Food for Thought
Watch What You Say...And What You Do!
Long-gone are the days of stern parental injunctions like "Do as I say, not as I do". Nowadays, most of my friends are what might be termed "New Age" parents. No, no, I don't mean they're lazy - unlike all too many parents currently in the process of creating a generation of spoilt brats, they actually have quite strong principles about how they go about raising their children. While I tend towards a slightly more traditionalist approach myself, particularly around the issue of establishing boundaries, I have to admire some of them for their commitment and energy. Less-tried methods are undoubtedly more work for those pioneering them!
Now I have to admit that I'm using this term somewhat loosely; that is, by "New Age" I simply mean that my friends have moved away from orthodox child-rearing practices towards what might be considered more gentle negotiation-based and distinctly less disciplinarian approaches. These approaches bring with them a whole range of challenges - for example, how to reason with the most "paka" and media-savvy generation yet, many of whom are astonishingly well aware of their own rights. Not to mention how to make time in the hyper-speed 21st century to meet such challenges properly.
My friend Nadiya recently found herself facing just such a challenge after she had gone for a walk with her four-year-old daughter, Ilana. As they went past a so-called 'departmental' store, Ilana spotted an "omnitrix", a watch-like gadget featured in one of her favourite television shows. In vain did her mother hunker down in the middle of the footpath and explain that since they had just bought Ilana a magic book the previous day (and since they did not buy toys everyday… blah blah etc), they had to wait a few days before they could buy the omnitrix, rather than getting it immediately. Ilana was having none of that.
As a result, a hurricane followed, accompanied by screaming, jumping up and down, and generally freaking out; luckily, due to her highly advanced sense of personal hygiene, Ilana did refrain from hurling herself on the footpath! Nevertheless, Nadiya had to put up with staring passers-by who, as she put it, “were probably wondering what insane torture I had inflicted on the child to make her behave thus". In the end, there was nothing to do but wait it out. Ilana was clearly in no hurry, and it was several excruciating minutes before she had calmed down enough for them to continue on their way. See what I mean about this approach being time-consuming?
At least Nadiya's main challenge was just to wait her daughter out - albeit perhaps not in the most ideal surroundings. The mother of my twenty-something friend Adiba, bringing up her daughters in an earlier era, found herself at her wits end when any attempt to smack Adiba simply resulted in her banging her head against the wall until she threw up! A gentle soul, she was appalled at her second daughter's behaviour, and quickly gave up any attempts to smack Adiba. Despite that (or as my New Age friends would argue, because of it), Adiba has grown up to be a singularly lovely person, even if her older sister remains somewhat less than impressed by the fact that she got away with everything, while the rest of her siblings (clearly less gifted in terms of spewing) had to suffer the occasional smack...
In the case of those modern parents for whom smacking is not an option (even if they would like to have well-behaved children) gentle reasoning and the occasional rebuke must suffice. But that's easier said than done when your child has a smart-ass reply for virtually everything you come up with. As my friend Tina discovered, yet again, when she attempted to tell her four-year-old not to run down the stairs. "I'm not running, Ma. I'm just walking fast," Joya returned swiftly, without missing a beat in her rapid progress down the aforementioned stairs.
Of course, it is even harder if your child makes it clear that they do not see you as an authority figure. My friend Ravi, bringing up his children in Denmark, has been struggling with the challenge of his younger son Aksel's temper, which is not only fiery, but tends to result in the occasional bout of bad language - not on Ravi's part, I might add, but on Aksel's! He and his wife were relieved when this tendency appeared to have abated in recent months. But as Ravi put it, his son still demonstrates "an infuriating lack of belief" in his authority, something that was all too clearly evident in a recent exchange when the boy was caught in possession of a box of matches. Upon being told sternly that he should not be playing with matches, Aksel responded combatively that he was not playing, he was making fire! Despite wishing that for once his son would just accept his wishes, on this occasion Ravi could not help feeling grateful that he had caught him in time.
Swearing, of course, is a serious matter - even more so when it is the parent who is caught offending. My friend Helen recently dropped something, and muttered (or so she thought) a suitably rude expletive under her breath. Unfortunately for her, her eight year old son Josh had heard what she said. His subsequent observation went something like this, "Mum, when something goes wrong with you or Dad, you both say those words. You know if I hear them a lot, I'm going to get used to them and I'll probably start using them too"! Needless to say, his mother was rendered speechless at the thought processes of her son. Just as well perhaps, since if she <>had<> said something, it would have probably involved an expletive!
Meanwhile, the last word as usual goes to Joya, who is half Josh's age, but just as good at coming up with unanswerable observations. The other day, she was making a huge drama about the fact that she had scraped her knee, when her mother attempted to ask her in a strict tone of voice about how it had happened - had she done something naughty? Yes, Joya admitted, she had indeed done something naughty. Alas, it must be admitted that this is not altogether unusual for her. So her mother pointed out that when you do naughty things, sometimes you get hurt. This being the kind of comment that inevitably comes back to bite you, meant that Joya responded by saying - "But Ma, does that mean that you are very naughty, since you have pain everywhere?" (she was referring to the fact that her mother has problems involving diffuse muscular pain). In an era when parents have to watch carefully what they say, sometimes the best option may be to say nothing - even if it is because your child has just left you speechless...
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