July 26, 2005

Must Love Children

In the past couple of days I've come across a sentiment in two different forums that is beginning to bug me. Okay, perhaps "bug" isn't the right word. Read on--I'm sure you'll figure out what the right word is in time.

My first encounter happened whilst I was perusing the local news rag. There's a parenting advice columnist in there who I enjoy reading, mainly because he goes staunchly against the conventional child raising wisdom--that is to say, he believes that children are capable of being polite, well-behaved, and respectful of their elders, and doesn't mind telling people so. Unsurprisingly, given today's climate of "I can't discipline my darling angel even if she really needed it, which of course she doesn't, and isn't it cute how she spits on strangers and climbs the walls like a kitten on acid" child raising, the columnist received a letter from a reader asking if he actually LIKED children. Because God knows you can't advocate yucky unpleasant things like discipline and still LIKE children--that's unthinkable!

Then today I came across a throwaway line from Matt Yglesias describing a David Brooks column - "I love family values but hate actual children." So I went and read the column, a pretty pedestrian humor piece like those we've heard from a million different comedians complaining about being trapped at 30,000 feet with toddlers. Incidentally, the piece never contained anything approaching the "all children must die" sentiment that tripped so pleasingly off of Captain Glib's keyboard in his summary.

You know the saying--two makes a trend, right? Yeah. Sound the warning klaxons, people, because I'm about to go off:

Children are not the grand high holy apex of the universe, okay? A miracle? Sure! Cute? Sure! Creatures that require patience and understanding? You bet! They are also a giant vortex of time-sucking, selfish, uncontrolled impulses bundled up in matching togs from Baby Gap. Curbing their irrational impulses (or wishing that the panty-waist loser parents next to you in line or at the store would do so) will not stunt their growth, result in astronomical therapy bills, or herald The End Of The World As We Know It, OMGWTFBBQ!!! Stopping little junior from climbing the stacks in the local Barnes and Noble or encouraging him to use silverware in a restaurant does not mean that you hate children.

Who the hell came up with the idea that it's "cute" and "empowering" to have a couple of tiny smartasses walking around and sassing grown-ups? 'Cause it's neither, and the only reason that kids like that manage to remain upright in my presence is because I was taught self-control. As a child, I might add. And I don't seem to have a problem with expressing myself OR with my self-esteem.

I have had it up to here with the cult of freaking personality, the "me-me-me I must express my unique flower-hood for the world to see and everyone has to put up with it but if you offend me I shall moan piteously and gnash my tiny little teeth" crap that leads to laissez-faire parenting and children who I would gleefully see bundled off to Oliver Twist's orphanage. Hey parents? Grow up. And if you can't manage that, then please, for the rest of our sakes, fake it. And if you're afraid that your kids might not "like" you if you discipline them? Oh, dear God. Call me when you return from orbiting whatever planet you're on, because it isn't your job to be your kid's buddy, okay?

Oh, and for the rest of you idiots out there who think that asking parents to take control of their parenting means that the asker hates children? Call me when you've read a book from cover to cover that doesn't have pictures on every page.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at July 26, 2005 04:29 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

As a child, my parents disciplined me - when needed. I was not allowed to throw tantrums or whine or demand. I was, after all, the CHILD in the equation. They were never cruel or abusive, although I'm sure there were times when I told them that they were.

Funny thing - I don't hate my parents. My self-esteem is just fine, thank you very much. It really gets my hackles up to see parents who refuse to curb the behaviors you mentioned, probably because I know that their little darlings are going to grow up to be self-absorbed, entitlement activists that will make me want to hurt them with a spork.

Posted by: Kay at July 26, 2005 04:58 PM

Jeez, lady.

The substance of this post is great, but why use Matt Yglesias as a reason to vent? First, you're reading a whole lot into Matt's one-liner. Second, he's a twenty-young urbanite who is probably about as close to being a kid as having one. You really sound like someone who was just stalking around looking for a fight.

I know that parenting columnist you mean, and I like him too. He's all about (what some would call) early potty-training, and when I get around to breeding, I want to be out of the loop with regards to my kid's crapping ASAP.

Posted by: Lance McCord at July 26, 2005 06:46 PM

Geez, Lance, you're awfully protective of poor widdle kid Matt Yglesias, who by the way wasn't even the subject of her post and was only mentioned as the source of the link to the David Brooks article. I'm guessing it was that "Captain Glib" that set you off. Does the M.Y. fan club have decoder rings with matching sweaters?

To get back to the actual subject, my sister and I weren't allowed to act up in public, and my parents were hardly disciplinarians. But my mother carried a hair brush in her purse and she wasn't afraid to march us into the ladies' room of whatever public area we were cutting up in and use the back of it on our behinds if the circumstances warranted it. I grew up just fine, though for some reason I have a low threshold for fools. They call this "intolerance" now, so I'm waiting until the Accept Everything generation gets their own credit cards and I'm going grifter.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at July 26, 2005 07:28 PM


Did you read the Brooks column? It doesn't take any of the positions against which BAW rails. Instead, "the piece never contained anything approaching the 'all children must die' sentiment that tripped so pleasingly off of Captain Glib's keyboard in his summary." It seems to me that BAW read Yglesias to be conflating complaints about indiscipline with dislike of children. I guess one of us is misreading the Big Arm, and I'm thinking it's you.

