Saturday, March 01, 2008

Adults only!

Chewymom blogged about her recent Starbucks experience, and I couldn't help but comment the following, which I decided to repost here:

I agree — it was the parents’ problem and not the kids. But I also agree that, since too many parents don’t teach their children how to behave, I have sometimes longed for adults-only coffee shops as well.

Mr. Overly Indulgent Fun Guy Dad may think his child’s antics are really cute, but he needs to get a clue that the rest of us don’t. And this is from someone who generally thinks all 2 year olds are pretty much wonderful, and that the very idea of “Terrible Twos” is a horrible smear campaign against our society’s best people.

Some years back, I ventured with the stair-step brigade into a local coffee/tea shop to buy a cute little teapot for my sister-in-law. Youngest Child was, at the time, an INTENSE TODDLER, and my attempts to decide on the perfect teapot were severely hampered by all the effort it took for me to make sure INTENSE TODDLER was not disruptive. Finally I selected my purchase and headed for the counter, questioning all the while the wisdom of bringing INTENSE TODDLER out in public before he turned…oh, 12 years old.

Now, in my defense, I have to say that most of my anxiety was over what I was afraid he might do, rather than over his actual behavior. I kept him from touching anything (and that wasn’t easy) and I kept him from attempting to make a run for freedom — and I managed to do all this without arousing loud protests. But the effort it took was exhausting for me, even though it seemed to energize him.

We were the only ones in the shop at the time, besides the owner, who had been observing us the entire time. So she had noticed what had seemed, to me, like an extended wrestling match. If I were her, I would have been tempted to suggest that maybe my child would do best kept at home, in a padded cell, along with his mother who was obviously a lunatic for thinking that toddlers should be brought into places that sold fragile china.

Instead, the shop owner praised the entire stair-step brigade for their exemplary behavior. She insisted on serving us free goodies. When my older children seemed bewildered as to why she was gushing about their amazing manners, etc. (afterwards they said to me, “But we didn’t DO ANYTHING. We were just being normal!”) she began regaling us with horror stories of children who broke her glass table tops, climbed up on her shelves, broke dishes, threw things, ran around, screamed, knocked things over, etc. — all while the parents stood by and did nothing.

It’s parents like that who give kids a bad name.

My attitude, back in the day when the stair-step brigade pretty much accompanied me everywhere, was that no one else had forced me to have six children --- in fact, most people prefer smaller families --- and so it was my duty to make sure that people would not have to endure an unruly mob. Most of the time, I didn't bring my "slew of boys" into shops that sold mostly fragile items. Just one look at the horrified expressions on shopkeepers' faces when five little boys seem poised to march in would stir up all my feelings of compassion. But, other than that, I pretty much took the children everywhere...and so I had to teach them to behave. Even though Eldest Son was naturally a loud, boisterous sort, his legalistic nature came in very handy --- all I had to do was intone "It's the rule" with grave seriousness, and his behavior would fall into line. (I did sometimes worry that he would be dismayed, when he grew up, to discover that there was not some huge rulebook governing public behavior.) Only Daughter was usually too shy to misbehave out in public. Once you get the oldest two children in line, their bossy tendencies make them natural allies in helping keep the others under control. At least that's the way it's been in most of the large families I know. Of course, we all seem to get at least one child whose behavior seems purposefully designed to make us feel that we are complete failures as parents...

Yes, it takes effort. It's much easier to let children run wild, and then to accuse people of being mean child-haters when they don't like mayhem and destruction. A friend of mine told me about a visiting family who let their child rampage around her living room, despite pleas to keep him from breaking things. Finally he succeeded in breaking the glass-topped coffee table. The mother then lost her temper --- not against her wild child, but against my friend. "It serves you right for having such a stupid table!" she shouted. "You're lucky my child wasn't hurt!" The parents refused to help clean up the damage and made it clear, without even being asked, that there was no way they were going to pay for it. "Maybe now you'll buy some sensible furniture. That table was dangerous! Look how easily it broke!"

How did the child break the table? He jumped on it, full force, from the couch. He was an overweight elementary school student at the time. The parents saw nothing wrong with his behavior.

I just don't get it. I can't understand why some parents seem to want to turn their children into the sort of people that no one wants to have around.

In my spare time, I teach martial arts. Last summer, there was a family interested in our program. While I was answering the mother's questions, her young son stood next to her and began belching loudly. At first, I ignored him, expecting his mother to correct him. When he began leaning closer and closer towards me, and belching as loudly as he could directly into my face, I told him quietly but firmly, "I will not allow you to belch in my dojo. You are being rude and disrespectful, and that is simply not allowed here." He looked shocked. So did his mother. But he immediately stopped belching. He even stopped tugging on her sleeve and whining (which he had been doing before he started belching.) I later told my husband, "Either she'll never come back or she'll be there first thing tomorrow, eager to sign up her children. It all depends on whether or not respect and good manners matter to her." She never came back.

Edited to add part of sentence that had mysteriously disappeared.


  1. Hear hear!

    Have you seen the online tv series called "In The Motherhood"? It's supposed to be humorous and realistic -- "telling it like it is," as they say. I find it atrocious, and simply can't understand why they'd want to slander children and motherhood that way. Of course when I expressed that, then I was being judgmental of all the mothers whose children really do behave that way.

    As for me, having to fight clinical depression at the same time as raising my children means that I am not as consistent as I should be, and my children's behavior is not always what I would like. (I am working on it!) I suppose their behavior in public must be more important to me than their behavior at home, though, since I've never had much trouble with them outside of the house.

    Like you, I don't think other people should have to suffer for the fact that I chose to have six (soon to be seven) children. I don't want to be a reason that people dread seeing large families coming. Thankfully most people just compliment us. :)

  2. Rebecca,

    What a great post. I totally agree. I have seen this sort of thing too many times to count and it is appalling. The parents always act like victims when someone finally has to tell them that their children are not behaving.

    There was one guy who thinks his 3 year old is the cutest thing in the world. He is cute but that is besides the point. I have very cute toddlers, too. He gets his son all riled up during the teaching so that the son is climbing all over and talking very loudly. You can actually see him egging his son on and then sitting back and smiling. All the while the rest of the congregation is trying to pay attention to the sermon. It is very hard because his son is so LOUD; he doesn't even try to make his son quiet or whisper. It is so very disrespectful to the pastor who prepared the sermon and all the other people who have come to listen. It is also disrespectful to the rest of the children who are trying to sit still and follow their parent's rules.

    " Of course, we all seem to get at least one child whose behavior seems purposefully designed to make us feel that we are complete failures as parents..."

    Isn't this the truth! And, truthfully, I thank God for such a child(ren) since without them I would think that I am the greatest parent alive. It has caused me to have great compassion on others and not to think that I have all the answers.

    I have seen a new trend amongst homeschoolers where the teens are very mouthy and rude to other adults. They are forever correcting other adults and interjecting their opinions over the top of other adult's conversations. Oh, they have a faux politeness and they are always very sure to tell others how they don't watch this and such movie or listen to THAT sort of music but they are rude and disrespectful.