Sed Contra: Dear Parents, You Need To Control Your Kids, Sincerely, Parents


Sometimes, being a good parent means your day gets ruined.

Two weeks ago blogger Matt Walsh posted in open letter format to "the fan I lost yesterday" a brutal exposure of the fan's behavior toward a mother in a supermarket, and a long defense of this mother as she dealt with her child having a screaming fit up and down the aisles of the store. It was entitled Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents.

I think enough time has passed that I can now write safely about this. Many of you will think I'm a mean and cruel dude. I hope you won't.

The people of earth loved Mr. Walsh's post. The story popped up on my Facebook wall all the next two days. Just as the re-post rate seemed to have slowed, the post hit HuffPo and all my other friends shared the link. Which is why I made that remark about being able to write safely about this now. Perhaps all my friends will have forgotten all the emoting they indulged in.

I didn't like the post. So there. Well, it was interesting to see how Mr. Walsh handled the ass who described himself as a fan. But the poor mom that we were all supposed to sympathize with, and I do, was not innocent in all this. I want to talk about that, and I hope you won't hate me for it. I just can't help myself. Like that time I wrote about controlling your kids at restaurants, inspired by the story of a mom who compared herself to Rosa Parks when she and her autistic child were asked to leave a restaurant for the sake of other diners.

By the way, if you don't follow Matt Walsh's blog, you should. He is wise, incisive, and wide-ranging.

In a nutshell, the post describes Mr. Walsh's encounter in a supermarket with a fan of his radio show. Pleasantries are exchanged. Shopping resumes. The loud howling of a child sounds through the market, and continues as its source is dragged through many aisles. Mr. Walsh comes across madonna and child, where he discovers that she is denying him the cereal he wants. Mr. Walsh comes across the fan again, and the fan says something nasty about the "some parents". Mr. Walsh puts fan in place, goes home and writes a righteous post. Actually, I think he writes it after the fan threatened to write a newspaper telling everyone how rude Mr. Walsh is to his fans.

The emotional appeal of this post to parents is obvious. It's a little bi***es, you don't even know! Stop judging us, we're doing the right thing! The right thing here being prohibiting sugary cereals, consistency in enforcing rules, and looking out for the best interests of our children. If you're not a parent you wouldn't understand. From the post:
After you left, injury was quickly added to insult when her kid bumped into a display and knocked a bunch of stuff onto the ground. I started to help pick it all up, but she said she wanted her son to do it because he’s the one who made the mess. Touché, madam. Nicely played. A lot of people would buckle under the pressure of having sonny going psycho in aisle 7, while, seemingly, the whole world stops to gawk and scrutinize, but this lady stayed cool and composed. It was an inspiring performance, and it’s too bad you missed the point because your feeble mind can only calculate the equation this way: misbehaving child = BAD PARENT. 
I’m no math major, but that calculus makes no sense. A kid going berserk at a grocery store doesn’t indicate the quality of his parents...
Clearly this mother is formidable in her own way. Her dedication to consistency takes great strength of will, and the ability to not be overcome by embarrassment at such a moment is remarkable. But perhaps she shouldn't have been there at all. I don't mean shopping. I mean still at the supermarket after all the preceding ruckus and riot was made.

There's a lot of unwarranted hostility to parents out there from non-breeders. I know it, you know it. We've all experienced it. The restaurant hostess who tries to hide the family. The woman who glares at you for even having the audacity to come in. The other woman who glares at you for daring to have more than 2.2 children. The glares if your child squeaks, or your infant cries. We're all familiar with it. We're all martyrs of it.

And that can be the problem. As martyrs we get to act all righteous about this stuff. We can go into any restaurant we want to. We can go shopping wherever we want. And we can stay there no matter how our children are behaving, because we've got lessons involving cereal and temper-tantrums we're trying to teach. We're good parents, da***t.

I'll put it plainly: that mom was rude to stay in the supermarket as long as she did.

Parents want the right to parent how they will wherever they go. You don't have that right. You must make sacrifices in order to parent how you will and be polite to the rest of the world. You can do both at the same time; it just takes more work.

Before I sat down to write this I conferred with my wife, since she's usually the one to roll into the supermarket with five kids. Not once have we had a toddler throw a tantrum. We've had babies freak out, including older babies (over a year). But we've never ever had a tantrum in the grocery store. Ever.

