I confess to being pleasantly surprised that my post of Tuesday did not result in more free parenting advice that I can’t use.  The problem with complaining about your kids’ behavior in public is that you basically put a sign on yourself that says, “I need your advice even though you don’t know my children and have never tried to raise them.  Please advise me even if you’ve never had children of your own–you know, the kind you live with 24/7, who love you enough that they feel safe doing to you what they wouldn’t dare do to a stranger–because I am so incompetent that anyone must know more than I do.”  I don’t like hanging up that sign, but I thought I could take whatever anyone dished out because, heck, I live with my children.  I can’t be that sensitive.

I appreciate that the overwhelming majority of people who commented took that post the way I intended it.  I was having a bad day.  My children are not really possessed by the devil.  (Not most days anyway.)  When they are good, they are very, very good.  But when they are bad–holy crap.

Princess Zurg has some behavior issues because she’s autistic, but also because she is Princess Zurg.  She’s sensitive, temperamental, and lazy.  (On her good days, she’s sensitive, passionate, and dreamy.)  Mister Bubby has some issues because he’s the middle child, so he mimics some of his sister’s behavior and also acts like a big baby because he was displaced before his time.  But also, just because he’s Mister Bubby.  He’s sensitive, temperamental, and insecure.  (On his good days, he’s sensitive, thoughtful, and happy.)  Elvis’s issues all stem from his insatiable appetite for destruction.  Someday he will channel all that energy into something constructive, but in the meantime, lock all your doors.

Each of my kids is very, very strong-willed.  (On a bad day they are more accurately described as stubborn and spiteful.)  I don’t know that they’re any more strong-willed than the next kid down the block, but I don’t really care.  I don’t live with the next kid down the block.  I live with these three kids, and there is no denying that they are agents unto themselves, to act and not just be acted upon.  You can’t make a child–or any person–do something he doesn’t want to do.  If you think you can, please come over and finish toilet training my son before you go out and save the rest of the world from crime and exploitation.  Parenting is about teaching children to act in their own best interests.  Contrary to what children believe, their own best interest doesn’t lie in throwing tantrums, being rude, or being idle.  People who love you will forgive that stuff, but the rest of society doesn’t accommodate that personality type for long.  So, duh.  Children need limits and consequences and consistency, blah blah blah.  I could write my own book on that subject.  I just wouldn’t claim that it yields immediate results because it doesn’t.

There are many people who are blessed with children who are congenial and compliant by nature–not perfect, but more susceptible to discipline than others.  Most such parents have only one or two of this species and quit while they’re ahead (if they’re smart), but I’ve met others who had to have seven kids before they got one they couldn’t “control.”  Some people are–let’s say this charitably–blessed with the opportunity to raise more challenging human beings.  Some kids are brats because their parents don’t bother teaching them how to behave.  Some kids are brats because, well, they’re brats.  Which doesn’t mean they’re hopeless–just that it’s going to take a freakload more work to help them turn into productive, non-terrorist citizens.  And even then there’s no guarantee.  It’s that pesky free-will thing again.

I’m not sure how else to explain the fact that while I’ve drilled please-and-thank-you into all of my children’s heads, PZ refused to say these words at all until she was about five or six (didn’t forget, mind you, but refused, even when it meant starvation or something similarly trivial compared to her ego); MB would say them but usually only when reminded; and Elvis says not only please and thank you but you’re welcome, excuse me, and I’m sorry–all spontaneously, without prompting.  I’ve done nothing different with any of them–and the older ones are definitely not setting the example, so how is this explained?  Probably the same way you explain why neither PZ or MB felt compelled to touch a stove after I pulled their hands away and startled them with a firm no, but Elvis is determined to saute himself along with his omelet, even after he’s been burned.

While I take no offense whatsoever at the Nanny 911 recommendations, I don’t watch Nanny 911 because a) I don’t watch television before 10 p.m. and b) it would just make me mad.  One of the least helpful, but most honest parenting books I ever read said that mothers of three-and-a-half-year-olds would best serve their offspring (as well as their own mental health) by putting them in the care of a babysitter for most of their waking hours.  I’m not surprised that Supernanny can work miracles with children she’s not related to.  If I let my children believe that some stranger was taking over the house because they’d driven me to abdicate the responsibility myself, most likely they’d be participating in some miraculous conversions, too.  But I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that my kids drove Emergency Worker Nanny to another line of work, either.  Nothing shocks me.

A few years ago, our bishop’s wife spoke in church on the topic of getting your kids to behave during the worship service.  She gave a lot of practical advice–some of it realistic, some of it less so–all of which I had already done or was doing.  What I’ve found is that the best way to get your kids to behave during a worship service is to let them get older.  (Easier said than done, but most parents can manage it.)  Instant results, if you’re willing to wait a few years.

So here’s my point.  You may have very well-behaved children.  Some of them may have been formerly ill-behaved children–like super-crazy/problem-child/put-them-in-therapy children–so you are probably very well-qualified to offer parenting advice to anyone who wishes to raise…your children.  I won’t question your judgment on that topic.  But please don’t assume that I have no wisdom borne of experience myself.  We all have to put in our time at the proverbial drawing board before we hit upon the winning strategy.  Some people get to fight the first Gulf War, and the rest of us get stuck with
Vietnam.  And everybody’s got a theory on
Vietnam.  Especially the people who never fought there.

For the record, each of my kids was utterly delightful yesterday, and I did not scream or pee on myself once.  I am truly blessed.

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