notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Yes, I CAN Judge Your Children

I have no kids.

Looking back on it, I see that my childlessness resulted from a combination of circumstances and nature – but also some unfortunate decisions on my part. Or rather, the lack of decision. Sometime inaction turns into a decision in itself.

Last year I published an essay that I had written fourteen years earlier, “Not Having Children.” It resonated with many women, and I was lucky enough to have The Huffington Post translate it into French and Spanish, and so I was able to share my experience with more women than I had ever imagined.

I have a happy life, though, and  – except for that very big one – few regrets.

So this may be a rather serious post, but it is not a sad one.

It is irritating – and unfair – that because of my childlessness, I am also considered excluded from commenting on child-rearing. “Oh, you just don’t KNOW,” say Mothers everywhere when I venture an opinion on kids’ behavior.

But I DO know. Who better to see the good and not-so-good in children than someone who has had nothing but objective observation for decades? I have no vested interest. I am not comparing your little monsters to my little monsters. I am not sizing up your parenting skills against mine. I am not going to start a sentence with, “Back when I was raising my Joey….”

I see. I really see.

I see that a kid of four should no longer hit.

I see that a kid of five should be able to eat without extraordinary mess. There should be little food on floor or table. It can, however, still be on his plate, as I recognize all the fussy stages that kids go through.

By six, she should be able to wait maybe two minutes for anything, including you, before pulling out the cranky tears. If you run into me in the supermarket and want to chat, I know that your kid wants to get the show on the road. But two minutes of patience is not a bad thing to learn. And I am also aware that if we go over two minutes, all bets are off. This is a kid, not a saint.

Also by six, a kid should be able to lose a game once in a while. It is always fun to win, but to lose with good humor is a skill that will last her a lifetime.

A seven-year-old should know how to behave in public. I remember working in a kitchen shop years ago, and a tiny boy of maybe five came in with his mother. He walked over to me, past all the breakable dishes and glassware and announced: “I’m not touching anything. And I’m using my inside voice.” If a 5-year-old understands the rules, so should your 7-year-old.

And you should be able to take an eight-year-old to a restaurant. A kid-friendly restaurant is probably a wise choice, but once in a while, your kids should go someplace nice, and act nice. They should have some appropriate manners and conversation. This will help enormously in the future. Especially when you visit me. I like talking to and listening to your kids. I do not like yelling at them to stop jumping on the furniture or banging the piano. I’d rather discuss History and Kung Fu Panda – and so would they.

And while we are on the subject of food (and it seems that LOTS of kids’ behaviors revolve around food), I expect a nine-year-old to be polite about what he likes or doesn’t. Recently at a family gathering, a kid much older than nine called a certain dish, “disgusting.” I really don’t care whether it is my kid or not – or whether I am short of the correct parenting qualifications. I told that kid – pleasantly enough – that someone at that very table took the time and trouble to make that food as a gift for us. That he could eat it or not eat it. But that he was not allowed to call it disgusting.

My expectations are realistic. I know the difference between overtired and bratty. I have a tremendous amount of patience (and sympathy for you, by the way) for the kid who is having a meltdown because it’s already seven-thirty and you’re still running errands, and he hasn’t had dinner yet.

And I know that good behavior is far more plentiful than bad behavior – we just notice the bad stuff more.

One more comment: With regards to “overtired” – it seems there is a huge increase in kids who are over-extended and under-rested. So please, for the sake of their well-being and your sanity (and mine), give the kids a decent bedtime.

And give them a hug and kiss for me when you put them to bed.

Because down deep, I wish they were mine.

bedtime

 

 

81 Comments

  1. shewasthenaz

    That all seems reasonable, and not like things you’d have to be a member of the club in order to to expect.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree completely (I am childless too). I can also make a comment to my husband for leaving the seat up even though I’m not a man.

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    • It offends me that people believe that because I am not a mother I don’t have the right to comment on obnoxious behavior.

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      • It takes a village.

