08 July 2008

All the girls walk by, dressed up for each other

A good deal of today’s Americans don’t know how to parent children. Though we do all we can—feed them and clothe them, put them to bed on time and buy them educational books, make them comfortable and select the best programming—we don’t have a clue what parenting actually looks like and even less of a clue how to go about doing it. There are dozens of books geared toward every stage of childhood that offer pyramids of advice from potty training to “first talks,” but not one offers a page on the fundamentals of actually raising children. They read more like playbooks, vague sketches for those on the team, sketches that work wonders if you know the rules of the game and everyone around you is playing.

I used to be a contender. Indeed, I was once running back for the All-American Mommies. The uniforms were cute, but the game was weird. My poor babies were linemen and football rolled into one (that image works, if you squint) and my job was the same every play: fumble the ball to the defense while looking confused and mumbling something like, “He never acts this way at home!”

You know the game. You’ve seen it played. For example:

The Affection Affectation: “Mommy loves you so much (sidelong glace your way)! Yes she does! You’re mommy’s little angel (sidelong glace your way)!”

The Discipline Display: “Johnnie, we talked about this before we left home! You know how much it upsets mommy when you kick people! I’m so shocked by your behavior! You’re getting a long time out as soon as we get home!” (All this is practically shouted while the mommy in question looks more at her audience than at her child.)

Or conversely, The Too-Cool Tapdance: “What?! You hit your head? Meh! Shake it off! You’re too big to cry! Get off me! Go play!” (All this snarled in the hope that her audience will be impressed by her lack of affectation and display.)

The list goes on and the incidents are too numerous to mention. It’s not entirely a Mommy’s fault; people actually are watching, judging, ready to call DHS at the first opportunity. Mommies want to get that “A,” to score their six points and call it a day, but, let’s be honest, they don’t have a single, solitary idea what it is that those watching want to see. Worse yet, they (I) have less of an idea what raising kids is really about because seldom do they (I) witness the actions of parents, people who discipline, educate, protect, and create wisely, effectively, and naturally:

“Almanzo’s (a nine-year-old) face was covered in snow and his mouth was full of it, but he hung on to Frank and kept hitting at him. Frank got him down, but Almanzo squirmed out from under. Frank’s head hit his nose, and it began to bleed. Almanzo didn’t care. He was on top of Frank, hitting him as hard as he could in the deep snow. He kept saying “Holler ‘nuff! Holler ‘nuff!”

Frank grunted and squirmed. He rolled half over, and Almanzo got on top of him. He couldn’t stay on top of Frank and hit him, so he bore down with all his weight, and he pushed Frank’s face deeper and deeper into the snow. And Frank gasped: “’Nuff!’

Almanzo got up on his knees, and he saw Mother in the doorwayo f the house. She called, “Boys! Boys! Stop playing now. It’s time to come in and get warm.” from Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

That, my friends, is old-fashioned American parenting. That’s it; “Stop playing boys.” No, “MY BABY! You’re KILLING my BABY!” If you read the entire book, you see the mother and father parenting with lots of love, lots of food, lots of chores, a few necessary whippings, and lots of letting them figure it out on their own. Before the days of child psychology, Gymboree, PSATs, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, parents knew the score but didn’t play at any game because no one was watching. They just raised their kids. What happened (aside from the Department of Education)? Where have all the parents gone? Tell me: Why are children everywhere being allowed to speak at the dinner table? Who hauled all the woodsheds to the burn piles? Where can I get me some poultices, people!?!?

I’m guessing there are still many effective parents out there, going about their business, who can’t be bothered to put on seminars for gits like me. And odds are, we can’t all be parents all of the time . . . I’d just like to be a parent some of the time.

I try. I try harder. I’m no good. I spent too many years drawing down salary from the Mommies and people are still watching. So I sequester myself and my kids so as not to be lured into the game. Then I make up household rules. Nobody obeys them. I establish discipline. It provides no deterrence. I get up early, keep the house clean, make my own cheese . . . I’m still the same Sesame Street kid I’ve always been, not the pioneer woman I long to be. And try as I might my kids speak freely over their dinners about everything from puff balls to poverty. I sometimes like to develop conspiracy theories (my children were replaced by government spy look-alikes!) that shovel blame on anyone else. But I know that the problem is mine. All mine. All most grievously mine.

God have mercy. Maybe these babies will grow up decent in spite of it all. Maybe I will grow up with them and one day learn how to get out of the way and simply repeat the Words given me to say. Time will tell. And thanks be to God, our Mother the Church has got my back, and she will go right on feeding them lasting food until Time is replaced by Eternity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some screaming upstairs. I think I know what to do this time. At the very least, I’ll give it the old American try. Now where did I put that woodshed?


Rebekah said...

Oh, how I hate, hate, HATE public parenting. Once I overheard a lady at Walmart actually disciplining her child and I wanted to buy her a candy bar.

By all means: Little House as parenting manual, and nothing else. It's the only useful thing I've ever read on the topic, and not because the guidelines are easy. I would have to act like a grownup if I went that route.

If I can't have a poultice, at least I have this post to cheer me up. :D

Pr. H. R. said...

Quoting Van Morrison: Good.

Quoting Lyle Lovett: Better.

Keep working.


Thursday's Child said...

Oh, thank goodness I'm not alone!

Gauntlets said...

Little House for Crazy Concordians. Sounds like a smash hit seller.

Van Morrison rocked my world, don't ya know. Lyle Lovett, I'll have to do some looking into.

And definitely not alone. Gather round the roughly hewn table, friends. The headcheese is a-quiverin'!

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I've always thought that I should write a book called: "Parenting like the Bradys." If you ever have watched the Brady bunch, you'll notice that whenver there is a conflict it usually revolves around one of the three "R"s identified by John Rosemond (sp?). Respect; Responsibility; Resourcefulness. And the Brady parents are firm, but loving. They expect the kids to play by the rules, and if they don't they get punished. They have to suffer the consequences. They also don't do the modern day thing and have to be "actively involved" in their kids' lives. The parents work, the kids play and go to school. The kids are expected to do their own homework, and solve their own problems. The parents step in if absolutely necessary, but not before. See what I mean?

Rebekah said...

Father Paul, right on. More parenting a la Coolidge!

Reb. Mary said...

I even hate public parenting when it's parenting in front of other people in my own home :O

We'll get better at this, right? right? please?

Gauntlets said...

Reb Mary: Oh, sure, absolutely. Some day, they'll all move out. ;)

Father Paul: Write it. I'll read it. I'll read it all.