Well it’s finally happened. I was told the age old “hey mom, what’s that under there?” joke. As I watch my elated 6 yr. old walk away from me giggling thinking she’s totally got me, I hear her sigh and say, “Oh my gosh that’s the best joke.”
For the moment we’re both enjoying the same emotion: Bliss. Needless to say this doesn’t happen all day every day. At first I’m surprised, but as I look back on our evening at a mediocre Mexican joint with a young family of 6 I realize to my shock and utter delight, that most of the evening has been spent feeling that same pure joy of being together. Huh. Weird. And then it hits me: we’re getting a little better at behaving in public.
We’re not just behaving better because we’ve happened to grow out of one of our numerous “phases” of poor behavior; Behaving well doesn’t just happen when we reach a certain age (I think we all know a few 30 somethings who prove that!).
No, no, we’re behaving better because we’ve LEARNED to do it. Learned, like, as in over time. I think as parents we might underestimate this one powerful component of parenting in favor of the quick fixes we are always hoping for in the parenting techniques du jour we sometimes try. Time. It takes time to teach good behavior through modeling effectively, just as it takes our kids time to learn it.
This is elementary, you might even be rolling your eyes right now at such an obvious statement, but I think it’s worth reflecting on. We need to allow our children to take their time in learning to behave.
I didn’t get it until tonight. I had hope that this day would come, but I didn’t quite understand how it all would work until now, which is quite a few years later. My children showed an amazing amount of self-control in the face of hunger and a single bowl of chips and salsa we all had to share. They showed an amazing amount of restraint in the face of having identical child’s menus to color and the same maze to get through, but with such different skill levels as to render an immediate winner/loser in the situation should the activity turn into a competition. It didn’t.
No one was provoked to whine, argue or play copycat. No one noticed if anyone else ate more chips than they did, or got one more drink refill than another. Nothing but peace, harmony, and a well-played trick on seafood averse daddy pretending we ordered him fish tacos before he arrived, and giggling as we watched his crestfallen face until his chicken chimichangas arrived to save his evening. That was a good one. It was a veritable Zen garden with the tornado that is sometimes our family.
How was this accomplished? None of us is over-qualified to be a parent, and though we might wish sometimes it would be, there is no license required in order to create a child to become a parent. We’re all volunteers. There is no need to keep up or compete with anyone, I mean, we’re all hoping to accomplish the same thing: to raise respectful, responsible, contributing members of society. We don’t have to do it faster than anyone else, or make sure our kid is the MOST responsible of every kid we know, we just want it accomplished, that’s all.
So, and I’m just putting this out there, but may I suggest we give ourselves and our kids a little break? Just because our kids take a few years to get the lesson we’re consistently trying to teach does not mean we’ve failed. We’re not going to enjoy every moment of parenting these kids, because it’s hard sometimes, so quit feeling guilty about it. Not every lesson learned is done in the ‘snap’ of Mary Poppins timing.
Some lessons truly take years. We’ve had many an embarrassing evening at many a different restaurant. We’ve endured the “look” from other patrons, the whining, the bickering, the spills, and the poor manners to the staff. Did we quit? No. We just kept trying and teaching, and trying and teaching, and then one day we see our little angels make eye contact and say thank you to our servers, share food and laughter with each other and genuinely have a good time at a restaurant without preventing other patrons from doing the same.
Persistence, consistency, and patience are all easier said than done, because the enjoyable moments we get to have come only after putting in the time, and that’s what makes them the real thing. These parenting techniques are not the next new fad in parenting like diapers that look like jeans, or potty training cds to let our infants fall asleep to at night, with the promise they’ll potty train themselves by the time they’re 2.
These are age old, time tested effective things. The things we need to be practicing and taking the time to learn. I had no idea we’d get it. There were times when I honestly suggested not taking them out in public for a while to see if they could just grow up at home, but what they needed was time practicing, not just time waiting to outgrow a phase, and my frustration in waiting I’m sure didn’t help.
Maybe better public behavior isn’t your fight, maybe it’s that blasted backpack that they can’t seem to remember to take to school all by themselves, or put away in the right place when they get home. Maybe it’s the H word: Homework. Maybe it’s chores around the house or any number of other lessons we try to teach, but the message is the same. Let them practice.
From one pleasantly surprised mom to another let me tell you, it can happen. They can get it, just keep up the good work, and don’t worry whether you know the most “right” technique. Just don’t give up on them, and don’t get angry about it. It may take a few years, but WHO CARES? Being consistently patient and persistent is a win-win; after all parenting is not a game where anyone need lose. Enjoy what you can of the ride, there will be scary parts. But if you embrace it all it will be the longest, most rewarding ride of your life.