The "My Child First" Parenting Style Ruined My Playdates
Your kid is mean.
My friend’s daughter walked up to my child and kicked her in the shins. “Oh, she’s so fierce,” my friend said. “I had to squash her spirit.” Then the little girl, screamed right in my daughter’s ears. “Don’t ‘cream in my earrings,” my daughter said on the verge of tears. The little girl, screamed again. My daughter cried. I stepped into separate them. I held my daughter and said gently to the little girl, “Please don’t kick and scream at your friends, that hurts their feelings.”
My friend quickly spoke up. “She’s an independent fighter, it’s what I love most about her.”
That was our last play date together.
I have a hard time criticizing the parenting of others. I believe that we are all on this journey together as parents and we all have moments of helplessness, hopelessness, of stupidity and wisdom. I hate to hold the behavior of anyone’s 2-year-old against them, mostly,because I’ve seen my 2-year-old kick sand in the face of a younger child apropos of nothing (We left the park immediately and I took my daughter straight to time out). I’ve had my 15-month-old slap me in Target and kick me while grocery shopping. These moments, while rare, have happened and while I would like to think we’ve dealt with them appropriately, I’m sure something similar will happen again.
But there are moments, when my parenting style directly conflicts with the style of others and well, I wonder if this is really the future of parenting.
Our town lost our library in an epic flood over five years ago. Our new library opened last year and it is a wonderful mecca of books and coffee and the best story time you’ve ever seen. We have almost weekly play dates there and one of the big magnets for kids are the couches. These couches are incredible, long with loops for curling up in and reading your favorite book. Consequently, every toddler likes to jump on them. There are signs that ask parents not to let their children jump or walk on the couches. I’ve seen librarians tirelessly explain to children over and over, not to walk on the couches. So, I don’t let my daughter walk on the couch. But all of her friends do. As one mom put it, “That’s what they get for putting couches in the kids section.”
I don’t have a lot of hand-wringing over telling my kid not to do something everyone else is doing. That’s life. I hope she get’s used to it. There will be more where that came from in the future. But the attitude of my peers worries me. One of the professors in my graduate program was the father of two grown daughters and had lived in Jamaica his whole life. He frequently would look at me and ask, “Why do American’s worship at the altar of their children?”
I had (and still have) no answer.
My professor and I aren’t the only one befuddled at this behavior. In a recent article on the Daily Mail, Catherine Ostler decries a trend she calls “MCF” or “My child first.” She writes, “That toxic phrase ‘they’re only expressing themselves’ appears to have become a get-out clause for all sorts of monstrous antics; from thumping others to tipping tables over and screaming their heads off just about anywhere… Entitled parents will not see their children told off for anything, and funnily enough, children with bullying tendencies are often offspring of such parents, because they have been trained since birth never to stop to think what anyone else is thinking.”
I want to disagree with her, to champion exhausted parents everywhere, but she isn’t wrong. Entitlement is a problem in parenting and pushing your child first at the cost of others is wrong. And sure, entitlement is a problem everywhere—pet owners, old people in Florida (they think they own that state!), even that cranky lady at the ice rink who insisted that my daughter not sit within three feet of her bag while she ate her snack (a snack of cheese sticks, mind you, and nothing sticky or crumb-creating). But you know what? Entitlement everywhere doesn’t justify entitlement in parenting. Recently, after hosting a play date with some friends who laughed when their their children broke our toilet seat, climbed on our cupboards and broke the handles, and stole the iPad, my husband and I decided we’d rather have our children be kind than at the front of the line. This doesn’t mean we want to raise a doormat, but that’s the thing about toddlers—they are no one’s doormats. You don’t have to teach them to stand up for themselves. Self-advocacy is an evolutionary response in them. What’s not normal? Saying sorry when you pee on your friend’s princess dolls.
The line is hard. As parents we are our child’s best champions and advocates, they are the center of our world. Embracing this role makes us good at what we do. But the reality is our children are not the center of everyone else’s world, nor should they be. And it’s not about making our children kowtow to what can sometimes feel like the capricious whims of others, it’s about teaching our children emotional intelligence–which is now buzzword of corporate culture. More important than grades or prestigious degrees, CEOs and business leaders are championing the ability to understand, empathize and motivate. Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon recently told Fortune that the one thing every entrepreneur needs is emotional intelligence: “Those with emotional intelligence are more self-aware, motivated, and aware of other people and environments. They are able to think outside of the box and more willing to take risks.”
Also, the ability to learn and accept mistakes is key for surviving and thriving as an adult. We do our children no favors by letting them go through life believing that they are incapable of making mistakes and that no one else has the right to point them out.
We can’t teach children how to accept and learn from mistakes and the valuable skills of emotional intelligence if the example we are setting for them is that they are put first over everyone and everything. Yes, I do find it irksome that a restaurant that advertises itself as family friendly doesn’t have a changing table in the bathroom, but, oh well, I change the baby in the car or on a changing pad on the floor of the bathroom. That’s why science invented antibacterial hand sanitizer, right?
I feel like saying anything negative about someone else’s parenting is the equivalent of living in a glass house and trying to toss a boulder. Because as anyone who has seen me take both kids to Target knows, my parenting is far from perfect. But it is a mistake to conflate loving our child with letting their behavior go unchecked. And if my kid ever kicks your kid in the shins, let me know. I’ll march her to time out where she can sit for a good long, long time.
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