Why am I making such a big deal out of this? Because it's not a matter of the children's personalities, or the parents' personalities, or the parents' consistency and strength of will. It's not a matter of how good you are at being a dad or mom.

It's a matter of perspective.

If a child of mine starts behaving badly in public, it can't be just about the kid and our household rules. "I said no, my son's flipping out, but now I have to stick to that no". I have to find a way to both be a good dad and be a good neighbor.

And there's the rub. As parents we often feel entitled to our day, to not letting our kids or bystanders ruin anything for us. But something being a good parent means that your day is ruined.

The mom in Mr. Walsh's post had a cart full of groceries while this was happening. That's an awkward position to be in. She had to finish her shopping. Well, no, she didn't. Years ago my wife left a cart full of groceries at customer service at the Publix on Wade Hampton in Taylors (where, by the way, they love us). Do you imagine that the manager there was upset at the work we'd just created for his clerks? I'm sure he wasn't happy with her, but he was relieved to be rid of the screaming child.

We've walked out of restaurants before too.

This is to say, we've been willing to have our day ruined out of consideration of those around us. Our children should not be crying in the soup of their fellow diners. Does this mean we leave at the drop of a hat, and the merest squeak? Of course not. We imagine that our neighbors are reasonable people, then we put ourselves in their shoes. If our neighbor is an Oregon liberal who believes that I'm overpopulating the world with insane Christian morons, we still imagine she's a reasonable person. And we try hard to be considerate.

Again, this does not mean that we're always walking out of restaurants and grocery stores. This whole being considerate of others thing, this willingness to have our day ruined, turns out to be a good parenting move too. I've mentioned that we've never ever had a toddler tantrum in a public place. Is that because we're super-good at being tough parents? Or is it because our kids are meek and angelic from birth? Please.

We certainly discipline our kids at home when they misbehave publicly. We've even found ways to discipline immediately when they've misbehaved publicly. But oh so most importantly, the kids learn an important lesson early on. We value politeness to neighbors and passers-by so highly we'll blow up an entire day to get it. They have nothing to hold us hostage with. And the kids want to be at the restaurant more than they want the chicken tenders. They learn that if they throw a tantrum to get the tenders, the whole restaurant will go away. Perhaps for a long time. Even babies can learn that.

I have no idea what the mom in Mr. Walsh's post was really going through. I don't want to get emails about how she was probably a single mom and this might have been her only chance all week to go shopping and her husband just left her and a tree just fell across her fence the night before and her pet possum just died. I will reach out across the internet and throttle you. This mom's behavior doesn't concern me; the reaction to the article does. It is possible that the way things went down that day was necessary given circumstances I'm unaware of. Maybe it was just all that mom could manage. But she was not an exemplar. Parents shouldn't think they get to do that sort of thing. They don't get to disturb everyone's shopping. They need to put the burden on themselves to be polite and considerate. And the degree of politeness others show us ought not to have a great impact on that. Non-breeders may be rude to parents. Let them be. Parents should be polite to non-breeders.

Comments

  1. Well said, Sir. I too, can always sympathize with parents who are in the trenches of child training (being one myself), but as the adult, we must be mindful not to pay forward our children's discourtesy to the rest of the world.

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  2. What it seems like you're saying is that the solution to children behaving badly in public is to simply remove them from the public square. That was the Apostle's solution to the problem too. Jesus said to let the children come to him, unseemly behavior and all.

    The problem isn't the child. He doesn't deserve to be cut out of the life of the polis until such time as he can accommodate you. He's the reason for the polis. The state exists to protect women and children, not to protect the pristine shopping experience of grown-ups.

    Look, you want to run your household that way, go ahead with my blessing. I do things a lot of other parents think are too strict. But there's no basis for extending that rule to everyone else.

    And worse yet, your suggestion is a horrible presentation of the gospel. If I was reading this as a non-Christian, I would think my children are welcome to Christians only on their best behavior. Otherwise, get them outta here.

    Children are going to make noises. Even ones you don't like sometimes. Children can be excused for that. They're children. You're a grown-up. Embrace the noise that comes inherently with God's gift of children.

