105 Ways to Give a Book

Be The Parent

I had so many suggestions for Thursday — Thematic Thursday, Therapeutic Thursday, Theme-Song Thursday — that I can choose as I go. Today I’m using Thoughtful Thursday as my anchor for today’s post about parents.

Yesterday I heard a mom arguing with her two-year-old for ten minutes about leaving the library. Hear that: ARGUING WITH HER TWO-YEAR-OLD. The mom was ready to leave and twoer was clearly not. I was an innocent bystander, collecting books for my next program. There was counting: “I’m going to count to three...” And pleading: “Mommy’s really ready to go home now...” And even some bitterness: “Well, Mommy doesn’t get to do what Mommy wants to do most of the time.” There may have even been some despair over lost opportunities: “Mommy could have been a background singer for Celine Dion, but instead here she is in purple velour sweatpants trying to haul your dream-killing butt out of the public library so Mommy can get home to the little orange pills that make it all seem fine.”

Come to think of it, that last one may have been me.

Anyway, I realized that my being the only other person in the children’s area might be contributing to the problem, because maybe the mom was feeling awkward with a staff member right there. So I left, and as I was telling my coworkers that the mom might be coming behind me with a screaming kid, the mom did pick up the kid, who did indeed scream. Considering the whole thing finished, I went into the back room.

But here’s the kicker: When I came out of the back room thirty minutes later, the mom was just then checking out! Was she honestly negotiating with her two year old for forty minutes? Did someone forget to tell her that SHE’S THE MOTHER?

When did parents forget to be parents?

I may be annoyed by the tantruming kid in the store or library, but I’m still sympathetic deep down in my heart. I know that any kid, any mom can have a bad day or even a bad period. The tantrum itself isn’t indicative of the parenting, though how it is handled can be. My oldest was a big tantrum kid coming up on three years old. But when I had to, I carried her screaming body out. I still remember the day I had to carry her out of the mall, wrapped around my body under both arms as she tried to kick and scream, while I pushed her sister in the baby stroller. Good times. But I tell you that so you know that I’m no stranger to strong reactions to the phrase, “We need to go home now.” Tantrums aren’t fun to watch as the mother or a random person in Kohl’s trying to find a pair of jeans that don’t shout how you’ve given up looking hot. But tantrums by themselves are not nearly as bad as seeing a mom hand over control to someone who hasn’t even maintained control of his bowels yet.

Is it fair to give your kid a little heads-up that you’re leaving soon? Sure. Is it helpful to offer constructive choices surrounding your departure? Can be. Is it useful to argue the finer points of your departure with a two-year-old? NONONONONO!!!

These parents are often in my storytimes as well, but fortunately I can usually hold their kids’ attention. But when I can’t, I watch them asking the kids nicely to not bang on the carts or not climb on the stacks of chairs in the middle of my reading. I want so badly to put down the book and show them how to handle their kids. Because it’s possible that instead of asking from ten feet away for the kid to stop, you need to get up and physically remove the kid from said cart or chairs. Sometimes I think that I would do far more good showing parents how to parent their child then I can do showing them how to read to their child, but then that wouldn’t be fair to the majority of parents and kids who are listening nicely.

Actually, one of the times I did suggest to a mom that she take her child out of the storytime and return when he was ready, she complained — not to my supervisor, or even the library branch manager, but to the director of the entire library system. While I didn’t get in trouble per se, everyone in the entire chain of command knew about this complaint. So even though the people I work with directly knew the whole thing was crazy — I’m really a nice person — I’m sure it left doubts with the people who didn’t know me. It just adds a whole other level to the parenting crises. Not only will these people not control their own children, if you try to suggest they do so, you can get a black mark by your name in the Big Job Book.

It’s scary for the future to see how much power parents are putting in their kids’ hands. Want to play a little game? Go to a playground or busy children’s section of the library or bookstore and count the number of times you hear parents say, “Okay” — as in, “We’re going to go home soon, okay?” It has become a verbal tic for parents who think it softens their statement (“We’re going to go home soon”), but is really asking permission of their child (“Okay? No, not okay,” the kid thinks). Parents are afraid to be seen as harsh or mean, so instead they get played like the Wiggles keyboard in front of KB Toys.

