My father was bragging to me recently about what great parents he and my mom were. “When you guys were kids, an old friend came to visit and he couldn’t believe how well behaved you kids were. He asked how we did it and I told him: We didn’t spoil you.”
Well, that’s an understatement. My brothers and I played in a pile of construction dirt outside of our house and considered it a sand box. When I think about our toys, the only things that come to mind are a collection of plain-wood blocks and a hand me down “Midge” doll from the 1960’s. Not a Barbie doll. Not even a vintage Barbie doll. Just Barbie’s old-fashioned red-haired best friend, Midge.
But my father wasn’t just talking about the fact that he didn’t believe in his children owning any cool things from the current day. (Anything made out of plastic was an “overpriced piece of garbage” and any clothing with a logo on it “should be paying you to wear that thing! You’d be giving them free advertising!”)
He also meant that our personalities weren’t spoiled. If we behaved like brats, there were ramifications. My parents didn’t really yell at us. They never hit us. It was this old fashioned way of parenting that involved “consequences for our actions.” Privileges were revoked, TV was not watched. We rarely behaved like brats, because we weren’t big fans of ramifications.
I don’t see a lot of parents who believe in following through anymore. Most parents in my community seem to be into “permissive parenting.” They feel that their children need to be validated. Which means never saying “no.” When a kid tries to run outside the gates of the playground, a parent will say, “If you do that one more time, we’re leaving!” The kid does it again and they don’t leave.
One dad calls his son “King Myron.” (Myron is not the kid’s real name.) This kid gets his way every time, and so no wonder he acts like a dictator. Whenever the father tells him to do anything, the kid just ignores him and the dad ignores the fact that he’s being ignored.
Kids who are out of control are “spirited.” Grabbing toys is “socially experimenting.” Biting is “just a phase.”
Being a permissive parent is very appealing. It would be so much easier to just go along with whatever my son wants. It’s super annoying to hear him cry and whine and complain. My instinct is to just give him what he wants so that he will shut the hell up. And sometimes I do. I admit, I give in.
But the majority of the time, I don’t. And it sucks. I’ve threatened something I didn’t really want to follow through on, hoping it would scare Laszlo into stopping. But when I say I’m going to leave the playground, I have to leave the playground.
Kids actually want boundaries. It helps them to feel safe. They need to know that when they act in a certain way, there will be consequences. Otherwise, their world is chaotic. Their parents don’t seem in control. Kids are still trying to figure out the world and they look to adults to show them what the rules are. They’re constantly testing us. When parents don’t provide these boundaries, kids will continue to push things until their parents finally do.
Happy children (and happy adults) are those who have learned how to deal with disappointment. They know not to expect instant gratification.
You can be a cool, permissive parent and still have boundaries. Besides, being a cool parent is overrated. Nobody needs a cool parent. They need a parent who teaches them and takes care of them.
It’s not like my brothers and I were cowering in fear under my parents’ iron fists. My parents were hippies, just like most of the parents I know who believe in permissive parenting. They let us run around the neighborhood and do whatever we wanted. But the one thing they weren’t lax about was making sure we didn’t act like brats. They also ensured that we developed a strong sense of character by not buying us such newfangled toys like a then-contemporary, 1970’s Barbie doll.
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