Why Do Parents Say Odd Things to Their Children?
I was a very new mother when I had my first experience of what I like to call insane parenting. I had taken my newborn down to the neighborhood park to get some fresh air. There were a few other parents there, all with children older than mine. I made some half-hearted attempts at conversation before settling into observation mode. One woman in particular caught my attention.
Her son was around four or five and deeply immersed in playing with another kid on one of the playground structures. His mother watched him intensely for a while and eventually started rummaging around in her bag, pulling out a series of snacks. She picked up a cheese stick and yelled to her son, “Kevin, time for a snack!” There was no response. Again, she called, “Kevin! Snack!” Still nothing. Her voice got a little louder. “I’ve got a cheese stick for you! Come get your cheese stick!” He didn’t even glance in her direction. She began to get agitated. Still seated, she upped the ante. “I’m going to eat your cheese stick!” she bellowed. “I’m opening it!” And finally, at the top of her lungs, “I am eating your cheese stick!” Meanwhile, Kevin continued to play happily, either unconcerned by or unaware of his mother’s increasingly frantic appeals.
I found the entire incident bizarre. Would I too be acting this crazy? Was this a temporary form of insanity brought on by the creation of offspring? Was Kevin going to make it through the day without his cheese stick? So many questions.
Of course, as time went on, I saw and heard of many episodes that made me question the conduct of some parents. There was the woman who kept a spray bottle in her car to squirt her kids if they started falling asleep at an inconvenient time. People who padlock their children’s rooms. A mother who responded to her child’s insistence that he needed to go to the bathroom (#2) with, “No, you don’t,” and forbidding him from going. A father who had his toddler in tears on the playground after telling her she could jump from a height that clearly terrified her, saying, “Don’t you want to make Daddy happy?”
It’s probably unfair to judge other parents without walking in their shoes, but we all do it, don’t we? I’m not even talking here about behavior that requires CPS intervention, just nutty stuff that makes you scratch your head and ask, “Why would you think that’s a good idea?”
Maybe there’s something about how insecure so many people are about their parenting skills, whether consciously or not, that makes them act in a way that defies common sense and/or lacks empathy. Or maybe they’re convinced they’re doing the right thing. I get it. Parenting is not always straightforward or easy. But there should be some basic criteria for how we treat our children, starting with the question we ask them constantly: How would you like it if someone did that to you?