"I WONNN'T! AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!" The 5-year-old hooligan continues howling as he elbows past me at Macy's, nearly knocking me off my platform heels in the process.
"Connor!" his mother says futilely as she chases after him. "Connor, please. You can have Starburst when you get home, OK? Please, Connor."
We've all seen them ... Pushover Parents. Some of them believe they have angels who can do no wrong. Others realize their kids misbehave, but rather than meting out punishment, they prefer to reason with their children as if they were mini-adults.
Pushover parenting has become the norm in our culture, reinforced on talk shows and in movies and magazines. It's largely responsible for the growing popularity of wacky ideas like unschooling (an educational philosophy that asserts "the child knows best" and should decide on his own when, what and whether he wants to learn), and it's also the reason why Bratz dolls and Hannah Montana exist. Pushover parents can't say no to a child who demands a hoochified Barbie or a little girl's makeup kit peddled by a teen-pop sensation, which is why pushover parents are the ultimate targets of many toy and children's clothing manufacturers.
The fact is, pushover parents make my job a lot harder than it should be. When my 3-year-old son acts up in public, discussing his actions with him doesn't work half as well as an evil eye coupled with, "Straighten. Up. OR ELSE." delivered in a Gargamel-like tone. It generally results a heartfelt round of, "Sah-Wee, Mommy! I Sah-Wee!" and that's good enough for me. In fact, I see absolutely nothing wrong with my strategy, but I sure get dark looks from the Pushover Parents when I have to put it to use.
Can you BELIEVE how she talks to her child? their pitying glances say. Why, I'd NEVER talk to Hayden like that. Of course, Hayden just knocked over a display of Chef Boyardee cans, but at least he has a mommy who treats him as though he just might be the next dalai lama. When my little ones get a bit older, I can tell already that pushover parents are going to be the absolute bane of my existence, because they'll be the ones my kids expect me to live up to on a daily basis.
"Connor's mommy let's him eat Lucky Charms. Why do we have to get the store brand?"
"Mom, please let me wear lipstick to school! Katie's mommy lets her wear it!"
And with a husband who's coached junior high and high school soccer for nearly a decade, I've already seen a long adolescent parade of the good, the bad and the pushover-spawn. They're the ones who've arrogantly challenged my husband when he's given them coaching direction, sassed referees and even quit in the middle of games when things weren't going their way. Their behavior isn't all that surprising to me. When you're never told "no," and you don't grow up learning respect for anyone, this kind of thing is bound to happen.
I have to get down from my lectern at this point and admit that the reason pushover parents bother me so much is that I often feel like I'm one, too. Each time I call my kids down, I worry that I'm somehow preventing them from developing a closer bond with me. When I nag my older girls to clean their rooms or put away dishes, I wonder if they'll see me as less of a confidante and more of an enemy.
Like most pushover parents, I'm terrified of making a mistake and irrevocably damaging — or even destroying — the relationships I've formed with my kids. I also worry too much about being judged by everyone else. The bar has been set so impossibly high for parents, with advice coming at us from popular media, friends, acquaintances and total strangers, that we too often end up ignoring our gut instincts and instead end up wussing our way through every situation, letting our kids run the show, and trying our best to make sure everyone believes that our children are perfect — because that makes us seem perfect, too.
Lately, I've been reminding myself that my job is to send compassionate, caring, respectful young adults out into the world, not to show off my mad parenting skillz to everyone around me. But while this is easy to say, putting it into practice is much more difficult. Ultimately, though, I don't want to be pushed over by popular opinion when it comes to raising my kids. The outcome is too important.
Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.
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