The Armchair Parent

I think we can all agree that parents are terrible and screwing up their kids. I read articles online with horrible anecdotes of horrible parents doing clearly terrible things.

Situations in context, however, are not always clearcut.

This weekend, I, in a stressed state, was walking with the Littlest Bath in another city. She carried a doll, I a backpack. I put the doll in my backpack, and she saw a stuffed animal (named Hola) in there and wanted it. In my memory, I told her “no” and stuffed the doll into the backpack along with Hola.

Two hours later, I realized I couldn’t find Hola. I hoped it wouldn’t be something she’d notice. That was three days ago.

Good Night Moon Cuddle Bunny with Board Book
The Littlest Bath is a perceptive sort though. Last night, while getting ready for bed, she suddenly stopped her routine, checked around her bed and connected the dots. Hola (the stuffed animal) wasn’t there. Tears flew out, and she said Hola was left behind in the city we visited.

The Better Bath explained that this is a foresseable risk when you take the toys out of the car or out of the house. In fact, she was reminded that she is often warned to leave her toys in the car for this very reason.

This didn’t comfort her.

Bad things happen. This is a lesson my daughter must soon learn. But I don’t remember giving her the stuffed animal to drop. I don’t think she demanded that I take it out of the car. I don’t remember her making a poor choice with respect to Hola that resulted in Hola’s loss.

Personally, I’d rather reinforce the idea that she is primarily the creator of her destiny. I don’t want to keep bad things from happening to her, but at three years old, I’d prefer they primarily be a result of poor choices on her part, not her father’s carelessness.

As a result, the Better Bath promised we’d get Hola back by this weekend.

We said this before looking up if Hola is available with free Prime shipping.

It turns out the precise variant of Hola we seek isn’t available on Amazon quickly. We are instead spending $28 to have Hola expedited from Bed Bath and Beyond (no in-store pickup available). Stuffed animals are typically a few dollars. This is ridiculous, but here we are.

If the Littlest Bath ends up beinga spoiled brat, I will think back upon this as a critical step on that path. This story sounds like one of the ones they tell to illustrate how terrible parents are and why their children suck and can’t cope with the real world.

crying girl photo

Not actually my daughter. Image by Daddy-David

At the same time, each step I took to get here seemed reasonable at the time. Losing Hola in the first place was a mistake. It was primarily my fault, so I thought it was reasonable to insulate her from the loss. We didn’t know how difficult it would be to get the same toy, so we promised a date that was only in retrospect too aggressive. We could have explained to her that it’d take longer than we had originally told her, but I don’t want to break promises to her.

What do you think, armchair parents? Should I have said “tough luck”? At what point?


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Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1. ...more →

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35 thoughts on “The Armchair Parent

  1. Eh, you’re fine, as long as it doesn’t become a habit.

    I think of it this way, if you do it every once in awhile, you get to be a hero in their eyes every once in awhile.

    It’s when you do it all the time that it becomes a problem.

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  2. You sort of touch on it at the end there, but I don’t think you go far enough: it is YOU who must atone for your errors. Intentional or not, forseen or not, you undertook an action (or series of actions) which were all innocent enough but somehow conspired to cause harm to your daughter. As such, you had a duty to correct for it. Or absorb the consequences… which might be several days or weeks of tantrums or sleepless nights or however else she responds to the gaffe.

    Now, I realize I’m using a bit of strong language here. You’re human. You were traveling with a small child. Shit happens. I’d be hardpressed to fault you for anything you’ve done here.

    But if your goal here is to raise a child who is accountable for her actions… what better way to show her that than to model it for her?

    “Daddy messed up, Little One. I’m really sorry. I’m going to fix this. I appreciate your patience as I do so.” You model accountability, she has an opportunity to develop empathy (which she may or may not take advantage of) and you move on.

    Not every mistake you make will be fixable. As I said, shit happens. “I know I said we’d go swimming at the beach today. But it’s raining unexpectedly and our flight leaves first thing tomorrow so we won’t have another opportunity to go during this trip. I understand that’s really upsetting to you. Maybe we can find something fun to do together once we’re home. I know… you’re sad. I’m sad, too.”

    Obviously, you’d adapt the language for the child’s age, linguistic abilities, etc.

    tl;dr: I don’t think you did anything wrong and, intentionally or otherwise, think you actually served your broader goal. A bit more intentionality/explicitiveness to that end will get you even closer.

