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Published: Tuesday, 4/14/2009

The Kids: They're Outta the House and Old Enough to Vote. So What Would We Have Done Differently?

Dear Bert,

It probably happened somewhere along the way, but I honestly can’t remember the old man ever hitting me.

He had another tactic whenever I got into trouble. He’d order me to sit down and he’d 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. I’d 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.

I’d sit, he’d 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. She’ll turn 30 in a few months and to this day, as God is my witness, she’ll say or do something and I’ll shoot her the stare and her eyes will well up with tears.

It didn’t quite have the same effect on her younger sister, Beth: I’d stare, she’d laugh.

So, if I had the chance to do anything differently as a parent -- which I believe is today’s topic (and didn’t I take my sweet time getting to it?) -- it would be to smack Bethy around a little. I mean, she’d laugh and I’d 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 that’s about it. That doesn’t 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.) They’re smart, they’re caring, they’re polite, and they are good citizens. They’re kind to puppies, small children and old ladies. I know they don’t do drugs and I’m pretty sure they don’t 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 there’s not much they can do about it?

It’s 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.

It’s a crap shoot.

But, hey, try staring at them. The worst that can happen is they’ll laugh at you.

Over to you, Bert.

Roberta deBoer Roberta deBoer
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Dear Dave,

If I thought you were serious about smacking either of your girls around, I’d make it so your dad stared at you a lot harder and a lot longer. But never mind, you don’t fool me. I’ve seen you with your daughters.

Bark, bark, toothless bark.

If you’d 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, I’d 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 I’m a big believer in letting kids hear it every now and then.

"Mom, can I stay up an extra hour tonight to watch – ?"

No.

"Dad, could I get my allowance early this week? Cuz, like, I wanna – "

No.

"Oooh, can I have -- ?"

No!

Helping children periodically bump head-first into the Power of No is such a gift of kindness.

If you’re 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 shouldn’t 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, it’s that I didn’t 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...

XXOO,

Bert

Contact them at:

roberta@theblade.com

dhack@theblade.com



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