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      • We all have the right, and also an obligation, to comment on obnoxious behavior. If a child only ever hears praise and/or criticism from Mommy and Daddy, how will they learn society’s expectations. I am sure you are more than civil. I am a mother, and I always appreciated that others noticed the good behavior – but also that they cared enough to help reinforce my efforts by letting my kids know that the world has expectations of them as well.

        Overtired? We had a routine that included an early bedtime for the boys. They did not have to go to sleep – but they did have to go to their rooms. Overtired is a parenting failure that results in behavior issues.

        You don’t have to be a plumber to know the toilet is backed up…

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        • I always make it a practice to compliment kids and their parents when I see great behavior in public. Because there’s a lot of that too. But I worry about some of the obnoxious behavior I see.

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          • Try teaching high school students – some of their parents are very badly behaved…

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          • I feel very sorry for the kids of rude parents. It will be a miracle if they grow up with any manners at all.

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  3. Nancy C. Brainerd

    I am a mom and I totally agree with all you said. My sons are now in their 40’s and it may have been easier then. But manners and proper public (and home, for that matter) behavior is important. If they are not taught to behave at home, they won’t behave outside.

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    • We never had the money to go out to dinner much when I was a kid. So when we did, it was a special occasion. We dressed up (even for Howard Johnson’s) and we were on our best behavior.

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  4. As a mother of four fairly well behaved kids who are all adults now, I can tell you unequivocally that kids do not behave on cue. We all might want them too, but they don’t. Additionally, there are many, many issues that can be occurring beneath the surface that you or any onlooker would never know. I, too, get annoyed with loud kids and crying babies in restaurants – and I believe they shouldn’t be there if they can’t behave, but I also know they do what they do. They are complicated beings like the rest of us, often without the skills to articulate their wants and upsets. This leads to thwarted communication, frustration, and so on.
    I’m not as patient as I would want myself to be, but milestones are vague, and children are individuals. Saying a 7 year old should know how to behave in public is like saying a 25 year old should be able to hold down a well paying job. It’s a simplistic answer to a complex equation.

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    • You have a very good point. No kid can be good all the time – but they should be guided towards responsible behavior.

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  5. As the mother of a less than perfect kid, I agree wholeheartedly. We all know when our kids are being kids, and when they are being brats. But too often brattiness is allowed. That’s no way to run a railroad!

    And I am going to use your “disgusting” line on one of my great nieces (on my husband’s side because I need to keep the family peace on that side — my side there are no holds barred!). Every thanksgiving after I have really killed myself in the kitchen, she announces that pie is disgusting and pouts. She is now 16. Somehow I do not hit her.

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    • Sixteen is beyond time to be polite about food. Please tell her (and try not to hit her.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • She is actually a good kid. Except about food. And so far I haven’t hit any of my husband’s relatives. They never challenge anything any one else says — and so bad behavior perpetuates. It is so wrong … People need to fight it out and if you are acting inappropriately it is up to your family to point it out. Because you’re stuck with them….

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  6. Bonnie

    “I see that a kid of four should no longer hit.”
    So how would you classify the fistfights among boys that a certain person related to both of us tells me were common in late elementary school and middle school? I believe him, too, because I remember those fights from my schooldays. That is actually a behavior that seems to have gotten better these days, at least judging from my kids middle school.

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    • Kids get into fights. I was thinking about kids who hit unprovoked. Even hit their parents.

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      • Bonnie

        To me, it is all a continuum. Most of the time, when little kids hit, it is a squabble with another kid, just like the older kids. I’ve seen a LOT of four year olds, and trust me, they all hit. Developmentally, they just don’t have the language yet to solve their squabbles with words. Four is a good time to remind them to “use their words” but it takes a lot of reinforcement. I think the attention that preschool teachers pay to reminding the little guys to use their words does pay off – by middle school nowdays, they are less likely to still be fighting.

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        • Kids are not going to be perfect, but I believe kids can be taught not to hit. I have many friends whose kids don’t hit each other.