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    1. Dude, please. You're going to call me removing my misbehaving kids from a supermarket "removing them from the polis"? Do you imagine we simply shuttle them back and forth between restaurants, home, and supermarket, yanking them out early every trip? As I said, this almost never happens, precisely because we deal with it right away.

      "Children are going to make noises" is not the same thing as "children are going to throw flying temper tantrums".

      Cut out of the life of the polis...goodness gracious, dude.

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  3. Sorry, Apostles', not Apostle's.

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  4. Walking away from the grocery store leaving an entire cart of groceries for somebody else to unload is incredibly discourteous to the employees of the store as well as the owner. If you have left refrigerated items in your cart, they may be forced to throw them out, not knowing how long they've been there.

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    1. If you'd payed attention you would have read that we left the cart at customer service. A decision between discourtesies had to be made. I said, and you may believe me if you like, that the manager was grateful.

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  5. My husband managed grocery stores for 8 years. You'd have thought he was grateful, too, because it's a people business, and he doesn't have the luxury of telling customers what he really thinks. But he wouldn't have been impressed.

    You have a right to expect some peace and quiet at the movies, at the library, at a restaurant, in church. But a grocery store is not a sanctuary. It's a place to buy groceries, necessities that cannot be purchased elsewhere and not always at one's leisure. In fact, my 7 children were generally very well behaved in public and we usually got compliments on their deportment. But also in fact, I have one severely special needs child and she and her biological sibling were adopted as older children, so their learning curve on behavior took a little longer- they were older than you would approve of when we were addressing the new standards they had to learn. My husband was active duty military and we only had one car. Sometimes my plans for the use of that car were disarranged because he got called in suddenly, or a 9 hour day became a 15 hour day, or a base shut-down precluded all our plans. I did not always have the luxury of flexibility in picking and choosing grocery shopping time, nor, as a military family who moved often and whose husband and father was sometimes deployed to the middle east did I always have the luxury of knowing a soul with whom I could leave my brood when we needed to buy groceries. I have set aside a cart temporarily while I addressed a discipline problem, but I would never presume to judge that somebody else should leave a grocery store because I think their child is too noisy for my own convenience.

    I've heard the spiteful, passive aggressive remarks from people like that arrogant childless young man in Matt Walsh's post, most often about my handicapped child. She is profoundly retarded, but she is also small for her age, so when she was in grade school people often didn't realize she was disabled, and made some pretty ugly assumptions about her behavior and her right to be in the public square with her mother.

    I think that our standards and expectations for our own children are probably very similar (i've been complimented on their good behavior in a store where I was so appalled by their bad behavior that they had just been quietly informed we were going out to the car for a disciplinary meeting). But our standards for when it is acceptable to judge complete strangers based on a trip to the grocery store are very, very different.

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    1. Once again, this post is more about holding her up as a role model than about how poor her behavior was. Although did say that it was poor, and stand by that.

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  6. Hmmm. I still like Matt Walsh's take on this better. And I've rarely had a kid throw a temper tantrum in public. When they know that I'm not going to whisk them away by making a spectacle of themselves, they realize it's pointless pretty quickly anyway. Babies and children will sometimes behave in ways that are inconvenient or unpleasant for other people, and I don't believe it's the parent's job to make sure their kids never negatively affect anyone around them. But I don't agree with the idea of "controlling" children, anyway. Children are a part of our world and society, and if we've become a society that can't deal with the occasional meltdown, we're not a family-friendly society. Just like women shouldn't have to go to the car (or bathroom) to breastfeed, they also shouldn't feel like they need to run for the exits when their toddlers throw screaming fits. It doesn't mean we don't care about the people around us, and it's always a more painful experience for the parent than it is for the bystander. I'm thankful that on those rare occasions that I have had a child totally freak out while I am juggling groceries & my other kids, I've been met with compassion and encouragement from strangers around me. That's showing God's love. It's fun to judge, but it's better to cover with love, and allow people to make their own judgment calls about parenting, both in the public & private spheres. As long as they aren't abusing their children, when I see a parent dealing with a tough situation in public, all I want to do is telepathically communicate to them that they'll make it, it will be okay, this is a season that will pass, and they're not alone.

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  7. Right said. Also, here's my post on shopping with kids from a few years back -- I wouldn't change a thing: http://www.sarahjoyalbrecht.net/2009/09/16/how-to-shop-with-children-my-three-rules/

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