It probably happened somewhere along the way, but I honestly cant remember the old man ever hitting me.
He had another tactic whenever I got into trouble. Hed order me to sit down and hed stare at me. It would go on for minutes, which seemed like hours. It was a look of simmering, brooding exasperation with the fruit of his loins; but even worse, it was a look of disappointment. I had let him down. Id sit there and wish he would instead rip off his belt, throw me against the wall, box my ears, turn my derriere red, whatever.
But he never would.
Id sit, hed stare.
It was such an effective tool of discipline that, years later, it became my parental weapon of choice. I perfected the jaw-clenched stare, one that shot laser-like daggers. Our first-born, Amy, was terrified. Shell turn 30 in a few months and to this day, as God is my witness, shell say or do something and Ill shoot her the stare and her eyes will well up with tears.
It didnt quite have the same effect on her younger sister, Beth: Id stare, shed laugh.
So, if I had the chance to do anything differently as a parent -- which I believe is todays topic (and didnt I take my sweet time getting to it?) -- it would be to smack Bethy around a little. I mean, shed laugh and Id try not to laugh and the moment of high discipline would pretty much be lost.
Seriously, what would I do differently? Not much.
We might have started salting away money for their college a little earlier. But thats about it. That doesnt mean Sue and I should win the Pulitzer Prize for Parenting. It means we were lucky.
We were raised by good parents and turned out OK. We had good kids and they turned out OK. (Knock on wood.) Theyre smart, theyre caring, theyre polite, and they are good citizens. Theyre kind to puppies, small children and old ladies. I know they dont do drugs and Im pretty sure they dont drive after drinking. They have good men and good friends in their lives. What else is there?
Parenting is a chicken-or-the-egg type thing, I guess. Do bad parents make bad kids? Or is it luck of the draw? Do some good-hearted parents end up with children spawned by the devil and find theres not much they can do about it?
Its probably six of one, half dozen of the other. A lot of good kids come from bad parents; bad kids come from good parents. Bad parents produce bad kids. Good parents have good kids.
Its a crap shoot.
But, hey, try staring at them. The worst that can happen is theyll laugh at you.
Over to you, Bert.
If I thought you were serious about smacking either of your girls around, Id make it so your dad stared at you a lot harder and a lot longer. But never mind, you dont fool me. Ive seen you with your daughters.
Bark, bark, toothless bark.
If youd been my dad, I would have simply scratched behind your ears and tossed you a Milk Bone. Done.
If I had another go-round at raising my own college-age daughter, Id choose a do-over on something my husband and I already did we just would have done more of it.
We would have said "no" more often. "No" is a very useful word, and Im a big believer in letting kids hear it every now and then.
"Mom, can I stay up an extra hour tonight to watch ?"
"Dad, could I get my allowance early this week? Cuz, like, I wanna "
"Oooh, can I have -- ?"
Helping children periodically bump head-first into the Power of No is such a gift of kindness.
If youre not sure you agree, consider any of the fully grown adults you know whose current foot-stomping, tantrum-throwing, childish behavior assures us that they seldom, if ever, were told "no" as children.
Yeah. See? "No" is a beautiful thing.
We used to sometimes rule "no" just on principle, for no good (well, no immediate) reason. Nope, no candy bar. Not today! So sorry!
As conscientious as I thought we were, I look back and wonder if we shouldnt have thwarted our daughter more often. Would that have helped her better deal with the inevitable frustrations of life? Or is all that just something we learn best as we go along?
Shoulder shrug. If raising a child taught me one thing, its that I didnt actually have all the answers, after all. No doubt my immense human frailty is something Said Child will realize soon enough.
You know, like, maybe after she finds a good therapist...
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