Tag Archives: Role Model

Why It’s Always The End Of The World For Your Child

In my house, the end of the world came around with a distressing regularity.

With three young dudes growing up in the same house, being ruled over by the meanest, most horrible dictator ever to put on a pair of pants and then jump up and down on poor, defenseless boys who only wanted so very little. . .

Those poor young dudes. It must have been like living in hell. Only, the thing of it is. . . I was there. It wasn’t hell for anyone. Anyone but an adult in the vicinity.

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You’ve all seen it. Even if you’re not a parent, you’ve seen it.Pulling an ugly face is a regular occurrence for little dudes during their toddler years. And beyond, if I'm being honest.

Something happens and suddenly the world ends for a young dudette, who starts screaming and yelling and crying and throwing herself onto the floor of the grocery store and acting like the end is not only nigh, but already here and wearing spiked heels to step on her.

On a (slightly) less histrionic level, I and probably most parents in the history of history have heard just about every single variation on the phrase, “This was the worst. Evar!”

I mean, seriously. If I hear that again, I just might be the one who screams.

So, yeah. We’ve all seen this sort of thing happen. Something minor rocks the little dude’s world and he reacts like someone tried to cut off his arm and beat his puppy to death with it. (Although that might be a bit of a harsh simile. Accurate, but still harsh.)

The big question (other than, “How do I stop this? Or, barring that, make a clean get away without being caught?) is why? Why do our little dudes and dudettes react so over the top?

The easiest answer is also the one about which we can do the least. They simply have no basis for comparison. When young dudes aren’t yet six or so, they are all about existing in the now.

If it already happened, it doesn’t matter. If it will happen in the future, it doesn’t matter. Right now. That’s all that matters.

Which means that, if a child doesn’t have something right now, at this very moment, it will never happen. They will forever be deprived, just like they have always been deprived of what they want. That’s a hard thing to face, especially for tiny humans who have so little experience.

Which leads us to a second reason. Being young, they have no basis for comparison. When little J’Amelia is mean to your daughter in school, it might be the worst day of her life so far. Really. She might not be exaggerating. Oh, she will experience worse (much, much worse) later in her life, but being young, she still hasn’t enjoyed all of life’s little jokes.

Young dudettes and dudes don’t have the life experience necessary to really make a good comparison between miseries. Stubbing her toe is bad and hurts, but they can’t ask themselves if it’s anywhere near as bad as that time they broke their arm. Or cut open their thumb. Or, really, anything.

Our ability to compare allows us to realize that it’s just pain and we’ve had worse, which allows us to calm down.

And, that’s another thing. We, as adults, are supposed to be rational, thinking beings. (I’m going to be nice and say most of us are, although, in my heart of hearts, I doubt it.) The brains of young kids don’t fully mature until they’re much, much older, say, around 25 or so for boys.

Unfortunately for the ears around them, their limbic system (which controls their emotions) is fully functioning, firing on all cylinders. Toddler brains become flooded with the hormones and neurotransmitters that cause pain and anger and sorrow and all the rest, but they don’t have the cognitive skill and experience to overcome that and regain control of themselves.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was able to offer much in the way of hope for struggling parents. Other than the obvious: This, too, shall pass.

And, though you doubt it in the midst of a truly epic meltdown, it will get better. All you have to do is stay relatively calm and help your little dude through his current issue.

It’s not personal. It’s just what and who they are at the moment. Keep showing good behavior, being a good role model and talking them through their experiences so they learn the right thing and . . . everything should be fine.

I’m going to do you younger parents a favor and not even bring up the teenage years here. Mostly because I’m a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and there’s some stuff up with which no one should put.

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Walking The Walk As A Role Model

Actions scream louder than words.

So clichéd, but so very true.

You can tell your little dudes all day to be honest and always tell the truth. However, when they see you lie your way out of a speeding ticket, or tell your boss you won’t be coming in that day because you’re *cough* not feeling good, they will learn from your actions and not your lectures.

You, all right? I learned it by watching you.

As goofy as that PSA is (and, really, can we take anything seriously when there’s that sort of mustache in frame and it’s not being mocked mercilessly?*), there is a good point buried beneath the moralizing and hippie-hate.

In fact, let’s add on another couple of clichés that might have something to say about the matter: Seeing is believing. Monkey see, monkey do. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Young dudes and dudettes are sponges, by which I mean that they soak up the world around them, internalize what they experience and then squeeze it back out into the world through their own nascent personalities. Not that they’re yellow, with holes in them and live in a pineapple under the sea. Although I would have thought that would be self-evident.

