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The Disciplinarian versus The Coddler

A week or so after Jake got home from his year long deployment to Afghanistan, we were having a late lunch at a  restaurant with our nearly two year old daughter June.  June was having a…well, I don’t want to call it a temper tantrum, but she was howling plaintively and flinging crackers and ketchup packets off the table.   I didn’t particularly mind the histrionics because it was an off hour and the restaurant was otherwise empty.  Jake, on the other hand, looked a little concerned.

“Are we really going to let her do that?” he asked.

“Let her do what? If you see the waitress ask her to bring some more bread.”

“That,” he said as June flung another packet off the table.  “Are we really going to allow our daughter to behave like that in public?”

“Jake, she’s one,” I said, bending over to pick up the crackers and ketchup packets.

“No, she’s almost two,” he said. “I don’t think it’s ever too early to start instilling a little discipline.”

I laughed.  “Such a soldier thing to say.”

“I don’t think we should coddle her when she behaves like that,” he said.

“Oh, so now I’m coddling her,” I said, just a teensy bit agitated.

“Well, yeah, by not telling her ‘no’ when she screams in public and flings stuff off the table.”

On the one hand, I had to empathize.  It’s gotta be difficult for a new father — Jake left our home when June was only nine months old — to go from the bureaucratic, tightly ordered, totalitarian world of the U.S. military to the anarchy of toddlerhood. On the other hand, whining in public and throwing crackers off the table is fairly standard behavior for even the most “well-behaved” one year olds. Or maybe I was just used to it, therefore more accepting of it.

What’s the right answer?  For us, we eventually took the crackers away from her and left the restaurant early, but the incident laid bare our differing parenting styles, widened and amplified after a year apart; to me, Jake is the drop-and-give-me-twenty disciplinarian, to him, I’m the squishy and enabling coddler.  Somewhere in the middle is June.

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