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          • I guess it is not just the hitting (or other objectionable behaviour) but the hubris of parents who either ignore the bad behaviour, or just ‘now, now’ at it after the nth repetition. If I see a child hitting someone, and I see a parent taking action and correcting or disciplining with effect, it would not bother me. But some parents just seem to take a ‘kids will be kids’ approach.

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  7. When I read your last line, my eyes pricked with tears, and I thought to myself, “I wish they were too” – hugs 🙂

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    • Thank you. Sometimes I think my heart will break from the longing. But not every day and not usually for long. I have a good life.

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    • I thought it was the dust here in my living room…my eyes were watery, too.

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      • Not everyone gets everything they want in Life. But it’s still a good life.

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  8. So much of the ‘bad’ behaviour children exhibit is learned (or, more accurately, its something they haven’t learned NOT to do). Parents these days (and, yes, I’m generalizing here …) want to be ‘friends’ with their kids or don’t want to ‘damage their self esteem’ (or some other such nonsense) which leads to ill-mannered and poorly behaved kids running roughshod over everyone. We need to rethink what kind of people we want our future generation(s) to be and teach them ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ and ‘polite’ from ‘boorish’. I am both a parent and a grandparent and my kids turned out just fine because they were given rules that had to be followed and expectations that had to be met. It’s not the difficult to do (and if I had it to do all over again, I’d do things exactly the same way!)

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    • Kids need rules – and high expectations. They need manners. Some get great examples, but others get nothing.

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      • Melanie

        I don’t have kids, but I put in many years as a nanny and babysitting friends’ kids so I definitely feel I have the experience to weigh in on parenting and kids behavior. Absolutely agree about bad behavior being learned or allowed by parents who want to be their child’s friend instead of their parent. Be their parent, teach them manners, right from wrong. I like kids, enjoy them, but not when they’re swinging off the light fixtures at restaurants, running the aisles screaming at Target while their parent ignores that they’re missing their nap time/lunch, or they’re just over- stimulated. Kids need consistant boundaries. It makes them much more pleasant little beings to be around. 🙂

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  9. LindaLuNC

    Love your posts. I, too, do not have children. “Combination of circumstances and nature” – understand that. Timing…when I wanted them, my husband didn’t. When he did, I didn’t, therefore it never happened…not quite that simple, but almost. But I can tell I a good kid having a bad day from a bad kid having a typical day…at least I think I can.

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    • I like that way of putting it… a good kid having a bad day versus a bad kid having a typical day. Yes, often we can tell.

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  10. Bonnie

    The discussion of hitting among four year olds brought back a memory. At all 3 of my kids preschools, biting often happened. I would every so often get the “bite” letter sent home with my kid, and would find myself thanking the parenting gods that my kid was the bitee and not the biter!!!

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  11. Having kids? A real trip. But know this, no guarantees here. Life can throw some unexpected curves when least expected.

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    • I got a chance to do a lot of things BECAUSE I didn’t have children. There’s always a balance.

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  12. Chris

    I am always mystified why certain behaviors extend into adulthood. I have tried when coaxed or unintentionally someone demands to receive a compliment on their food, clothes, opinion, etc., to reply with some truth such as “it looks quite hearty”, “such a bright color! – how lively”, or “that’s a good/interesting point.” Some months ago a group I was with planned to get take-away from an Afghani restaurant and while someone was reading through the menu and happened upon many dishes containing lamb (well, it WAS an Afghani restaurant – what did they expect?) – a TWENTY-nine year old announced “Oh Lamb is DISGUSTING!” I was tempted to inquire as to the exact reasons why but instead I said “I quite like lamb.” I am not beyond being somewhat blunt at times if I believe I am in company with a like opinion, but I usually interpret bluntness as rudeness and earlier today had to post a comment on FB regarding manners, as they seem to be disappearing from many societies. It’s often the little things that ruin your day and can add up – therefore resulting in loss of respect for others. This is why my teeth keep breaking – I’m gritting them too hard. By the way – is the drawing you and Tommy?

