In an earlier post I quoted a piece from a book by David Sedaris called Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. He wrote the following paragraphs in response to seeing a young boy outside a store defacing a federal mail box with marker pens. A bystander held the boy until the parents came out of the store and instead of disciplining the child for his bad behaviour, the parents verbally attacked the bystander for touching their child. Sedaris was understandably appalled and described his own experience growing up in a family of six kids:
“I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books about misguided kittens or seals who wear uniforms, then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.” That was always the last thing we heard before our lights were turned off. Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.
Neither were we allowed to choose what we ate. I have a friend whose seven-year-old will only consider something if it’s white. Had I tried that, my parents would have said, “You’re on,” and served me a bowl of paste, followed by joint compound. They weren’t considered strict by any means. They weren’t abusive. The rules were just different back then, especially in regard to corporal punishment. Not only could you hit your own children, but you could also hit other people’s.”
While hitting children is obviously wrong, I find myself wondering, are our expectations of kids today wrong? The other day when I was in the grocery store, I passed a woman shopping with three children. Her young daughter who appeared to be about eight years old accidentally knocked something off a shelf, left it on the floor in the aisle and walked away. As I passed the little girl (who was wearing a private school uniform), I quietly said to her, “Put it back.”, then rounded the corner and headed off to the frozen food section at the other end of the store.
A few seconds later her mother came screaming after me that I had no right to discipline her child; who did I think I was and accused me repeatedly of being self-righteous. “My child is a good child and she knows what to do” she screamed, waving her arms at me. “Obviously she doesn’t” I replied. Then the rant started all over, who was I to be so self-righteous, and I was actually afraid she was going to strike me so I calmly walked away from her as she continued yelling at me.
The mother was wearing a hijab so I presume she was Muslim. Did I cross a cultural line or is it a generational thing? I honestly do not think I did anything wrong. But the scene hurt and embarrassed me. I generally avoid confrontational situations and when faced with the fury hurled at me yesterday I was paralyzed and couldn’t even come up with an appropriate response. I think any Boomer would have responded as I did when the child left the item on the floor in the aisle. But parenting today is more defensive. Perhaps the mother’s cultural standards are different. Was I wrong?
P.S. Returning to the same store a few days later, I found myself nervously looking over my shoulder looking to protect myself from another attack by the same woman. She certainly left her mark.