Whether or not you are a parent, have you ever thought or said (or heard someone else say) any of the following?
- “Children should be seen, not heard.”
- “Why can’t they control their kids?” OR “I’m so glad my kids aren’t like that!”
- “I wish my kids would just behave.”
Sometimes these phrases slip so easily off the tongue that it’s scary. Or maybe it’s not you. Perhaps you hear these things when out in public or from a well-meaning family member, friend, or co-worker. Either way, it sometimes seems that U.S. cultural norms, which often dictate the collective view of childhood, say that children are a big pain in the rear. And so I wanted to tackle some of these ideas, namely the phrases above, in the hopes of dismantling the viewpoint of children as a burden rather than a blessing.
“Children should be seen, not heard”
This particular phrase is old-fashioned at best, irrelevant and damaging at worst. We, as a country, have moved well beyond the Victorian age which spawned this phrase. So why do some people still toss this time-bomb around? Perhaps it’s a desire for the “old days when kids behaved and respected adults” or simply an idea that children are bothersome or annoying. Either way, the underlining message of this is disturbing. Childhood is a rambunctious, playful time of curiosity. A silent child is a child that is probably not exploring, learning, or growing. I hate to think of the ways someone might “train” a child to meet this ideal.
“Why can’t they control their kids?” OR “I’m so glad my kids aren’t like that!”
Our culture is obsessed with control. We work long hours to control our bank accounts. We obsess over food and exercise to control our weight and body image. We are in control of every aspect of our children’s plans, whether it be play dates, sports to excel at, or classes to master. And many of the things we “control” are a subconscious attempt to control the opinions of others so that they think more highly of our families and ourselves. So when we place a judgment call on another child or family, we’re essentially pointing out their lack of control. The reality is that everyone parents differently, and we all have bad days. But I like to think of kids as inherently good (and who make occasional mistakes), rather than labeling kids today as: “______” (fill in the blank: lazy, silly,manipulative, stupid, disobedient, willful, etc.). And let’s hope we’re never on the OTHER SIDE of the equation where someone is judging us as our toddler has a meltdown in Aisle 9.
“I wish my kids would just behave”
What does it mean to “behave?” Obviously every parent has a different idea of what constitutes “good” and “bad” behavior. But what if we move beyond viewing children as alternating between two polar opposites, defined by us or (gulp, even more frighteningly) society? Sometimes I think the desire for absolute control of everything has a negative (and often unintended) outcome on our children. When I decide my child is doing something bad, is it because she is truly doing something dangerous to herself or others OR is it because what she’s doing doesn’t fit in with my plans? Am I asking my child to do something that she is developmentally unable to do? Children are not little adults, and we must not treat them so. Having some flexibility while parenting and being realistic with expectations will make it less likely the above phrase will slip out of your mouth or someone’s else’s.
One more thing. Parenting is an intuitive thing, and we all have ideas of how we would like to raise our children. But our society’s viewpoint of children as a burden can affect even the best intentions. View children as the challenging but lovable blessing that they are, and I truly believe that intuitive, go with the flow parenting will follow.
Kate is the mom to 16 month old Vivi, her firecracker of a daughter who inspires her everyday to be a better parent. When they’re not practicing how to nicely pet the dogs or playing with “Baby,” Kate tries to catch a few minutes for a cup of coffee and some reading. After all, a relaxed (and caffeinated) mama is a happy mama.