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    • I think there is usually a polite response to almost any situation. That’s why we call ourselves civilized. And kids need to be taught that. (and no, the kids are just a quick drawing of kids ready for bed.)

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      • Chris

        And Huck Finn didn’t want to be “civilized” – he’d been there.

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      • Chris

        But further to my point, it has to be nipped in the bud or they believe they can do whatever they want with no consequence. Last year my neighbors were having a picnic and about 4 or 5 kids decided to play on my front lawn and driveway. Now their folks may have been tired, whatever – but never seemed to notice or be concerned. Never mind the liability issues – in my day it never would have happened. You can’t take a “break” from parenting – I realize it is a constant, tiring job. When I was a kid I would have been reprimanded and told to stay in our yard SO fast. When there are no consequences, there becomes a sense of entitlement, and that is what I am seeing today – that sense of entitlement.

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        • Oh yes. My parents would not have allowed me to disrespect other people’s feelings – or property.

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  13. Sometimes an outsider can see more than the ones involved. Good to remember.

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    • yes, and mostly – kids are great and amazing… they just need some guidance (and some manners)

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  14. I completely agree that kids should be expected to behave and too often are not. Sometimes there is something going on behind the scenes (a budding ear infection, a terrible day at school), but there is no excuse for the way some kids talk to their parents and other adults these days (and I should add “Get off my lawn you darned kids!). I teach in addition to working at the zoo, and I can tell which kids have had solid home-training and which have not.

    The one point I would change just a little – in my experience, many kids don’t understand the concept of “It’s just a game!” until around age seven or eight. Until then, it seems like for a lot of them games feel like life or death.

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    • I think you are probably right at learning how to lose… I’ll give the kiddos a little more time on that one.

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      • But it’s a skill they have to learn. Letting kids win forever teaches them nothing about real life.

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  15. Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

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  16. I could totally relate to this post. We don’t have children either, but I have been a teacher for 23 years. I think that gives me a little bit of insight into children’s behavior even if I’ve never been a parent.

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  17. As a grandparent who is now parenting a nine-year-old, I see this as spot-on. Oh, and if you weren’t so far away I’d offer borrowing privileges for said granddaughter any time. She is lacking many of the appropriate nine-year-old social skills (we’re working on it) but she can be great fun for a girls’ night.

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    • Too bad indeed – because I love kids that age! And I don’t expect perfect angels, just not total monsters!

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  18. Interestingly, my niece who is nine but eats like a five-year-old (food everywhere) had perfect eating behavior when we were invited to my friend’s house for dinner. I had explained to her what my expectations were and she was able to comply.
    I have also used the same response with my nephew who called some food “disgusting”. It’s just not acceptable at my table, or anywhere else.
    I adore these kids but it doesn’t mean I have to accept all their behaviors. Luckily, my brother and sister-in-law agree.

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    • You make a good point… kids need to KNOW and know clearly what the expectations are.

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  19. Excellent point that even though you don’t have your own children, you have observation skills and yours are spot on! One of the best mothers I ever knew was my Godmother, who have had her own biological children but who knew instinctively how to raise all of her nieces. She was less worn out and less stressed than she would have been if she had had her own children, so it was a win-win for all of us!! I always say, “It takes a village!” A great read-thank you!

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    • It does take a village. I had (and luckily still have) a great mother – but I also had several other great “mothers” – aunts and great-aunts and other wonderful ladies that gave me lots of love and amazing examples.

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  20. Thank you for speaking my mind. Over the years it has been difficult to watch all my sisters rear their children knowing I would never be doing the same. And there were moments when I apparently overstepped because, “I had no idea what it was like to be a parent”. That still hurts to hear. I have a lot of children in my life and I love them all but believe me when I tell you, none of them are saints and they could all take a lesson or two from your piece.

