One of the things I’ll miss most about working in the office is the lunchroom conversation. Yesterday’s topic turned to
children and their place in the family. One of my colleagues, whose husband is one of 10 children, was reminiscing about her father- in- law. “When he came home from work at the end of the day, he expected his newspaper on the chair, and his dinner on the table, and he expected peace and quiet. If the (ten!) children got too noisy, he would grumble ominously, and my mother-in-law would quickly shush them. ‘Quiet, children!,’ she’d say. ‘Your father has worked all day and he needs some peace and quiet!'”
As if she hadn’t worked all day raising ten children.
Another co-worker recalled her father in-laws favorite saying to his brood of six. “If things got too noisy, he’d yell out ‘Pipptydoo!’ and they all knew that was the signal to quiet down and shape up,” she said. This was the same man who brought home pizza on Friday night, but always ate his fill before allowing the kids to come in to get the leftovers.
My, how things have changed. Now family life is centered around the kids – their schedules, their food preferences, their bedtime routines. One of the women in the group mentioned her niece’s elaborate bedtime ritual that involves her mother laying down with her for at least an hour each night before she goes to sleep. “She’ll never learn to get to sleep on her own!” was the general consensus.
Well..gulp. That story hit close to home – a bullseye in fact. My dear son had the most elaborate bedtime routine you could imagine, and I admit that I indulged it religiously. He liked to be read to (several stories), he liked to make up stories to tell me, and when he started kindergarten we began a ritual known as “day telling” in which he relayed every activity of his day in minute detail. It took at least an hour, sometimes more, before he was finally “down” for the night.
Contrary to the expectations of my co-workers, he did learn (eventually!) to fall asleep on his own. But in retrospect, I should probably have set some limits on the procedure, rather than allowing him to control the situation.
Truth be told, our son was spoiled by any standards. The beloved only child/grandchild of two only children – how could he not be indulged beyond all reason? Besides that, he was a good child, well-behaved and quiet. He might have been “spoiled” in the pejorative sense of the word, but he was never “rotten.” By the grace of God and some uncommon good sense on his part, he turned out to be a responsible, hard-working, and considerate man.
I know that isn’t always true. Children who are overindulged, who have no expectations set or limits on their behavior, often lead miserable lives, and make everyone around them miserable as well. It’s a syndrome that’s prevalent these days, where children rule the roost in many households, and are the pampered darlings of the family.
I was reading a book the other day about the psychological and sociological ramifications of being an only child. Although we’re notorious for being “spoiled rotten,” that need not be the case. The author suggested that it was imperative to “frustrate your child occasionally,” to not indulge their every desire no matter how much you’d like to do so, or how much easier it would be. I’m know I’m not much of a disciplinarian, but even I can accept the efficacy of age appropriate frustration in teaching children how to cope with life’s inevitable losses.
While the pendulum seems to have swung in the opposite direction from the 1950’s and 1960’s when Dad was King of the Castle and the kids were little more than aggravating peons, it would benefit everyone if a little balance could be achieved in the opposite direction.
Perhaps it’s time for families in general to call out a collective “Pipptydoo!” and bring everyone into line.