Something’s been bugging me lately, and I figure it’s cathartic to write it down. This is a long post, so grab a cup of tea or a glass of wine and make yourself comfortable.
When we lived in Oregon, we spent years attending a home school playgroup run by a woman (I’ll call her Janet) with two young sons. All the families involved with this group had young children ranging from six years old downward. We got together once a week.
Janet, who ran the playgroup, had studied child psychology in college, had once run a daycare, and wrote a weekly newspaper column on parenting. By all accounts she was an expert on raising kids. Right?
During the times we associated with this family, I had my private concerns about the way Janet’s boys were being raised. The mother was dominant, the father completely emasculated and relegated to the background. (In fact for the first several months of our acquaintance I thought Janet was divorced because no mention of the father was ever made. I found out later this was a common misconception because no one had ever heard about her husband, much less seen him.) Janet would literally forbid the father from disciplining “her” boys. He provided money, she provided the raising and education for the children.
But my concern stemmed from the utter and complete lack of discipline in these boys’ lives. An early example of this occurred one day at our playgroup when the youngest boy (who was four at the time) wanted to nurse (Janet believed in unlimited breastfeeding until the children chose to wean themselves). A bunch of us mothers were sitting around chatting while our children played when the four-year-old came up to Janet and plunged a hand down her shirt, squeezing her breast. “Nurse,” he demanded.
“Not now, dear,” Janet replied, trying to extract his hand. “I’m talking.”
“NURSE!” the boy shouted, and he wrenched her breast so hard she screamed.
“Okay, okay!” Janet settled her son on her lap and let him breastfeed.
We mothers sat around in horrified silence. Not horrified that she was breastfeeding – we had all breastfed our kids – but because Janet had actually given in to her son’s blatant and abusive demands. She let him have his way despite the violence of his approach.
It was a portent of things to come.
After a few years, people started drifting away from the group. Their children had been subject to just a little too much bullying by Janet’s boys. None of us wanted to offend her or criticize her parenting skills (though we privately loathed them) so, rather than confront her, one by one we stopped coming. My “excuse” to stop attending the playgroup was to move to Idaho.
Janet believed in involving her boys in as many extracurricular activities as possible including acting lessons, art lessons, sports, and other functions. In nearly every case, the boys were eventually asked to leave because of misbehavior.
Let’s take the art lessons for example. I know about these incidents because my friend Linda’s daughter (who used to attend the playgroup until she got fed up with the boys’ bullying) was in the same art classes as Janet’s boys.
The boys were disruptive and destructive in class. They would actually tease and taunt a handicapped student. The mother of the handicapped boy, unable to stop the harassment, finally threatened to withdraw her four children from art class unless the teacher expelled Janet’s sons, which is what happened. Janet was annoyed because – I’m not kidding – she felt her boys were just naturally exuberant.
Since Linda lived in the same town as Janet, she would sometimes bump into this family on the street. Janet’s boys would scream – yes, scream – foul language at her daughter, right there in broad daylight on the sidewalk. This would happen, I hasten to add, in the company of Janet, who never restrained their language or behavior.
The bad behavior of Janet’s sons escalated when they got older, after we had already left for Idaho. As the years passed I sometimes wondered how they were doing. The once-a-year Christmas newsletter from Janet gave no indication of problems, of course. But then I already knew she was capable of the most amazing mental gymnastics to keep seeing her boys in a pure light.
Fast forward to last week when my friend Linda was in a store and saw two teenagers in long Columbine-style trench coats with greased-back hair and slouching posture. Linda rounded a corner just in time to hear the oldest boy tell his mother to “SHUT THE F*** UP.” Linda stopped dead in her tracks, recognizing Janet’s two kids who were now 15 and 13 and looked, in her words, skanky beyond belief.
So here is the perfect example of how to raise a couple of thugs. Linda reported that Janet looked “less arrogant” than before (she was always vocal in her opinions on how to properly raise children – after all, unlike the rest of us, she was the expert). But here my friend had caught the boys in the act of verbally abusing their mother in public. The jig was up.
I hardly know what to say. The original members of the playgroup had seen this coming for years. Most of us have stayed in touch and I’ve heard similar incidences from others. It makes me feel sad to think of the despair Janet must be feeling as she starts to reap what she sowed. I liked Janet well enough during our acquaintance, even while I didn’t approve of her parenting methods, and it saddens me to see the two proto-thugs she is launching upon society.
While brings me to the concept of modern parenting ideas. Parental techniques have changed over the years, of course, but have you ever noticed that those who live by the traditional methods – firm and loving discipline, a strong father, parental authority, etc. – produce the most stable, happy, productive children who grow into adults who parent their own children in the same way? Why are people constantly trying to reinvent the wheel when the wheel works so damn well already?
I have great faith and belief that many of the old ways of raising kids worked just fine, and we shouldn’t mess with success…especially in matters of human nature. Under ideal circumstances, I believe children do best in an intact two-parent home with firm “alpha” parents who are unified in their love and parenting style, and apply consistent and strong discipline to their kids. Children, as the saying goes, are born liberal, and it’s up to the parents to raise them “right.”
Janet is raising her boys “left.” The results are two proto-thugs on the threshold of being launched into society.