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    • It does hurt to be excluded as “having no idea what it is like to be a parent.” I would love to know. I just try to enjoy the kids when they are around me, and the quiet when they are not.

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  21. Oh, yes you do know! And being a bit removed emotionally and from the every single minute with them, you may see more clearly. (Parents just have knee jerk defensive reactions). And you show plenty of common sense: they can’t be good all the time, but “we just notice the bad stuff more.” Right on target with the “overly tired” They need more sunshine, too.
    Let you in on a secret. I used to go into schools as a trouble shooter to diagnose problems and recommend fixes. Some of the worst teachers were ones who became teachers because they “loved children.” Loved them, but unable to guide them to becoming productive citizens which is the primary job of parents and teachers.
    Some of the best teachers – the ones whose classrooms were comfortable, the kids relaxed, but understood the rules and were completely under control were often young women without kids, but had well behaved/trained dogs. People can laugh but same techniques work for young of both species. And the kids and dogs loved them.
    Yes. You can.
    Great post.

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  22. I love the discussion here ~ so friendly and honest. I was prepared to read angry posts from mothers who “know better”. Glad to see how wrong (and myopic) I was.

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    • I think most parents understand and do their best – and some just don’t see their kids the way they are – and so don’t recognize themselves!

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  23. Chris

    On the other hand – any kid can have a meltdown – and it may not be a regular thing. A friend of mine was shopping with her husband and two daughters. They split up, each taking one daughter through the store getting what they needed. She ending up in one checkout line, he in another. The daughter the husband had with him had a meltdown and he ended up just carrying her out of the store under his arm – there was no other solution at the time. The lady standing in front of my friend turned and said “Well, would you look at that” or words to that effect. She wanted to melt into the ground she was so embarrassed because her kids never act that way, especially in public. She was mortified and never told the lady it was actually her daughter.

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  24. Bad story

    Judging others has no place in this world. You should rethink how you’re living your life and end the judgement there.

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  25. I’m really trying to understand where this piece is coming from. I get that rude/obnoxious behavior is irritating–from persons of any age. I get that people telling you what you may/may not hold opinions about is frustrating and unfair. Of course you can judge, anyone, for anything. It’s your right.

    But why?

    Do you want to be treated as an individual, who has the right to screw up every once in a while? Do you encounter children’s bad behavior and decide this is how they are, all the time, because it’s all YOU are seeing? Or are you able to give the grace of acknowledging that kids screw up, act badly, and are learning to behave? That adults screw up all the time, too, when they should know better. Do you want someone to catch you on a bad day, being rude to a cashier, and decide that all women of your age and social status SHOULD BEHAVE BETTER?

    To follow the logic of your post: I don’t have a dog, but I think dogs SHOULD be silent in the middle of the night, and not wake neighbors who have been working all day and need rest. My neighbor’s dog barks at midnight and it drives me nuts. I think an adult dog SHOULD be capable of being trained not to jump, bark, scratch, nip, or lunge, learn impulse control and never ever be aggressive. I guess that means when dogs do these things, it’s an absolute failure of their owners, and yes, I should judge them all, and opine on what a dog of a certain breed/age SHOULD be able to do, rather than consider that one particular dog might be ill, abandoned, recovering from abuse, learning to behave after living in a shelter, or just, you know, being a dog.

    All to say, other people’s behavior isn’t always about YOU, what you would prefer, what you think they SHOULD do. It’s just not about you.

    I also see that you’ve written a novel. I’ve never written a novel, but I’ve got a lot of opinions on what I think novelists SHOULD be able to do. Let me know if you want me to send them to you.

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    • Dogs should absolutely be quiet at night. And mine is.

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      • Mgee6

        Um, ok. That really wasn’t my point, but that’s good about your dog. I guess.

        I’ll try to be more clear about my thoughts on your essay.

