For some years there has been conflict between older women who were stay-at-home moms and their career daughters and sons about the rearing of their children.
I, along with several other grandmothers of my acquaintance, believe that children today are being indulged.When we see these parents cater to their children - letting them interrupt any conversation at will - we view it as a criticism of our own mothering. We wonder what was wrong with the way we did it. Aren't our daughters smart, successful women who exhibit common sense? Aren't our sons decisive men?
We agree that it's a good idea to avoid spanking, but we would like to keep it as a sanction. The parent must run the show. That is what we grandmothers don't see happening.
We can't go backward to a time before economic necessity dictated two incomes per family, but we must go forward, away from these tiny tyrants. The conflict is no longer just familial.
Public Agenda, a research group, recently published a report called "Kids These Days: What Americans Really Think About the Next Generation." The answer seemed to be: not much. Younger children, ages 5 to 12, were seen by adults as acquisitive, lazy and demonstrating a lack of respect. "Only 37 percent of Americans believe that when today's children grow up, they will make this country a better place," the report said in bold print.
Another sign that the conflict is going public comes from two news items about children who were arrested in incidents that the family would traditionally have handled. In Pensacola, Fla., a 5-year-old girl was charged with assaulting a school counselor. In Miami, a 10-year-old boy in a pizza shop was arrested after he kicked his mother and a waitress called the police.
The father of the 5-year-old pointed out that officials might have sought another solution before resorting to arrest. Still, the parents' reactions were telling. In their anger at the authorities, they seemed to have forgotten to save some of their ire for their abusive children, whom they staunchly defended as they sprang them from juvenile detention.
Another crotchety grandmother and I were having coffee the other day when she quoted her career daughter as approving of kindergarten because it provided structure for her child. "Doesn't she realize," I asked, "that the teacher is earning the girl's respect, while the parents are not?"
Then I had a moment of clarity. It was not that we were overly strict mothers. We were full-time mothers. The buck stopped with us. Whatever we allowed, we had to endure. I remarked to my friend that today's parents couldn't stand to be around their toddlers 24 hours a day.
"If they had them all day," my friend said, "you can bet they'd have a firm bedtime."
I'd like to suggest a disciplinary experiment short of arrest. Let one parent and a child spend, say, five days in a small structure or apartment that contains all the necessities of life but few diversions. Books, certainly. Let them get to know each other. A one-way mirror might be useful. I'd like to watch.
I don't think there's much chance of a parent feigning control of the child to secure early release. They're too oblivious - parents are often unaware of what their children are perpetrating on them. But maybe, given enough time, they would learn how pleasant and rewarding it is to be the parent of a well-behaved child.