Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.
So I’m a parent now. Three months and counting. 🙂
During these three months, I’ve come to understand a number of “parent behaviors” that previously fell under the category of “How is it possible that…??!?!”.
For example, I can totally see how a child might end up dominating the entire household. For the first few months of a child’s life, the parents more or less have to respond immediately to the child’s demands. There’s no such thing as “just a moment, dear, Mommy will change your diaper after grown-ups have finished coffee” when there’s a screaming alert. Once the child starts to want things that are not immediately required for survival and well-being, the parents need to be very conscious of the distinction between needs and wants. It takes effort to break the habit of immediately fulfilling the request.
But there’s one thing that still stays in the “What the what???” category. Allow me to illustrate.
Let’s say it’s one of those (fictional) family get-togethers where you meet everyone who’s a second cousin or closer. I’m stuck at a table with a remotely related nephew John, 8 (fictional) and John’s parents (also fictional). I decide to make small talk.
Me: So what have you been up to this summer, John?
John’s mom: Well, he went to a summer camp for two weeks, and we’re heading off to Switzerland for a week in August.
Me: Oh, that’s nice. So John, did you watch the soccer World Cup?
John’s mom: Yeah, he and his dad watched every single game. He was so sad to see Argentina lose to Germany, weren’t you?
Me: Ah, Argentina. Who was your favorite player, John?
John’s mom: He totally rooted for Messi, he wanted us to buy him a Messi jersey but they are so expensive…
…And so on. Sadly, even though the story is fictional, it’s based on a number of real-life incidents.
Why, oh why is it ok for mothers to speak on behalf of their children? When the children are actually there to participate in the conversation? When the child is the actual person being addressed in the conversation?!!
How on earth do these parents think their child will learn the basic rules of grown-up conversation if they’re never permitted to participate in one? How will the child learn to trust his or her own opinions if there’s never any room for voicing them? I know some children are so shy that it’s a huge endeavor to answer a stranger’s question with a single syllable. In that case, the mother’s task is to encourage the child to say something, anything, and lavish on the praise when they do – or take over the conversation if they don’t. Assuming the child won’t be able to answer is a sign of mistrust towards the child.
More than once I’ve had the urge to disregard the mother’s response and wait for the “John” in the conversation to answer for himself. The problem is, most of the time the child in question is too shy to elaborate on what their mother has already divulged – or too used to having their mother to answer the questions to even bother elaborating.
The other option would be to say, “I’m sorry, I was asking John. So, John, …?”. The problem is that if I did this, the mother in question would probably get really offended. Furthermore, I’m not a big fan of embarrassing people in front of their children. On the other hand, if a parent acts like an ass, isn’t it ok to give the child a break, too?
So far my solution has been to keep asking the child questions tagged with their name, all the while maintaining eye contact with the child. My hope is that eventually, the mother will notice from my verbal and nonverbal cues that I’m hoping for the child to answer.
What else could one do in a situation like this? If you come up with a possible solution, please share it in the comments – I could use some more proverbial ammo when dealing with these kinds of parents. 🙂
Thank you for reading, again, and keep catching your own insightings!