        It is irritating – and unfair – that because of my childlessness, I am also considered excluded from commenting on child-rearing. “Oh, you just don’t KNOW,” say Mothers everywhere when I venture an opinion on kids’ behavior.
        –Yes, this is truly unfair. You can say anything you want. But, when you comment on something you have no experience with (child-rearing), you do carry less credibility. This is true for any topic. Do you want your single peers telling you what your marriage should look like? Maybe they have the “right” to, but are you going to take them seriously?

        But I DO know. Who better to see the good and not-so-good in children than someone who has had nothing but objective observation for decades? I have no vested interest. I am not comparing your little monsters to my little monsters. I am not sizing up your parenting skills against mine. I am not going to start a sentence with, “Back when I was raising my Joey….”
        –Is your opinion “objective” or simply uninformed? You “see” kids? How so? In public encounters? Share how you have decades of objective observation, and then it will be clear exactly what experience you are working with.

        I see that a kid of four should no longer hit.
        –Sure, this is true. And yet a kid of four, or six, or ten, WILL hit. The more important question is whether a parent is going to allow that behavior to stand. Kids will make mistakes. Read any book about children’s developing impulse control to see what a long journey this is. And you know, a grown woman should no longer lose her temper, call names, or be passive aggressive. But she will because she is human and will make mistakes. It’s really uninteresting to talk about what one SHOULD be able to do. Life is all about what you do about your mistakes.

        I see that a kid of five should be able to eat without extraordinary mess. There should be little food on floor or table. It can, however, still be on his plate, as I recognize all the fussy stages that kids go through.
        –Why is this even on your list? Is someone messing up your home? Is your restaurant experience being ruined by a messy kid?

        A seven-year-old should know how to behave in public. I remember working in a kitchen shop years ago, and a tiny boy of maybe five came in with his mother. He walked over to me, past all the breakable dishes and glassware and announced: “I’m not touching anything. And I’m using my inside voice.” If a 5-year-old understands the rules, so should your 7-year-old.
        –You are taking one particular example of one individual child, and applying it to all other children. This kind of generalization is neither useful nor fair.

        And you should be able to take an eight-year-old to a restaurant. A kid-friendly restaurant is probably a wise choice, but once in a while, your kids should go someplace nice, and act nice. They should have some appropriate manners and conversation. This will help enormously in the future. Especially when you visit me. I like talking to and listening to your kids. I do not like yelling at them to stop jumping on the furniture or banging the piano. I’d rather discuss History and Kung Fu Panda – and so would they.
        –Again, we’re back to you, all you and what you want to talk about when someone visits you. Go ahead and have your preferences for kids you interact with. Leave the rest of them alone.

        And while we are on the subject of food (and it seems that LOTS of kids’ behaviors revolve around food), I expect a nine-year-old to be polite about what he likes or doesn’t. Recently at a family gathering, a kid much older than nine called a certain dish, “disgusting.” I really don’t care whether it is my kid or not – or whether I am short of the correct parenting qualifications. I told that kid – pleasantly enough – that someone at that very table took the time and trouble to make that food as a gift for us. That he could eat it or not eat it. But that he was not allowed to call it disgusting.
        –This is the one and only real example of an interaction with a child you provide in the entire post. All the rest is sweeping generalization.

        And I know that good behavior is far more plentiful than bad behavior – we just notice the bad stuff more.
        –Well, YOU certainly do. You know why a parent would not likely write anything like you’ve written here? Because they have been up all night rocking and soothing an infant who just won’t settle, even though she SHOULD be full, content, and sleeping. Because they have established a fun and consistent bedtime routine and their kid still fights bedtime every night, even though they SHOULD go to bed. Because they have patiently explained to their 2 year old that ice cream comes after dinner, and endured a meltdown anyway, even though their kid SHOULD understand. The loss of control is truly humbling, and will remove the kind of smug, know-it-all tone you present in your post. You don’t even have to be a parent to understand that you are not in control of another human. You can coach, encourage, discipline, love, and enforce, and you still can’t make the things on your list happen. Your blog post fills me with dismay.

