We were in a book store last Saturday and witnessed a parenting moment that will not show up in any Dr. Spock books or Parenting magazine.  I guess it is always helpful to witness how other parents deal with situations so you can adjust your own approach.  You can mimic or avoid doing it like they did, depending on your assessment of their results.

In the case of the Mother we witnessed Saturday, we will avoid anything like her reaction to her kids.  Her approach was the epitome of words with no backbone.  She was saying one thing but not backing it up and not being consistent.  Like many of the things we have discussed on this blog and on the podcast – you have to mean what you say and say what you mean.  I share this only to help strengthen that point, not be to critical, throwing stones is never a good thing, but this was so obvious to any bystander (and there were quite a few) that I felt it provided the perfect example of what not to do.

The family consisted of the parents, both appearing to be in their late 30’s to mid 40’s, and three kids, the oldest appearing to be around 4 and the youngest a toddler.  We first encountered them in the children’s book section.  We heard loud screaming and crying and after a few minutes (that seemed to last forever), we saw the father take the toddler out of the store.  Chaos averted, right?

Wrong.  The other two children, a boy who appeared to be 2-3 and the oldest, a girl who looked to be 4, continued to control the visit.  When asked to come along with their mother, they refused, shrugged off her attempts to grab them and were determined to continue to look at what they wanted and play with the Thomas the Tank Engine playset.  When their mother got louder and more agitated, so did they.  Her lack of control was obvious.

But the real show was once they got to the checkout line.  We of course were fortunate enough to line up directly behind them, first row seats for the pandemonium.  The kids were emphatic about looking at a display of cards the folded down into a three dimensional scene.  By looking I mean, touching, folding, closing, turning and all manner of manipulation.  They are kids, if it looks interesting it must certainly feel interesting too.

Mom was trying to get them to stop touching the items but by trying, she was verbally telling them “No, don’t touch that” while looking around and seeming either disinterested in what they were doing, extremely distracted, nervous or some combination of the three.  Whatever her issues were, there was no power in her command and without direct attention to her children, they were not responding.

This escalated to the mother finally taking notice that she was being ignored and ramping up a notch with her demands that they stop touching. the cards.  The kids very forcefully said “No” and continued to touch the items.  Mom tried to pull their hands off of the cards and the kids pushed her away (in sort of a slapping motion – wonder who they were mimicking?).

What really put it over the edge was her repeated statements to her kids, “Cut the Crap”.  Her idle threats were bad enough.  Her statement “You’re all taking a nap today, because I want you to” was in some ways humorous, in others pitiful.  But overall, “Cut the Crap” summed it up best.  She had no control over her kids.  As her voice raised, so did theirs in their objections.  As her tone revealed her anguish, so did theirs in their objection.  She simply stood there, told them not to touch the items and then watched as they completely ignored her, only threatening what she would do in the future if they didn’t stop.  Pathetic is a strong word and based on her lack of control, no strong words seem appropriate.

What was perhaps a ray of sunshine in all of this, at least for us, was that our boys noticed it all too.  They noticed that the kids were misbehaving and being absolutely disrespectful.  They noticed the mom losing it and how that was having no affect on the situation.  They noticed and they learned.  I hope that some of what they learned will stick with them when they become parents, and that they will also see that their current situation, with parents who will be strict at times but fair and consistent, is pretty good (okay, perhaps that is a stretch, but a guy can dream).

The general lessons is simply this, say what you mean and mean what you say.  Idle threats get you no where.  They simply lead to children learning how to manipulate their parents.  If parents are distracted or unable to control the situation, the kids, even at a young age, will learn how to walk all over them.  These young kids were in control of the situation, and mom was completely out of control.

If you have feedback or your own story to share, let me know.  Post a comment here or send to me at DaddyCast@gmail.com.  You can also leave an audio comment on the podcast hotline at 804-SOS-LATE.   I hope to be recording another show soon and can include your comments with it.