Thursday, July 12, 2012

re: my spoiled children

Every few months there's an article in the American media about the monstrous behavior of our children.  I've read of how our children are spoilt because: they don't contribute to the household, they get everything they want, they watch too much tv,  and they eat poorly.

My children are spoiled.  (Note: I didn't choose the perfective of the word, "spoilt," because I believe things can be turned around.)  Here are my thoughts on why:

Though I am currently on a three-week summer staycation with my children (my first such vacation that I can remember since entering graduate school), I work a full time job.  Thankfully, I am an academic, which means I can manipulate my hours to the children's advantage, but still.  Husband works a full time job in Washington, DC: this adds 3+ hours of commute to his work day.

Reason 1 for the spoiled children:   I have a lot on my plate.  When I am with them, I want my time with them to be nice.  I don't want to fight.  This means I roll over to the dictatorial demands issued from their 3 and 5 year old mouths quite a lot, just because I want to be able to be with them and be happy.

Reason 2 for the spoiled children:   I am accustomed to making sacrifices in some places, several of which are certainly the wrong kinds of places to be making sacrifices (I fetch and carry for the children, a lot; I still wipe the 5 year old's arse; I still respond to night-time concerns that they can't see their fingerprints in the dark).  But, I am also terrifically spoiled in others: if I want to go for a latte at Atwater's, I go for a latte at Atwater's.  The children get treats out of the excursion.  If they are rotten little monsters, we should stay home and they should not get treats. BUT, it is darned hard for me to give up on a plan, and for me to sacrifice the thing I wanted.

Reason 3 for the spoiled children: Our children's preschool is fantastic, and I have no complaints.  It is, however, true that their bottom line in terms of behavior-management is achieving peace, stability and order in a group of children.  Children don't like negative consequences (aka punishments) and tend to yell, scream, writhe and flail when on the receiving end of them.  Thus, children in a preschool setting probably get off pretty lightly in terms of consequences for bad behavior (and who can blame a teacher for not wanting a room full of yelling, screaming, writhing and flailing id-kids?). 

Reason 4 for the spoiled children: Time.  Holy crap on a hastily-made tostada is time ever an issue.  It can't always have been like this, can it?  No, surely not?  I know, from experiences living elsewhere in the world (Ghana, for example), that other people do not live constantly scurrying to keep in front of the sweeping arm of the minute-hand on our watches.  I manipulate things to go as fast as they can. In many regards time is the factor behind all of those articles in the media observing problems with our children.

-Children don't contribute?  Of course not.  It takes so much damn longer to get them to fold the laundry and put it away.  Who has time?

-Children get everything they want?  Of course.  If I'm rushing to finish something it is faster to give the child what s/he wants than to wait out their fury when they don't get it.

-Children watch too much TV?  Yup!  Because if they are plugged in and subdued, I have more time to get stuff done.

-Children eat too much junk?  We actually do really well on this one.  I cook.  My children eat home-cooked meals 95% of the time.  However, I totally get how fast food appeals because it saves so much time.

I'd like to wrap this up into a tidy 4-item list for familial improvement now, but boy are my fingers resisting typing it.  The obvious answer is that my children are spoiled because I am spoilt.  Conversely, maybe my children are spoiled because I am punishingly over-worked and ground down by trying to do a full time job and parent.  Solutions include all kinds of impossibilities like staying home, or retreating to life in a yurt in a third world country whose approach to the clock is more lacksidaisical.

Today's resolve is merely (merely!  This is f-ing HUGE for me) to let things get messier.  Today, I let them both have messy hysterics as I bundled them back into the car: both had been arguing with me, and refusing to do what I asked.  Therefore we went home and did not have lunch at Atwaters as planned (and I did not get my latte!  Oh internet, please give me some sympathy for my heroic self-sacrifice).  I'm going to have to let the dishes get messy if I want the kids to put them away, and the laundry will need to be lumpily folded.  We will have to have conflicts, even when I just want to be happy.

My bottom line is that I don't want them to be spoilt.  I'm going to have to suck up all the ways they will yell at me and then punish them appropriately for having yelled (Note: not by any violent means, just by withholding over-indulgences).  I feel I've grazed the sharp edge of an American cultural problem with my bottom line: parents are supposed to dote and love.  It is very hard, in our culture, to see discipline as part of doting and loving, not as their opposite.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, I saw that study comparing our (spoiled) kids to Amazonian indigenous kids, and I thought it was silly. The difference, as you suggest, is structural, based on our daily rhythms. It's not a choice or a cultural failing (unless you count overworking as the cultural failure).