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        • I do appreciate your comments. Some readers – many with kids – agree with me that good manners should be encouraged, and yes, enforced.. ALL kids have good and bad days, and NO kids are perfect, and I say so in my essay.

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        • Chris

          “This is the one and only real example of an interaction with a child you provide in the entire post. All the rest is sweeping generalization.” – She was just being polite to provide only one example. Your second sentence is wrong. She has nieces, nephews – of all ages, and grand-nieces, grand-nephews, and a great many opportunities to interact with them. And many of her points are based not just on observations made in public but repeated observation and experience with all the little members of her extended family. A close family, these are not once a year interactions. No one expects perfection – the author of this blog among them, but boundaries need to be set and it seems that the word “control” is a bad word these days. A guy I knew told me he hated the word “control” with regard to his son – and years later that son ended up in a juvenile criminal facility. I know, not the typical situation. We have to go back to teach the FOUR Rs – reading , writing, ‘rithmatic, and Respect for others.

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  26. I have never written a novel.

    Looking back on it, I see that my novel-lessness resulted from a combination of circumstances and nature – but also some unfortunate decisions on my part. Or rather, the lack of decision. Sometime inaction turns into a decision in itself.

    Last year I published an essay that I had written fourteen years earlier, “Not Having Written a Novel.” It resonated with many women, and I was lucky enough to have The Huffington Post translate it into French and Spanish, and so I was able to share my experience with more novelists than I had ever imagined.

    I have a happy life, though, and – except for that very big one – few regrets.

    So this may be a rather serious post, but it is not a sad one.

    It is irritating – and unfair – that because of my never having written a novel, I am also considered excluded from commenting on novel-writing. “Oh, you just don’t KNOW,” say published novelists everywhere when I venture an opinion on novels’ failures.

    But I DO know. Who better to see the good and not-so-good in novels than someone who has had nothing but objective observation for decades? I have no vested interest. I am not comparing your little pot-boilers to my little pot-boilers . I am not sizing up your writing skills against mine. I am not going to start a sentence with, “Back when I was writing MY novel….”

    I see. I really see.

    I see that a writer’s fourth novel should no longer be about someone trying to “find herself.”

    I see that a writer’s fifth novel should be able to crack a joke once in a while. There should be a little humor in every novel, though it can, however, still be a serious novel, as I recognize all the fussy stages that novels go through.

    By your sixth novel, a novelist should be able to wait maybe two chapters before a sex scene. If you run into me in the supermarket and want me to read your novel sitting by the US Weekly, I know that your novel wants to get the show on the road. But two chapters of patience is not a bad thing to learn. And I am also aware that if we go over two chapters, all bets are off. This is a novel, not a saint.

    Also by the sixth novel, a novelist should be able to write some witty dialogue once in a while. It is always fun to monologue, but witty banter is a skill that will last a novelist a lifetime.

    A seventh novel should have a really good cover, not something boring, or blue, or with Times font. I remember working in a book shop years ago, and a tiny little young adult novel had the best, most interesting, most mature, most age-defying cover I have ever seen, and I think all novels should look like that one novel once looked at.

    And you should be able to take an eighth novel to a restaurant. A novel-friendly restaurant is probably a wise choice, but once in a while, your novels should go someplace nice, and be nice to read. Your novel should be easy to talk about. Especially when you visit me. I like talking to and listening to your novels. I do not like novels that come into my home with boring plot lines, flat characters, cliche language, or lack of resolution. I’d much rather talk about a novel’s imagery–and so would they.

    My expectations are realistic. I know the difference between talent and salaciousness. I have a tremendous amount of patience (and sympathy for you, by the way) for the novel who is lacking tension because it’s already page 495. and you’re still filling in the back story, and the novel hasn’t had an important conflict yet.

    And I know that good novels are far more plentiful than bad novels– we just notice the bad stuff more.

