Not My Kid

“I want to staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!” cried my niece. She was currently rolling around on the couch, alternating between gripping my father and attempting to hide underneath a throw blanket. It had started out simply enough. At dinner my sister had mentioned that she might want to stay the night rather than drive home with B in the rain. Their current arrangement is odd. Until recently, B was under the guardianship of my father and stepmother. My sister had recently regained custody, but everyone agreed that it would be best for B if she could finish out the school year. She goes to a Montessori school a block away from my father’s house. The only problem with this is that my sister lives a good 45 minutes away. Every morning she and B drive 45 minutes from home to school, then my sister drives all the way back to work, then back to school to pick up B after work, then another trip back home. It makes for a lot of driving, and I don’t blame her for wanting to avoid driving in the rain. In the end it came down to make up- my sister felt she wouldn’t be able to properly get ready for work at our father’s house and opted to drive home. This is when the meltdown began.

B is about to turn five years old. She’s also had a rough childhood. I know both of these factors contribute to her tantrums. She is a very demanding child, and her bad behaviors intensify around her mother. My sister has managed to pull her life together, but the scars remain. When she didn’t have custody of B she didn’t want to be the disciplinarian since she saw her daughter so little.  When custody was in the midst of a transfer it was interesting to watch the shift. Last time I visited, whenever B acted up I sought my stepmother for assistance. Her only act was to say “Where is her mother? Why isn’t her mother taking care of this?” Indeed.

When I worked in retail, I often watched in horror as some parent either let their kids run amok in the store or else caved in to their every whim. Late in my pregnancy with V a woman came to check out with her daughter. The girl wanted to get some candy and her mother said no. The girl refused to relinquish what she was holding and when her mother took it from her she just went right back and retrieved it. She made a fuss and kept asking. Eventually I saw the mother’s resolution start to fade.  This mother had clearly buckled before and the daughter knew that “no” meant “maybe, as long as you repeatedly pester mom.” I can’t remember what I said to her exactly, something along the lines of “Don’t give in, you can do it.” My words strengthened her; she thanked me and didn’t give in, even though she had to physically pick up her daughter and carry her out of the store.

Like most new parents and nonparents, when I see a misbehaving child I think to myself “My kid will never act that bad!” Both my sister and my grandparents give me the knowing Just you wait look whenever gripe about B’s bad behavior. I’m pretty tired of hearing people say that it’s “just what kids do” and that parents have no control over it. I don’t expect my kids to be perfect. However, the level of whining and selfishness that I see in my niece seems like far too much. Maybe I’m naive, but I look at my cousin’s children and think that parenting has a huge influence on good and bad behavior. They have two children, ages three and five. Both are homeschooled and extremely well-mannered. They don’t interrupt. They don’t whine. The eldest even tidied up the house as a toddler. If a cabinet was left open she’d shut it. If she something was left out she’d put it away. Now my cousin’s family is an exception and has some extreme rules. The kids never watch TV. They can’t go to the movies because the parents can’t preview the movie trailers. They can’t go to any restaurant with a TV playing inside because the commercials might be bad. The children lead really sheltered lives; when they came to visit my mother the dog had to be boarded because the children would shriek in terror at seeing a dog. I have no intention of being so incredibly restrictive with my children, but when it comes to discipline I wouldn’t mind learning how they get such fantastic results. It does make me convinced that parenting has a lot to do with it.

V doesn’t require any real discipline yet, but I certainly hope that my husband and I can raise a thoughtful, well-mannered child.

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