And lets leave my decoder ring's sweater out of this, ok?

Posted by: Lance McCord at July 26, 2005 07:46 PM

We have pretty well behaved children (Monkey Boy is six and The Princess is four). However, I always keep in mind what an older couple in my church told me - "God didn't make kids good, He made them cute. Than's so we don't kill them before we become too used to them".

Or, as Oscar Wilde once said, "Each child is a fresh assault on civilization."

Unfortunately, parents are on the front lines. I figure I can put effort in now or spend a lot of money on therapy and legal bills later.

Posted by: The Unknown Professor at July 26, 2005 09:25 PM

Parents who are afraid their children might not like them, are also very likely asking the infamous question about jihadis: "why do they hate us?"

Posted by: Norm at July 26, 2005 09:53 PM

Lance -

Matt has the honor of being the person who set off the rant by providing--via a "throwaway" headline--another example of the "criticizes children but talks about family values, must therefore be a big fat kid-hating hypocrite" mindset, which I believe is both glib and stupid. Totally a straw/camel's back thing, which should have been apparent by what I thought was a fairly incidental mention.

And I actually just stumbled across that by scrolling down after reading a different post. I don't troll sites spoiling for fights (and the attendant hit counts that result) with bigger bloggers.

Posted by: BAW at July 27, 2005 08:43 AM

Oh, amen, BAW, amen.

I'm childless (mostly by circumstance: I'm not married and beyond the moral compunctions I cannot imagine trying to raise a child solo) so I'm not permitted to say ANYTHING critical of ANYONE'S parenting styles. Even if their kids are running amok.

The other thing I can't stand is precocity. One of my friends has a son - he could be a perfectly charming kid but he's precocious. Very talky, wants to be the center of EVERYTHING (God forbid we meet at her house when he's not in school - he'll be right there, sharing his "opinions." One time she brought him to my place and kept saying "That's the last cookie you can have." A few moments later, he'd grab another one and give her that defiant/flirty look that so clearly (to me at least) was saying "Ha ha, I can do what I want and I know it, you're too chicken to discipline me in front of your friends." And of course, she was.)

When my brother and I were kids? If we had tried that move, my mom would have told the hostess, "I'm sorry, my children are behaving badly. IT'S TIME FOR US TO GO HOME."

and dear God, when we got home... My parents weren't big spankers but they knew all the other punishments (having to spend a Saturday pulling weeds, not being permitted to watch your favorite television show for a month, allowance being withheld...) that got us.

I read the article on the flying-with-kids and although some of the guys exaggeration-for-humor's-sake made me cringe, I will admit I shudder a little when I show up to my departure point on WHATEVER public transport and see a large number of families with toddlers (The most concerning are when the kids outnumber the parents).

My parents were quite strict and I don't remember ever particularly resenting them for it. And now, as an adult, I'm thankful they were. (And as a teenager? There were a few times some of my friends "invited" me to do something I knew was wrong and REALLY didn't want to, and my parents' known strictness made it possible for me to get off the hook by saying "Oh, man, no. I can't. My parents would KILL me if they found out." without my looking like a "wuss")

Posted by: ricki at July 27, 2005 08:49 AM

It's called Nietzschean anger, resenting kindly people who refuse moral personhood to the objects of their kindness. It's not a matter of its being inconvenient but of its being immoral.

Wm. Koehler, whose training idea is based on building the moral character of dogs (nobody believes that these days except a few old dog trainers):

``Because you, in influencing your dog to he happy, composed, and well-behaved in public places, must do some of your final polishing in distracting situations open to scrutiny, it is inevitable that you be bothered by overly sensitive spectators. It is important that you be equipped to deal with these eyebrow-archers - and deal with them you must, lest you be confused by their protests and weakened in our purpose of thoroughly training your dog. The supersensitive observers are ``kindly'' people, most of whom take after a ``kindly'' parent or an aunt ``who had a dog that was almost human and understood every word without being trained.'' They range over most of the civilized world ; generally one or more will be found close to where dogs are being worked. They often operate individually, but inflict their greatest cruelties when amalgamated into societies. They easily recognize each other by their smiles, which are as dried syrup on yesterday's pancakes. Their most noticeable habits are wincing when
dogs are effectively corrected and smiling approvingly at each other when a dozen ineffective corrections seem only to fire a dog's maniacal attempts to hurl his anatomy within reach of another dog that would maim him in one brief skirmish. Their common calls are : ``I couldn't do that - I couldn't do that - I couldn't do that,'' and ``Oh myyy - oh myyy.'' They have no mating call. This is easily understood.

``When bothered by such critical observations, you will find the most effective counterirritant to be a proffered leash and a loud invitation such as : ``Here - show me!'' If the dog appears a bit formidable, the ``wincer'' is sure to hurry away.

Somewhere he offers the advice of giving them hard candy to suck on.

According to Vicki Hearne, Koehler came upon his Nietzschean anger via Jack London.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at July 27, 2005 10:33 AM

Always remember: it's them or us, and we're bigger.

Posted by: PersonFromPorlock at July 27, 2005 02:47 PM

It was probably Lewis - either his own words or a quotation he cited - from whom I learned that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. Which is a queer sort of commentary on the people who love their kiddies so much they cannot be bothered to do the hard work of teaching them self-discipline.

Posted by: Carbonel at August 1, 2005 01:59 AM