I’ve been thinking about this trend (is it one?) and wonder just how new is it. Has it begun with Gen X or has it always been around and I’ve only noticed because I’m a parent with kids beyond a very young age?
Last weekend, while at a small gathering and speaking with a very dear friend of mine, her 3-year-old child proceeded to climb upon her and bounce on her lap as if she were a jungle gym. The kid moved from leg to leg, traversed over my friend’s shoulder, jumped down, then climbed back up—all while my friend diligently listened to me speak and accommodated each and every move as if it were the most natural and normal thing to have a conversation with another adult while one’s child is behaving like a monkey on crack.
It was a little surreal as I continued speaking, but I couldn’t help wondering if there was something wrong with me. Have I lost my tolerance of young children to the point of expecting them to behave like grown-ups, or at the very least with some semblance of adhering to the manners of a civilized culture? Have I completely forsaken the live-and-let-live mantra I try to stand by? Unfortunately, I was unable to continue pondering my own shortcomings for longer than a few minutes, as this distraction was not something I was willing to endure. I was also way too preoccupied and perplexed as to why no disciplinary measures were taken. At all. I very nicely asked the child to sit still and let her mommy and me talk. The child’s father, who was standing nearby and not involving himself in the least, very matter-of-factly turned to me and said, “Oh, I guess you forgot what parenting a 3-year-old is like. It’s changed a lot since your kids were that age.” Um, really?
Our society has lost the certainty that I had while growing up that there is a clear distinction between right and wrong. Somewhere, and I do fear it happened within my generation, it has morphed into “Meh, let the kids embrace their individuality”—even if that means creating no boundaries while they are young. Later on when they’re older, carefree Mommy and Daddy will wonder why their teens don’t understand (or care about) the repercussions of their dubious actions (smoking, drinking, swearing, coming home late, etc.) and why they’re indifferent to authority figures. Truth is, since they didn’t have anyone at home early on to play that role or enforce those rules, the ship that would have carried the valuable lessons (like when the appropriate time is and isn’t to climb on Mommy’s lap) will have long ago sailed.
When my kids were young, I used to get a lot of criticism from friends, and even from my own family, about being so “strict” and enforcing too many “rules” for them to live by. But I see the difference. There are certain lines they would never dream of crossing now because they fully comprehend that there will be a price to pay based on experiences from before. And while there will always be situations when the way I reprimand my kids will be contrary to the way someone else may reprimand their own, I do believe that it’s still up to us as parents to say no—even if it runs the risk of impeding on their individuality.