We’re spending this week in Orlando, Florida, surrounded by stressed parents and media-saturated children, and, well, it’s amazing to see how some moms and dads try to manage their role as parents. Amazing and somewhat depressing.
It seems like a legacy of the parenting experimentations of the twentieth century has left us with two possible ways to parent: as friend, or as drill sergeant. And those are both poor choices and lead to all sorts of problems…
It was worst yesterday because we were at the The Magic Kingdom here at Disneyworld. A hot afternoon with tired, excited, sugared-up, saturated kids (and parents), and standing in line became an ordeal in more ways than just temporally.
Lined up for one ride, we stood immediately behind a family of four kids, ranging from eight to about fifteen, and their Dad whose standard reaction to anything any of the kids did was to smack ’em on the head. The youngest, a boy, was told off and moved as far from his Dad as possible in the queue (not surprisingly). Dad then, in his best drill instructor voice, said “you better get your butt over here right now, boy.” Meanwhile, we’re standing immediately behind rather overwhelmed by this whole style of interaction.
Then the Dad turns to my daughter, A-, and makes some joke about having a driver’s license to drive the little Autopia cars. A- was speechless and just looked at him, so he turned back with a shrug and kept harassing his kids instead.
What it made me realize was that not only is it really hard to be a parent, but that we as a society don’t have any way of meaningfully sharing good parenting strategies and ways of breaking out of the ‘my Dad terrorized me as a kid, so I can terrorize you now, boy’ mentality. But we must do so, or we’ll forever more be trapped in the same aggressive society we’re in today.
Every family here at Disneyworld is devoted to parenting and trying to “do the right thing”: this is not a cheap place to come and by extension anyone who is here cares about their kids. But why do so many have such miserable parenting strategies if that’s the case?
You can see what I consider the two primary types of parenting strategies here in spades too. The “best friends” strategy where the kids have more toys than they can carry and are having ice cream and candy for breakfast (really. I have more than once seen at 7 or 8am in the morning kids sucking on lollypops or eating other candy while waiting for a bus or boat), which seems like it might be working but seems to lead to tantrums and kids that aren’t interested in rules and regulations. Another strategy, as already mentioned, is the “drill sergeant” strategy, where kids are just little soldiers who need training and discipline to stay in line. L- was having breakfast the other morning and saw just this transpire, with a Mom and Grandmother who had these two little girls in a “sit still and shut up” period, where even the smallest question or wiggle would elicit an unpleasant taunt from one of the older women, like “you always have to be the center of attention, don’t you?”
The good news is that there are some parents who seem to be having fun with their kids, and who seem to have figured out that a little bit of humor, and a dose of compassion can go a long way to making life as a family more pleasant. The Dad who pulled his son aside and said “you’d never be hitting your sister, so I know we don’t have to talk about that” instead of lecturing the boy, the Mom who steps out of line with a crying toddler to find a shady spot and some peace and quiet for a few minutes, etc.
One thing this trip has done is convince L- and I that the offer we’ve had to write a parenting book is one worth pursuing, if for nothing else than simply to try and quantify some of our own views and philosophies of parenting, and to talk about the challenges and rewards of parenting.