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    • I endorse this, but with a word of caution. They won’t apply this to themselves unless you connect the dots (when appropriate!). It’s too convenient to have someone else around who will take responsibility for everything.

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      • Oh yes. “Daddy messed up so it is Daddy’s job to fix it.” Stuff like that. Kids will absorb alot through observation and osmosis which is why living your life the way you want your children to live yours is really important. But sometimes it needs to be made explicit.

        My son is three and he has absorbed many of my behaviors (most of them good! I think…?) But sometimes I have to say, “Oh, I spilled my milk… I’ll get a towel and wipe it up.” And then when he spills, I say, “Oh, you spilled your milk… Let’s get a towel so you can wipe it up.”

        Working with young kids makes me not much of a believer in, “Well, some things just go without saying.” No. Young children are still learning the ways of the world. They need our guidance and instruction. We don’t have to be didactic or pedantic about everything… “Okay, now step with your right foot. Now your left foot. Now right again. Good, Johnny… we’re almost to your 2nd grade classroom!”… but we should be more intentional and explicit than we often tend to be.

        You often hear adults say to children, “Show me you can do this.” Which isn’t an unreasonable position… if you are confident that the child has both the capability to perform the task and an understanding of what you are asking. I think we need to more often say, “Let me show you how to do this… now you show me.”

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  3. My father would have said “The toy is gone. I’m not replacing it. Take better care of your toys.”. I’d have said something shorter.

    But I’m an ass.

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    • This implies a level of foresight and an understanding of cause-and-effect that is simply beyond the abilities of most 3-year-olds. Now, experiences like this MAY help them develop this understanding… But may not. Given that she wasn’t actually in control of the situation, holding her accountable in the way described here is pretty cruel.

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      • There’s no accountability in my statement. It’s purely facts.

        1) The toy is gone.
        2) I’m not replacing it.

        Recommendation: Take better care in the future so this doesn’t again. Maybe it’s implied that the kid lost the toy, but that’s not what I said. Life is cruel kazzy. What do you think the kid’s going to say/do when they see me “shoot bambi” and gut it? Note that won’t be a 3 year old. Maybe an 11-12 year old.

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        • Putting those three statements in a row indicates there is some relationship. And given that the girl’s care of the item had no bearing on its fate, its inclusion is either irrelevant and needless harping or is meant to say, “Yea, you could have avoided this and didn’t.”

          I’m not saying we shelter kids from the realities of the world. “You threw your ball in the river? Man, that sucks. Bye bye ball,” is one thing. “Daddy lost your toy so tough nuts kid,” is a much harsher lesson that will likely be lost on her anyway.

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    • What if it isn’t the kids fault or is only partially the kid’s fault that the toy is gone? I think that not replacing the toy when it is the parent’s fault teaches several immoral lessons. It teaches kids that those in a position of power can abuse that power to hurt other people and that this is to be expected. This lesson perpetuates injustice. Either the kid will learn that power is something she or he needs to achieve so as not to be accountable or will become a passive victim unable to advocate for her or him self.

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      • You are assigning blame in a scenario that had none. I responded specifically to the OP. Fault for the alleged loss of the toy is not discussed nor assigned. Obviously the OP feels he might be guilty. But that’s not the point.

        The toy is gone and no one knows how/why. How, given that, is the kid going to learn ” that power is something she or he needs to achieve so as not to be accountable or will become a passive victim unable to advocate for her or him self.”?

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  4. A couple of points from someone who doesn’t have kids:

    I’m not entirely sure what the cost of the thing has to do with anything. This isn’t a kid being unwilling to settle for something cheaper and demanding the super-expensive version…this is you replacing something and pretending it’s the same thing. As far as the kid knows, her stuffed animal got misplaced (She probably has no idea if she had anything to do with it.) and then got found again. It’s hard to see how that is ‘spoiling’ someone.

    In fact, price really has no bearing on whether a kid gets spoiled…it’s not like the *kid* understands how much things cost. It’s just that price often serves as a ‘handy’ way to introduce kids to the idea they don’t instantly get whatever they want…and why, in families where price doesn’t matter, they often *don’t* learn that concept.

