and secular homes. Talking to other friends who work as nannies only confirms what I already felt was true. Kids these days are a different breed than when we were growing up.
To some extent, every generation finds ways to reject things about the generation before theirs. In this case I think a lot of today’s parents felt constrained by their own parents and felt that they had to meet certain expectations of who they would be/what they would do, etc. The tendency these days is to really allow children to develop their individuality and to try out all kinds of things so they can “figure out what they like,” to encourage them to be anything they want to be. This sounds great, in theory, but the reality is that children are not adults. They do not naturally appreciate the sacrifices of others or understand how to be considerate of one another. They are not naturally respectful of or submissive to authority. They have to be taught to obey, to be considerate, to appreciate the things they have. Hence we have some of the most privileged, over-stimulated, ungrateful, self-centered, out of control children the world has ever known. As a seasoned childcare provider, here are some particular things I’ve encountered (generally with kids 12 and under) that drive me crazy. If you’re a parent and you’re easily offended by parenting critiques you might not want to read this:
Food: Two year old children do not have a sophisticated enough palette to truly have likes and dislikes when it comes to food. “My child is a picky eater.” Your child is a picky eater because you allowed them to be a picky eater. If you only feed your child chicken nuggets and pizza then of course all they will like is chicken nuggets and pizza. If you feed your child green beans and carrots from an early age, they will learn to like or at least tolerate green beans and carrots. If you allow your child to have ice cream as a snack every afternoon, you can’t expect them to be happy when you offer them an apple. Eventually kids do develop preferences that are legitimate just as adults who are not “picky eaters” may have two or three foods they just really don’t care for. But there is nothing in the world as frustrating for a babysitter as trying to feed a two year old and having them scream at everything you put on their plate until you figure out what it is they feel like having at that particular moment.
Bribes: While it makes a child temporarily happy to give them something to quiet down a temper tantrum or ward off hysterics, it ultimately encourages bad behavior. The answer to a temper tantrum is never “What can I give you/promise you to make you calm down.” This is lazy. This is caring more about not having to deal with the tantrum and enforce consequences than shaping your child’s character. We excuse things in children because they are children. We say, “They’ll grow out of it,” but spoiled kids who get their way when they pitch fits become spoiled adults who pitch different, but even less attractive, fits when they don’t get their way. Teaching your child that they will always get what they want if they make enough fuss is setting them up for failure.
Parents who use their children as a security blanket: there are so many parents these days who act as if the main reason they have children is so they themselves can feel loved and needed and important. When their kids get upset about a decision they’ve made or say something like, “You are a mean mommy!” they can’t stand the way that hurts their own sense of security so they give in to the child so that they feel better about themselves. That’s just selfish. Their kids might be happier with them in that moment, but I can guarantee you they don’t respect them and it is ultimately not the best thing for the kid. Small children are not your friends. If they cannot even use the bathroom on their own, why do parents think they can make all kinds of rational decisions? Little children are not logical. Often, they cannot be reasoned with. This doesn’t mean we don’t value kids or consider them as much people as adults. It’s like this: we would certainly agree that a man who is a plumber and a man who is a doctor are equally valuable as human beings. But if I need surgery, I’m not going to ask the plumber to do it just because he’s a valuable human being. Kids ultimately feel loved and secure when they know someone is taking care of them and their boundaries are clear, even if they don’t act that way in the moment.
Overstimulation: It is not fun to a 5 year old to go to kindergarten, play two sports, take dance lessons, be in a play group, and learn to play the cello. It is exhausting. No wonder they’re cranky!
Inconsistency: either between mom and dad or between the parents and their other caregivers/authority figures. This confuses kids because they don’t know whose expectations they have to meet when and causes them to act out. I’ve had authority figures who were inconsistent. Frankly, it is terrifying as a child to not know what is expected of you and when you’ll get in trouble. Consistency between caregivers is huge as well as consistency with one. If you have a rule and sometimes you hold hard to it, but other times you let it slide, the child doesn’t know if you are serious or not or whether you really mean it. It makes them feel out of control. The family I nannied for this past year did such a great job of consistency with each other as parents and with me. If I reported something to the parents or had to punish one of the kids they ALWAYS backed me up, even if they might have done it differently because the most important thing was that the kids knew their parents and I were on the same page.
To sum up…I think the main problem with kids these days is parents these days. Sometimes I just want to shake them and say, “Your child is not in charge. You are an adult. Act like one.” If parents were just diligent with these things when their kids were little, parenting would get easier and easier (theoretically) as they grew up. Of course, I have a whole other shpeil about the way some excellent parents of young children have trouble parenting adolescent children. My own parents were terrific parents of small kids, but had a hard time transitioning to a lower level of supervision as I got older. Having said all of that…I am sure I will screw up my children in my own special way, I just don’t plan on it being one of these. End of rant.
PS-In case you are interested I am posting two new pages: books I’ve read (this is a list of everything I’ve read in the past year or so. I don’t necessarily endorse or recommend them all) and blogs I follow. A list of fellow bloggers (including most recently my little sister, Anni) you might know.