“It’s Time To Stand Up To Your Kids” the headline from this week’s Macleans Magazine screams. Now? Now it’s time? Well, I say it might be too late, depending on where you are in this parenting game.
First of all, how did we get here? In the space of just a few generations, from the Baby Boomers (typically thought to have been born between 1946 and 1965) who produced the Generation X (born between 1966 and 1977) and Generation Y (1977-1994) , who are now raising the Millennials and Z Generation kids, the parenting world today resembles little of what existed in 1946, post-war. So much has changed, from women’s liberation and struggle for equality, to the technical and digital revolution which continues to take place, let along the globalization of world events and news. The Global Village, coined by Marshall McLuhan, has happened, and as parents we are seeing and hearing the best and the worst of parenting habits not only in our own backyard, but across the globe. In particular, in North America, there has been a shift to witnessing “bad” parenting decisions and decidedly horrible things happening to a small number of children, which through social media magnification has us all wrapping our children in bubble wrap and protecting them from everything, including success.
It all starts from the day they’re born. Naturally a helpless newborn needs our assistance with everything, but they’re only newborns for a short period of time. Am I suggesting you start planning a move out date for your six month old? Certainly not, but I am proposing that, to paraphrase any person from England, you start the way you mean to go on. Let them take over your night’s sleep for longer than a year? Hmmmm. Jeopardize every social plan you try to commit to? Not good.
I once had a friend come over with her two year old – same age as my youngest at the time – and she wouldn’t come in the house for basically the hour we had scheduled together, because she stood by her car watching her toddler sleep. She couldn’t bear to wake her up. The child wasn’t sick or particularly in need of sleep more so than usual. She didn’t want to wake her up. So I let her stand there and I went back in my house.
There’s a lot of talk about the value of “Participation Trophies”. These are the ubiquitous trophies that are handed out for every child’s team sport. There are often no winners, nor losers, but there sure is some hardware. “What’s wrong with that?” some parents will cry “It’s a trophy for hard work! They deserve it!” Really? They deserve a trophy for standing in the middle of a field and picking their nose, dressed in a uniform you bought them, on top of the fees you paid for to get them out there in the first place? And what about the fact that there should be a winner and a loser?
The school lunches. I don’t even remember my Mom making me a school lunch. Probably because in elementary school (up to Grade 6, or approximately 12 years old), we walked home for lunch. And then in Junior High (Grades 7-9) and High School (10-12) when we were allowed to stay at the school for lunch, we made our own. Because we were over the age of 12 years old. Oh, and those days we had to walk home from elementary school at lunch? No one met us. We walked home by ourselves, ate lunch, watched a cartoon and walked back. We survived. Today, if you were to do that, the headline would read “Free Range Parent Under Investigation”. Free Range is for chickens, I say. Like, actual chickens, not cowardly parents.
Food is, I think, one of the main indicators as to whether you are headed down the dreaded child-centric path. “How do I get my picky eater to have dinner?” If I see this question one more time I will scream. How about telling them to eat it? They don’t want to eat it? I guess they don’t have dinner. It’s pretty straightforward, and something that I covered in my book “Shut Up & Eat: Tales of Chicken, Children & Chardonnay”. Don’t get me wrong; I have had picky eaters. Children who for whatever reason decide they don’t like certain foods on sight, let alone taste or texture. But here’s where you can change the demanding kid’s path if you want to…just don’t care about whether they like it or not. Don’t give them an option to eat something else. Emphasize with them how lucky they are to have food – I cannot be the only person who remembers the “starving children in Africa” remarks from our parents. It’s still true Children are still starving in many parts of the world. If your child doesn’t want to eat a perfectly healthy (or not healthy) meal simply because they don’t feel like it? Don’t make them eat it then. They’ll be hungry for breakfast the next morning.
Letting your child set the menu for dinner one night a week is actually a good idea. They get to express their taste and maybe even help plan, shop and cook for the meal, which are skills they need to know when they move out. But letting them pick it seven nights a week, over the wishes of the grown-ups in the house? I don’t think so. They shouldn’t have this type of control. And never, ever say in front of them to someone else “Oh, he’s a picky eater.” You’ve just given him total permission to continue being that picky eater. Start saying “He’ll try anything!” and see what happens. Be proud of them for eating new foods and not complaining because they don’t like it. It’s called manners and being an adult.
“Let me ask the kids”, or “Now if I can only convince the kids” are two of the sentences that disturb me the most when I’m talking with friends about making social plans. If you’ve read my last book, “I Am So The Boss Of You: An 8 Step Guide To Giving Your Family The Business” you’ll know that to me, that’s like the manager checking with the intern before they proceed with the project plan. I’m not saying kids don’t have a say in anything, and I’m also not suggesting this isn’t an excellent way of getting out of going to something you don’t want to go to. But if you are being invited to party, making joint vacation plans, or simply deciding on where to go for dinner, and you really have an opinion on this…make a decision. You remember “decisions”, right? Those things parents did in the good old days when “Father Knew Best” and “Because Mom Said So”.
Giving your children the responsibility to make decisions for themselves is a goal. Letting them take responsibility for things that affect you negatively as their parent? Not so much. Unless of course, they’re paying for the vacation or the dinner out. Then, we can talk.
Excerpted from Kathy Buckworth’s upcoming new book, “Oops I Helicopter Parented The Kids”. Kathy’s other six books are available at bookstores everywhere, and her four children can be found being bossed around by her, anytime.