Moving on.

Once they get past toddlerhood, most young dudes and dudettes experience their parents’ words in much the same way that we experience the words of an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon.

“Waaah, wah-wah waaahh wah-wah wah wah.”

It has about all the semantic content of a bag of broken bricks.

But those eyes. . . Those eyes see everything.** Those ears hear everything.°

And we all know from experience (The one time you say the unmodified frak in front of your young dude, it’s what he’s going to remember and repeat. Again and again. In front of your in-laws.), that they will catch you in a contradiction. There’s no question about it. Do what you warned them not to do and they will call you on it.

Personally, I find the old excuse that we’re allowed to do (whatever it is) because we’re adults to be somewhat lacking in conviction. Lying — for the most part — is wrong no matter the age. It’s only as we get older that we begin to justify as a social necessity the idea of shading the truth.

I mention all this because, right now, I’m having a hard time showing my young dudes the right way to attack life and I fully understand the consequences of blowing this one.

Footnotes & Errata

* No. No, we can’t. That is a seriously scary mustache.
** Except the pile of freshly laundered, dried and folded clothing at the bottom of the stairs waiting for them to take up and put away.
° Except our voices when we’re asking them to take out the trash, or clean up their room, or to clean out the food mouldering under their bed.

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On The Benefits Of Not Being A Nice Girl*

Catherine Newman does not want her daughter to be nice.

Newman, the author of Waiting for Birdy, writes atwww.benandbirdy.blogspot.com, had a recently published column  in The New York Timestalking about how the concept of being “nice” might be on that’s detrimental to any young dudette’s growth and development.

My 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, is not nice, not exactly. She is deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know — but she will not smile at you unless either she is genuinely glad to see you or you’re telling her a joke that has something scatological for a punch line.

This makes her different from me. Sure, I spent the first half of the ’90s wearing a thrifted suede jacket that I had accessorized with a neon-green sticker across the back, expressing a somewhat negative attitude regarding the patriarchy (let’s just say it’s unprintable here). But even then, I smiled at everyone. Because I wanted everyone to like me. Everyone!

The problem of being a dudette and being nice. It’s something into which I’ve run before and it never ceases to appall me. The very idea that a girl needs to be “nice” if she’s to be accepted, that she has to cauterize select areas of her personality, always be chirpy and nice and smiling. . . Ugh.

And, yet, it’s something we seem to see a lot of these days.

Take, for instance, the character of Aubrey, played by Anna Camp, from the fantastic movie, Pitch Perfect, about a cappella singing in college competitions, is a perfect embodiment of this appalling character type. She’s always smiling, always talking nicely to people, but will not suffer any deviation from her plan.

Newman, though she might have had brushes with being that sort of person in the past, does not want her daughter to Aubrey-ify herself as she grows.

I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.

And, currently, she is not in danger. She is decisive and no-nonsense, preferring short hair and soft pants with elastic waistbands. Dresses get in her way, and don’t even get her started on jeans, the snugly revealing allure of which completely mystifies her. She’s the kind of person who donates money to the Animal Welfare Institute and attends assiduously to all the materials they send her, including their dully depressing annual reports, which she keeps in a special folder. Gender stereotypes, among other injustices, infuriate her. “This is so stupid!” she sighs at Target, about the pink rows of dolls and the blue rows of Lego. “Why don’t they just put a penis or a vagina on every toy so you can be completely sure you’re getting the right one?”

Hah! That last line just kills me.

Now, I don’t have any daughters, only young dudes, but. . . Man, that does not sound like it’s an easy road to teach your daughter to walk. You don’t want any kid of yours to be nasty or spiteful, but you need to teach them to stand up so firmly and so fiercely they can simply shrug off the demands of lame-o men or women who insist that the only way they can progress is to give in and do what others demand of them because it’s “nice.”

Fortunately, I have a great role model to look at when I wonder how a successful job looks like. My sister, Tia, and her husband, the Teaching Dutchman, are doing a great job raising their daughter, Boo, to be who she wants to be. She’s strong, intelligent, athletic, courteous and doesn’t waste her time with foolish behavior. She’s everything you’d want in a daughter and can even be nice when she wants to. The thing is? She doesn’t let the imperative “be nice” rule her life.

Tia, the Teaching Dutchman and Catherine Newman all seem to be doing a great job with their respective female spawn. I can only hope that, were I in a similar position, I would be able to do anything like as well as they do.

*A version of this was accidentally published last week, with an original publishing date of May 5, 2013. This is the correct version, published on the correct date.

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