Last year, my entire family was at a local buffet enjoying heaping piles of lo mein topped with egg rolls. My aunt and uncle were in town and when they visit, this has become our tradition. We fill about 20 chairs that surround a long table and have our way with the buffet and pitchers of soda.
It’s exciting for us all, especially the kids in the group, and that day, there were seven cousins who were beaming with excitement and plotting ways to out-do each other.
The adults, on the other hand, always have mixed emotions about such gatherings. One the one hand, it’s so fulfilling to see all the children so happy to see each other and we enjoy catching up and all that goes with a family gathering.
But on the other hand, we all kind of sit back and wait for the shit to start flying because we know damn well no matter how hard we talk between our teeth on the way to an event like this and threaten to take away their devices, favorite toy, and all other things precious to them if they don’t behave, there are times when their inner voice goes on vacation, and they test the waters. Because dammit, ya only live once, Ma.
I had the talk with my kids on the way to this establishment. I said all the things I was supposed to say and made all the correct threats. The lines between my eyeballs were so pronounced my children commented on them more than once and asked why I was getting so worked up.
I was very serious. I was sure I’d convinced them to be on their best behavior. I was positive I’d be able to enjoy my crab rangoons in peace, and when we got out of the car I was certain I’d covered my bases thoroughly so all would be well with The Universe.
But then my youngest child got swept up by the fried foods and energy and decided it would be a fantastic idea to put a handful of noodles on his cousin’s head. While he was standing under the hot light of the buffet for all the other diners to see.
Then, when a family member asked him to stop, he just looked at him, showed no remorse, and walked away.
Now, my son knows damn well you don’t put food on a person’s head. Especially in public. I’m pretty sure I’ve taught him that. And for the record, I’ve punished him for committing a lesser crime at least one hundred times.
But on this sunny Sunday in October, his need to act like an asshole and a show-off grabbed a hold of him and he gave zero shits — his main goal was to have fun, show off for his cousins, and try something a little more daring.
I’m not defending him because he is my child. I am just saying that this was a snippet in time when he made a bad decision because he is human. And yes, he had a consequence.
Sure, it’s easy to point the finger and blame the parents for every action their child takes, but our kids have a mind of their own and we don’t have a way to hook them up to a machine and control their actions with a remote control — even though we’ve all had that fantasy a time or two. Sometimes they act out of character. Sometimes they act opposite of what we have instilled in them.
Everyone, adults included, has their bad days and times when they make big mistakes and our kids are no different — especially when they are under the influence of sugar, peer pressure, or feeling insecure and wanting to impress people.
They get tired, don’t feel well, and can be cranky for a million different reasons. They don’t always have the means, know how to deal with or express these feelings, and instead of thinking they are raised by a pack of wild animals, we need to stop and realize something: This is just a moment in time and we aren’t seeing the whole picture. Also, we can’t hold children to adult standards.
We don’t know what that child’s day was like. We have no clue if they’ve recently been through something traumatic, life changing, or something so exciting they aren’t able to manage their emotions. We don’t know if they have special needs that make social situations more challenging.
Clearly, if our children listened to everything we said, soaked in every command, and acted the way the adults in their life wanted them to, the world would be a different place. We’d have a hell of a lot less stress and problems, and there would be more peace in the Targets of the world.
It would also be a really boring planet full of freaking robotic Stepford children.
That’s simply not the way it works. It’s funny how people realize this truth when it comes to their own kids. They talk about the struggles of trying to get their kids to mind their manners, to listen, to pick up their backpack that they leave on the front steps everyday because they are sure it’s going to kill them sooner than later and damn it, it’s frustrating.
But then, when it’s someone else’s child throwing the tantrum, not listening, or talking back, it must be because the parents are doing something horribly wrong. That child lacks discipline. That child is the product of lazy parenting. That child needs a spanking.
We all know kids have a way of expressing their inner-asshole despite all we have taught them and we need to stop thinking it’s all on the parents and realizing we are all just humans who are doing the best we can.
Besides, playing the blame game takes our energy away from keeping our own assholes in check. So let’s just knock if off already. We need to calm down and extend some grace to children (and parents) everywhere.