“May I have a snack?”
“Remember me feeding your breakfast to the dog because you insisted you weren’t hungry?”
“Then you can wait till lunch.”
“But I’m starrrrrrving.”
I’m pretty sure this is a universal scenario in every country where food is plentiful. In this moment, every mom has a choice: cave to the whining & satisfy the self-imposed hunger, or teach a greater lesson.
I’m a softy. Always have been, probably always will be. I avoid squishing ants, I feed stray kittens, & as my dad used to say, I apologize for stepping on my shadow. When I’m faced with situations like above, it’s hard—HARD—for me to steel my spine & hold my line firm.
My husband, on the other hand, is typically more discerning about the heart of the matter (though he’s a softy in his own ways). I put great weight in the kids’ feelings; he steps back & assesses the character we’re building. He would inevitably say, “Too bad, you should’ve thought of that when you turned up your nose at your muffins. Whine about it again & you’ll be waiting till suppertime.” I cringe to even write that, but it’s funny how much less they whine & talk back to him.
The longer we work together at this roller coaster ride we call parenting & I watch his wisdom in action, the more it seems that almost every parenting decision boils down to is one fundamental character trait: self-control.
“I don’t feel like going to sleep.”
“That’s MY toy!” *slap!*
“This is too much work. Can I just do half?”
“I don’t like peas.”
“I’m tooooo tired.”
I hear these kinds of excuses all day every day. As a loving parent, I’m responsible to make sure my kids have their basic needs met, but I believe too many parents today (including myself all too often) coddle the whims & whining of children rather than push them at every opportunity to exercise self-control.
Children in some cultures spend hours a day practicing piano/gymnastics/algebra. Native American children were taught to withstand days of hunger without complaint. In days gone by, children were expected to sit at the table & eat without speaking—and *gasp* they were capable of it! Amish furniture is highly sought & unsurpassably crafted, & they start learning their trades when our kids are sitting around playing Angry Birds, sipping watered-down juice.
Can demands be unreasonable? Sure. Should children be allowed to be children? Absolutely. But adults shouldn’t be allowed to be children, & that’s what many college kids & young adults are. They were never asked to sit still & be quiet for any length of time. They were never expected to work for or budget their allowance—credit is easy to obtain, after all. They never had to scrub a floor till every last spot was gone or weed a garden till not an errant root remained. On and on the list goes.
I’m grateful that I had parents who drew straight lines in the sand & dared me to cross them. I cleaned my room till every toy was off the floor. I did my math problems till they were right. I didn’t dare interrupt my father when he spoke with a friend. I sat once for hours till I finished eating the mashed potatoes that I stubbornly refused. And it never occurred to me to resent that.
But in my softness & excessive sensitivity, I have sometimes failed to expect the same age-appropriate self-control out of my children, something my husband regularly points out. It’s no longer the cultural norm for children to control themselves anyway. Melt-downs are excusable, whining is as expected as the common cold, & quality, sweaty work has gone the way of the typewriter. It’s not the nature of children that has changed, but rather the fortitude of parents.
I write this to remind myself & maybe another mommy out there who struggles in this area: my children are more capable than I realize. I allowed my 5 year-old son to regularly toss his quilt over his bed sideways—it was STILL “made”. My husband saw it one day, demonstrated the right way to neatly spread it lengthwise, & it’s been done right every day since. I give snacks for children who refused breakfast, then gasp in surprise when they aren’t hungry for lunch an hour later.
But I’m learning. My kindergartener is working to save for his first car. My 10 month-old is learning to stay on a blanket with a few toys, rather than rampage the entire house & shred every paper within arm’s reach. My 3 year-old is learning to set the table correctly rather than just randomly toss napkins & forks around. My children will clean messes, sit quietly through “boring” concerts, sand a rough board, plant seeds, feed animals, tend smaller children, mow grass, help the elderly, and they will not quit when the job is half-done. Every tantrum must be proven ineffective & self-defeating.
They’re tough. They’re strong. They’re smart. If I fail to push them to be tougher, stronger, & smarter, then I’m robbing them of inner satisfaction, & I’m robbing my grandchildren of a working definition for quality. I can also fail to hold myself to the same standard—if I preach self-control but check Facebook for the 173rd time & sit watching shows while there are clothes to be folded, they notice & inwardly mock my hypocrisy. Two hundred times today, I will be given the choice between letting them do what a child naturally leans towards, the easy path, or I can hold them to a higher standard & train adults that will be selfless leaders. I can take the gentler road myself & respond on auto-pilot with whatever makes my life easier & theirs more comfortable, or I can get in the habit of asking myself the question: What will make him a better adult?