The Three-Martini PlaydateA great book for moms struggling with their inner meanie is The Three-Martini Playdate. The book reminds us, in a very tongue-in-cheek way, how to be the parent in a number of situations from birthday parties to bedtime, diaper bags to dinner out. Hopefully moms will laugh reading the insert for Our Little Tot’s First Martini Recipe, but the serious message contained within the book is the concept — how revolutionary — of being the person in charge.

20 comments:

Barbara Bietz said...

This post really made me smile! Probably because I have teenagers, and I miss the days of bringing little ones to the library. But I wonder if that mom realizes how lucky she is to have a child who deosn't want to leave the library! What a gift! I think part of the problem with these situations is that moms worry too much about what other people will think. This poor mom probably thought if she really put her foot down the kid would spin out of control - and that would be embarrassing. It takes some parents a long time to learn that you have to do the right thing - no matter what others may be thinking. Just my humble opinion!

Susan said...

"...trying to haul your dream-killing butt out of the public library.." If I had been drinking coffee, MR, I would have spit it. Thank you for the laugh.

I can't tell you how many "extractions" we performed when Junior was younger: from the preschool (oh, how I envied those sweet girls walking out holding Mom's hand and not trying to launch themselves like a rocket), the beach, the car...

CheerfulStorm said...

I used to nanny for a woman like that. Her kids were great kids, but knew that Mom would pretty much let them do what they wanted. She was an attorney, and her forte was negotioating with her kids.

It's a wonder she had a job if she negotiated like that with people in her office.

Melissa said...

Amen, sister! (Though several times in frustration, I have taken it all a step further and actually left a child someplace just to prove my point. It worked.)

B. Johansen Newman said...

Ah, yes, thanks for the memories...NOT!

I remember carrying my now college student son out of several places, arms and legs flailing away in every direction, onlookers tsking away, their faces pinched with judgemental attitudes....

Yew--just the thought makes me want to make a martini right now. I do have vivid memories of one 5 PM home meltdown, with three kids and a grandmother present ,all complaining and carrying on at the same time, and me opening a bottle of red wine all by myself for the first time in my life...

Emily said...

"I still remember the day I had to carry her out of the mall, wrapped around my body under both arms as she tried to kick and scream, while I pushed her sister in the baby stroller. Good times."

This is exactly what happened to me on Saturday. Exactly. My son never throws fits because I don't ever give in, but I guess it had been long enough that he decided to see if I had weakened. Carrying him out of the mall was insanely difficult while pushing a double stroller. I was feeling really bummed until my husband reassured me that I had done the right thing and I wasn't a terrible mother.

zeelibrarian said...

Oh my gosh, I am so with you, MR. I had at my library this child whose mother brought him to storytime each week. Part of storytime, in my opinion, is teaching kids how to sit still for 20 minutes and listen. This mom, though, would literally follow her child all around the library. He did not want to sit still. He did not throw a fit; he just walked around. Instead of leaving or trying to get him to stay, she would walk around behind him in the library for 25 straight minutes. It was like he was walking her with an invisible leash. Fascinating stuff.

adrienne said...

I love The Three-Martini Playdate. Aside from the fact that it's very funny, it's also very true that we adults were here first.

Anonymous said...

Actually, although I tend to agree with you, isn't this just another example of mothers judging other mothers? I know what works for my family, but cannot and should not assume that I know the best way to deal with someone else's child.

Bill Coughlan said...

I think it's become a bit of a cop-out to pretend that "judging" is always a bad thing. People judge others. Sure, there are times we may wish it weren't so, like when a child is throwing a tantrum and everyone's ataring at you, or when (as MR mentioned) people get only part of a whole picture. But I don't think we need to apologize for noticing when someone else is really screwing up -- especially when (as in the storytime example) it's negatively affecting others.

I fear we're becoming an "Emperor's New Clothes" society, where we're all just supposed to pretend that everything is always okay, or is just a matter of "different choices." But defending someone's right to make different choices (which I will do to my dying breath) is not to say that we are prohibited from criticizing them.

MotherReader said...

This is why my husband and I are together. I swear I was just about to write something like that. Amazing.

I could write an essay on the topic of parents' paralyzing fear of being judged or on the choices we make as parents always being open for inspection, but instead I'll put it this way.

