I really hate to sound like that old-timer complaining about the way things used to be, but I’m going to do it anyway. When I was a child, absolutely every adult was a “big person” that I considered to be all-powerful and all-knowing. From teachers to babysitters, from second cousins to the person at the grocery store check-out, I held my tongue and smiled politely. The balance of power was very clear – there was no balance. It was all tipped on the other side of the scale.
As a kid, I wouldn’t have batted an eye if a neighbor scolded me while I was playing in front of their house. It would never have seemed odd to hear extended family tell me to “Mind my manners.” And I would’ve never, ever ran to my mother assuming that she would take my side over a grown-up who had chastised me.
Alas (these stories always have to use that word, it’s a literary contractual obligation), times are different now. Some parents consider someone else disciplining their children to be the height of insult. And ya know what? Children understand that.
Two days a week, I take a little girl from pre-school to daycare with my daughter when their morning classes end. Her mother works for the school district and isn’t able to leave in the middle of the day. With my more flexible schedule, I volunteered to run the girls back and forth to school.
And two days a week, this little girl asks if I’ll turn on a movie for them to watch on our 3 second drive from pre-school to daycare. In the beginning, I assumed it was a novelty. After all, I think that having a DVD player in the car is kinda nice. And even though I normally don’t let my daughter watch it unless a long trip is involved, I conceded and let the girls watch approximately 5 seconds of Oliver & Company or Monsters vs. Aliens on our trip.
After a while, this routine got to be a little tedious. I had assumed that the glamour of a movie in the car would’ve worn off a little. I started to explain to the girls that it wasn’t a long trip and we didn’t need a movie. During one such conversation, I turned around to see my daughter’s classmate sticking out her tongue and making faces behind my back. She was obviously angry that I was telling her no. When I began to chastise the little girl for making inappropriate faces at an adult, she rolled her eyes.
Moms, you know the eyeroll I’m talking about. It’s that exaggerated, “You have know idea what you’re talking about” eyeroll that little girls perfect way too soon. I’ve seen this look from my daughter before and I’m pretty sure that in the right circumstances, it could incite a riot.
In that moment, my disciplinarian came front and center. I got my best glare on and I said, “That makes me very upset to see you behave that way to an adult. I’m sure your mother would be very disappointed. You know better than make faces at a grown-up.”
The little girl, who I know is a sweet child that just happened to make a bad choice, stayed silent for the entire car ride. She didn’t speak to me as she walked in to daycare and sat down to lunch. She never apologized. When our confused daycare provider asked me what the problem was, since angry pre-schoolers aren’t normally subtle with their emotions, I started to explain about our trip home. The girl whispered to her friends, “The problem is that Brenna’s mommy is a jerk.” Don’t you love how when kids whisper, you can always hear them.
Once again, I reminded the child that she needed to be respectful with adults and that I knew she had been taught better manners. Honestly, I’ve taken a trip to the zoo with this family. Her parents would’ve never allowed her to speak to them like that. I decided to call the mother of the child involved to let her know about her day. If the positions were reversed, I would want to know about my child’s behavior so that I could speak to her about it as well.
I was shocked at the response I got. As I explained her daughter’s behavior and my subsequent chastising, the mother cut in to say, “You don’t have any right to discipline my daughter. She’s going through a rough phase right now. In the future, just call me if you have a problem and I’ll address it with her later. But don’t discipline my daughter for me.”
Whoa there friend. Don’t discipline your daughter? By asking me to drive her to school, you placed her in my care. You made me in charge of her well-being for about fifteen minutes a day. And I’m pretty sure that I would be expected to discipline her if she ran out into the street.
Is the problem that I questioned this little girl’s manners? Because they were pretty egregious. Once again, that doesn’t make her a bad child. It means she made a bad choice. When my daughter makes a bad choice, I correct her. If she makes a bad choice at school, I expect her teacher to correct her. If she makes a bad choice at my sister’s house, I expect my sister to correct her. I think you understand where I’m going here.
I understand a parent’s desire to be in charge of their child’s upbringing. I think it would be a different matter entirely if I had spanked this child, or even given her a time-out. Any punishment at all. The fact is that I told a young child that her actions were inappropriate. Kids need to be made aware of that and they need to know that it’s a problem.
I can appreciate a parent who doesn’t want their children to follow every direction an adult gives them. Most of us like to encourage independent thinking in our offspring, and none of us want to see our children hurt or abused by an adult in a position of authority. However, that doesn’t mean that we should undermine every grown-up they encounter. You can talk to your children about physical contact and why no adult should be putting their hands on them. You can encourage children to talk to you about an adult’s behavior. And you can still tell them that the adult they are with is in charge and deserves respect.
If the woman had been present when her daughter behaved poorly, I would’ve expected that mom to step in and discipline her child. But she wasn’t. I was the grown-up in charge and I considered it my job to reprimand a little girl who forgot her manners. Honestly, I still do consider that to be my position.
I suppose I should start warning parents, if your child gets in my car, I reserve the right to correct their behavior. I reserve the ability to enforce manners and proper decorum through the use of intense glares and stern voices. If that’s a problem, perhaps you should drive your kid yourself.