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Parenting with presence

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As usual, our favorite Mexican restaurant was packed.

The parents at the table next to us didn’t even flinch as their kids raced around not just their table, but everyone else’s, too. Several times the kids got in the way of the servers carrying hot food out of the kitchen. My husband and I wanted to go over there and shake these parents a little and say, “Pay attention to your kids!”

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Ugh — I am so done with parents letting their children run wild in public places!

Just as I recovered from the restaurant mayhem the other day I went to the library to try to think in peace and quiet. As I got settled into my work a small child burst into a five-alarm meltdown, and he wasn’t in the kid area.

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At first, I truly felt for caregiver in charge — hasn’t every parent been at the mercy of a meltdown at least once? We know how toddlers go from cute to scary, totally possessed mini people in two seconds flat. It’s like that “Gremlins” movie.

My patience and understanding quickly left the building once the wailing continued on.  Obviously the mom didn’t see it necessary to separate this howler monkey from the rest of us in the library. Maybe she thought junior had every right to express himself wherever he pleased (Fine. Outside or maybe in the bathroom would have been great!)

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Whatever the reason was, after a few minutes I know I was visibly irritated. Through my deep groans I said something under my breath like, “Someone take that child outside.” Meanwhile, the screams carried on. That’s when a young woman near me asked, “Ma’am do you have kids?” I think she had me pegged as someone without kids who couldn’t possibly understand the struggles of a mother having to manage a toddler.

It felt good to say, “Yes, in fact I do, and that child should be taken outside.” She seemed a bit put out by that fact that I wasn’t being more patient and understanding.

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“Well, that mom is doing the best she can,” she assured me.

So, was I being the impatient jerk here? My nerves were frayed; a dozen people had been subjected to the meltdown for entirely too long. But, no biggie because it was the best she could do. Was I hearing that correctly?

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I don’t buy it for a second. I don’t think letting our kids run unchecked while they disrupt other people in public is the best we parents can do. And if it is, heaven help these children who one day are going to find out the hard way that the world in fact does not revolve around them.

This isn’t just my opinion, however. Plenty of studies show that young adults who are indulged in childhood suffer from depression and a general sense of ennui later on in life. They experience a deep personal crisis when they finally realize that the world will not indulge them like their parents did.

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Look parents, I know you are exhausted. I know none of our children are going to be perfect all the time. And I know setting up boundaries and consequences is not always the easiest,  but that’s our job. It is our responsibility as parents to prepare these little ones to handle the adult world the best they can, and hopefully along the way also teach them to be respectful part of a greater society. 

If we are sending them messages that they always run the show, then what are we really teaching them?

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Let me end by saying that nothing is more certain than the fact that bringing up kids is hard and often pretty scary and, unfortunately, these gromets didn’t come with operation manuals attached to their birth certificates. It’s clear that through all our best parenting efforts we want one thing:  for them to be happy and feel loved.

But, I think it’s possible to love our children with abandon while still stepping up to the plate and being the ones that call the shots and not the other way around.

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Judith Ritschard was born by the sea in Mexico then transplanted to the Roaring Fork Valley where she turned full on mountain girl. You might spot her in her huarache sandals on her townie bike trying to keep up with her two wildlings in Carbondale.