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The New Parenting: Nowadays, are mum and dad the ones seen and not heard?

Not pandering to a child’s tantrums is better for everyone in the long run, but be prepared for horrified looks from other adults.

Claire Micks

WE HAD ONE of those great nights out last weekend. The kind of night out you can only really have with fellow parents of kids of a similar age. Where you share anthologies of child related stories that make you laugh until you literally cry, whilst other, more sophisticated restaurant-goers throw you a look that says ‘Jesus, they don’t get out much’ – which, clearly, we don’t. Where after a few glasses of wine any veneer of parental perfection is mercifully washed away, and you trade honest, unembellished tales of adventures in child-rearing. And God, how good it feels. To realise, that actually, you are not alone. That everyone has their challenges.

Suddenly, that horrendous incident with your two-year-old in a public toilet, which a week earlier nearly had you in tears, now has you rolling around the floor at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. And when your equivalent across the table confides that actually, they recently experienced similar, or worse, well the relief you feel is almost as good as the never ending laughter in your belly. Because, suddenly, it’s not you versus the kids. It’s Us versus Them. The Grown Ups struggling against the Little People. And for a few split seconds of a Saturday evening, you feel like you might actually be winning. Because, really, aren’t all of us just In The Trenches?

There’s a modern school of thought which states the wants and needs of children always get prioritised

It was recently suggested to me that if I knew how to parent properly, and took control back from my own children, that everything would be rosy. And I do recognise that that is probably true. But as far as I can see it, it is a long time since us parents had the luxury of any kind of control in the real sense of the word, or were ‘empowered’ to parent as we ourselves see fit.

We are effectively neutered. By political correctness. By over information. By fear of the inevitable views and judgements of others. By schools of thought that universally advocate that the wants and needs of children always get prioritised over those of their parents, no matter what the impact on mam and dad. And somewhere amid all those outside influences, our common sense gets flushed down the toilet, and gets replaced by a growing neurosis around our own parenting abilities.

We become blind to the obvious, and tend to overthink even the simplest situations. And, as a result, we somehow find ourselves stooped down on the supermarket floor, trying to reason with Little Johnny as to why he can’t have that pack of Smarties, where deep down all we really want to do is lift him clean out of the situation, tantrum or no tantrum. But somewhere in our psyche we know that in modern Ireland the sight of a struggling, wailing, hysterical toddler is not one that’s really socially acceptable in the frozen food aisle. And what’s more, on some level, Little Johnny knows this too. And is capitalising on it.

If you ignore a tantrum, prepare for dirty looks from adults

You see the same thing in playgrounds all the time. Typically involving Sunday Morning Dads, God love them. Like lambs to the slaughter. Not entirely sure of the ground rules, and ill-prepared for battle, he walks straight into an ambush early on over the inevitable queue at the swings. Then, forever chastened by the immortal image of Little Jenny lying spread-eagled across the green and red tarmac waving her legs in the air, he runs around after her for the next hour and a half tending to her every whim.

By contrast, Little Jenny has, minutes later, long since forgotten about ‘Queue Gate’, and is having a grand old time wrapping Daddy around her little finger. But had Daddy dared to admonish, ignore, or simply evacuate little Jenny from the playground, he’d want to have been prepared for more than a few dirty looks thrown his direction in the process. And being a Sunday Morning Dad, there was no way the poor guy was going to have the stomach for that.

I’ve regularly had to walk off and leave my little lad mid-tantrum. Where he’s upset, but not yet hysterical. Where’s he’s lashing out because he’s not getting something that he wants, but clearly cannot have. Where there’s little or no point in trying to reason with him, and indeed, engaging in any kind of conciliatory approach is only likely to infuriate him even further when he realises, that actually, despite mummy’s soft words and smiling face, he is still not getting what he wants. And where I’m lucky enough to find myself in a location where it is safe for mummy to walk ten feet away from him.

It invariably gets the message across and calms him down quicker than any ‘conversation’ would. But I am also very aware of those who happen to be in the vicinity whenever such Tantrum Management Strategies have to be deployed, and of those onlookers likely reactions to my somewhat hands-off approach (and of the possibility that they might call Child Services because I am choosing to discipline my child in a way that does not involve entering into prolonged bilateral negotiations with an individual who has the reasoning capabilities of Sadam Hussein).

Very old and very young women I personally find to be the worst. Glance at screaming child and unresponsive mother and throw you a horrified look that implies you should have been sterilised at birth. The young ones I forgive because they’ve yet to run the gauntlet themselves. The ould wans have obviously forgotten. Or else their kids were of a generation that knew better than to throw a wobbler over a refused packet of Smarties – probably because they knew what fate awaited them at home should they dare.

Children need to understand the meaning of the word no

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we go back to the old school days of oppressed children and tyrannical parents. Of wooden spoons and the Lord knows what else. I’ve seen my four year old get upset enough over the odd raised voice, that I can’t even imagine what anything more than that would do to her. Or me for that matter.

But I do think there must be a happy medium. Where children are not empowered to such an extent that they entirely rule the roost, little emperors whose parents tiptoe around them, desperate to appease, and plain terrified of what the next outbreak of hostilities might bring. Because that’s not good either. And how’s a child supposed to find their place in the world if they don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘No’?

Not ,‘No, Johnny, I’m sooo sooo sorry but Mummy can’t give you that packet of Smarties right now because that would be bad for your tummy, and little Johnny wouldn’t want that now would he?’.

Not ,‘No, Johnny, I understand and appreciate the frustration you are experiencing right now because you cannot have the packet of Smarties, and Mummy realises that you are trying to express that emotion and Mummy feels very sorry about that’

Not, ‘Now Johnny, maybe we can have a packet of Smarties later, after dinner, like we did last week? Remember? Would you like to do that for Mummy, please? To make her happy? Would you? Please? Please? PLEAASE?’

Just plain ‘No’.

Okay?

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for TheJournal.ie here.

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Claire Micks

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