If it works for my neighbor that the children wear no clothes in their home, then I don't need to judge. If they wear no clothes walking the dog, then it becomes my business. If by being naked in public the seven year old boy learns that society's rules don't apply to him, then it really becomes my business. And if the whole naked in public thing along with defiance of society's rules becomes epidemic, then people have got to start saying something, and yes, judging that choice.

Kelly said...

Great post, MR.

If it's any consolation, Susan, my daughter was the kicking-screaming-tantruming one. My son was always much, much easier. He has his moments, but I could almost always count on taking him out in public as a toddler.

The Buried Editor said...

The train table in a Barnes & Noble is daily. Children fight while trying to play. They whine and won't sit when parents want to read to them. They pitch major fits when it's time to go. They try to take the trains with them (and then the parents have the audacity to pretend that they didn't know the trains weren't free). Some parents negotiate with their kids, some remove them, some just ignore the child until the child stops (my favorite. There's nothing like watching a child try to throw a tantrum on the floor while covertly watching Parent). It's a study in parenting. And it all happens right in front of my desk normally while I try to help a customer.

Jen Robinson said...

I can't really comment, because I'm not a parent, and I know that it's an incredibly difficult job. But still, as someone who notices these kinds of things, I found your post (and people's responses) heartening. This thing where people teach there kids that basic rules of courtesy and participating in society is dangerous, and certainly a recipe for kids to end up unhappy in adulthood (when they eventually learn that the entire world doesn't revolve around them).

I recently saw a woman in line in Barnes and Noble with her son, maybe 7 years old. He was messing around, and he dropped a book that they were going to by on the ground, and dinged the cover. She handed him the book, and sent him back to the children's section to replace it with an un-dinged copy. I was never so tempted to say something. Like, shouldn't you take responsibility for the damage that your child inflicted? Shouldn't you perhaps criticize your child for damaging something? He wasn't a baby who didn't know better. But I didn't have the nerve to say anything...

Kaz said...

Amen!
When my daughter was in Kindgergarten, another mom who's kid was in the class told me, while we were waiting for the bell to ring, how her son and his preschool brother MADE HER take them to see LOTR.
EXCUSE ME?

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Thank you for this post.

I'm a parent of an almost-four year old. There are times when she gets choices, and times when she doesn't. It drives me crazy when friends of mine give their children choices where no choices should exist. I have friends who I miss dearly, but whom I rarely see because every time we go out with our children, the entire outing is about what their children want. After such outings, I really need the equivalent of three martinis!

Lazy cow said...

Excellent post. This week I've been witness to two screaming tantrums thrown by my friend's 4 yo daughter. The friend looked at me helplessly and asked me: "What should I do?" (Not really wanting me to tell her, though I was sorely tempted!) When my children rarely act like that, I remove them. No matter what. Especially if we are in a cafe, library, other public place. It is just not on to allow ourselves to be manipulated like that.

Occidental Girl said...

GREAT post!

Got here via Jen Robinson's book site, and I'm glad I read this.

I think that most parents would gladly like some parenting advice, or I guess not, but I know I would. Sometimes I just don't know what the hell to do. My problems are nothing on the scale of needing supernanny's help, just some good advice on how to maintain control without being a jerk. My parents maintained control with me, but then we were distant as I grew older because the level of control never changed with age. They did well enough, but I want to do better with my six year old daughter.

I NEVER wanted to be That Mom, the one who argues with her two year old. I agree with you that everybody has tough days, but that woman is making it harder on herself because that kid will take the power and run with it. It's not his fault, it's what he's being taught. She's the parent, not him. It's a fine line, though, and hard to maintain.

*shudder*

lectitans said...

I, too, came over from Jen Robinson's site. As a teacher, I thank you for your post. I teach high school and I see several students who seem to think negotiating or stalling is an appropriate way to deal with not getting their way. It makes it very hard to maintain classroom control, as they are too big to be flung over one's shoulder and carried out of the class. (And, of course, it would be inappropriate for anyone but the parent or guardian of a child to do that to a child of any age.)

Occidental Girl said...

I can't tell you how often I've heard "okay". Stop with the okays, and it will all be okay!