    One more comment: With regards to “over-written” – it seems there is a huge increase in novels that are over-extended, lacking concision. So please, for the sake of their well-being and your sanity (and mine), give the novels a decent word-count.

    And give them a hug and kiss for me when you put them back on the shelf.

    Because down deep, I wish they were mine.

    Like

    • Funny! And perfectly true! And you have every right to say so.

      Like

  27. This is LOVELY, Nancy, and spot on. One of my sisters, who is childless, sometimes offers a comment on one of her nieces and nephews, but she is very careful to preface with “I know I don’t have kids, but…” Shame she should feel the need to do so, but probably smart given how touchy some other siblings can be.

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    • Thank you… not everyone agrees – my essay made the front page of the Huffington Post and many of the comments are negative and nasty. But enough people liked it to make me feel that I resonated with some people.

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      • Congrats on making it to the front page – that’s fabulous! But sorry about the negative, nasty comments. The anonymity of the interwebz brings out the worst in some folks, doesn’t it.

        Like

  28. JDad

    When parents respond to your advice and articles by saying, “You don’t understand,” I don’t think they/we are claiming that kids should be allowed to misbehave, or that you can’t tell right from wrong simply because you don’t have kids of your own. Rather, they are responding to the fact that you haven’t demonstrated meaningful empathy for the constant and relentless relationship they have with a growing and developing human being; or for their attempts to love and raise a child well while also trying to fulfill a number of other responsibilities in their families, jobs, and communities; or for the fact that parents are often constantly aware of our own shortcomings as parents.

    May I gently suggest that the next time you see a tantrum-throwing kid in the grocery store, instead of rolling your eyes in annoyance or poo-pooing his or her parents’ parenting skills, consider asking the mom or dad if they could use a helping hand. Something like, “Can I help unload your groceries [while you peel your writhing/screaming kid off the floor]?” for example, could help them focus on addressing their child’s behavior rather than stressing out about slowing the line down. Even a patient smile, without a direct offer to help, is so much more helpful than the usual “Tsk-tsk” that people direct toward parents who are trying to handle those difficult public situations. In my experience, it’s most often the judgmental stares of others that lead parents to abandon their normal and preferred methods of discipline in favor of short-term solutions (“I’ll buy you the lollipop!”) that quickly pacify their kids.

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    • Thanks. Your advice is sound. I am very patient with kids in almost all situations. And also with their parents. Because I understand that I may not know the circumstances. But some parents also need to teach their kids good manners.

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      • JDad

        Agreed 🙂 Thanks for your posts.

        Like

  29. Beautiful post. Now I see why the Louise Erdrich quote resonated.

    Like

  30. Having had two step-sons from young ages and navigating their strange behavior, what you have said entirely struck home. I think I am not near as patient or understanding as you when it comes to ‘bad’ public behavior, truly I have been known to think horrible thoughts and wish terrible tortures on the parents of the obnoxious brats.

    You are right though, you have a great sense of observation. While every child is different and milestones are rather movable targets in a childs’ life, there are somethings we should be able to expect. All of these things, public and private behaviors are learned though. Manners, those things that separate us from the Chimpanzees? Will they are all learned behaviors, parents are entirely responsible.

    Like

    • Actually, I think that chimpanzees are quite stern with what behavior is appropriate for the group’s survival.

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  31. Totally agree with everything here. After teaching teenagers for 10 years you wouldn’t believe the amount of them that still haven’t grasped the basic concept of manners and personal space. Totally explained, mind you, within the first 5 minutes of meeting their parents.

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  32. I love this post! We have a very large family, and if there is one constant it is this: It takes a VILLAGE to raise a child!! While should be able to and actually can are very different, and each child is unique, the basics of manners, love, acceptance are taught more by the examples set before them than having a good chat with a two year old.

    Like

  33. E. Dunomes

    Wow. Nice article.

    Like

  34. I m 26 years and I have 2 kids, thank you for you re article, is very hard to educate a child and people around you know only to judge. (Sorry for my english!)

    Like

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