    But there are plenty of ways to do that beyond price…and I’d argue that price isn’t a particularly good one anyway. A much better thing to worry about is instant gratification…I really think parents should attempt to get across to their kids that they can’t get something just because they see it and instantly want it. There has to be some sort of deliberation, at home, if that is *actually* something that is wanted. And any exceptions to the policy (Like visiting somewhere they won’t be back to) will be made in advance.

    I see way too many clearly spoiled kids demanding one thing after another, and the parents claiming each of them are too expensive. No. That is not the reason you cannot randomly have a toy. The reason you cannot randomly have a toy is that your parents are not buying you a toy because you presumably have enough toys and we don’t buy every damn toy you see and like for two seconds! There are defined times of the year you get toys, and you can make the case for an extra, specific sort of toy at home, and that will be taken into consideration and you might get an extra toy, or not, which might be exactly what you wanted or might be something close.

    I try not to judge parents in public, but, honestly, I tend to think of parents that have kids running around begging for them to get some toy or candy or whatever while they’re not specifically shopping for that kid like people who have dogs that sit and beg while they eat…dude, at some point you encouraged that behavior. At some point they demanded a toy and you bought it for them right there. And you do it enough that that is how they think the world works…so don’t act exasperated when they demand more stuff! You shouldn’t have done that to start with! (But, then again, for all I know, they *didn’t*…that’s due to some dumbass babysitter or some other parent or something. Which is why judging is wrong. But *someone* clearly screwed up somewhere…kids don’t magically *assume* they get to pick and keep toys while grocery shopping, at least not kids who have grasped that other people can own things.)

    Likewise, another thing: I don’t have kids, but a lot of my family does, and I’ve noticed that *they* tend to make it very clear that future plans are a) dependent on the child behaving, and b) might end up being changed by outside interference. This is the assumption for *all future planning*.

    And this isn’t some weird harsh dytopian lesson, either. (b) is literally how the world works anyway! Adults have a reasonable ability to figure out stuff like that…like a heavy rain might stop a fun trip to a petting zoo, or even stop a trip to the grocery store, but probably isn’t going to interfere with a flight. But with kids, you just make it capricious…their life is *already* completely capricious anyway, they have no idea why people decided they got to do X, so just make it clear that doing X is only *supposed* to happen, and something might stop it.

    I tend to think you should be very careful about anything you say to kids, and if there is the slightest possibility it won’t happen, hedge your bets by making clear that this is the plan only if nothing unexpected happens. If you feel guilty about that sort of thing (And it’s easy to feel guilty about never making any promises at all, or rather never keeping your promises by cheating by not making any), then promise that X will happen, and it *probably* will be tomorrow, and then it’s just been rescheduled if it doesn’t happen.

    And, again, I am not a parent, and I know that parenting is actually pretty hard and sometimes kids are idiots and it actually doesn’t matter and they might get upset anyway. But I think that they might stop that *sooner*, at a younger age, if the wording is more reasonable, and they realize that when you commit to something, you’re actually committing to doing it *soon*, and that always *does* happen, even if the scheduled time doesn’t. (Especially if that is literally how you explain your commitment.)

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    • “A much better thing to worry about is instant gratification…”

      I’ve been thinking alot about this, especially in the age of streaming/on-demand video service and Amazon Prime and Uber and all the other ways we have eliminated the need for delayed gratification. While it is super easy to just say, “Oh, click-click-click, boom, we have what we want,” I worry waht message this sends them. But does making the boys wait for the library to get our movie in (which is as much about cost as it is sending any sort of message)… is that just me complaining that they aren’t walking uphill in the snow both ways?

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      • But does making the boys wait for the library to get our movie in (which is as much about cost as it is sending any sort of message)… is that just me complaining that they aren’t walking uphill in the snow both ways?

        I think you’re using that delay as a proxy for a few things. Stopping instant gratification is one, as is creating a more ‘special’ feeling of movie, like they’re a treat.

        Kids are…kinda dumb. If adults say something is a special occasion, it is. If adults say something is a rare treat that they only get once in a while, kids are excited about it.

        Problems really only arise when they realize you’re doing it on purpose, that all those things are trivial, and you could, in fact, have been doing them all the time.

        But maybe not. I mean, most of us know of stuff our families restricted for no reason other than ‘That is not something we want children doing all the time’.

        I don’t have any answers, and I don’t really *have* to have any answers, not being a parent. But I do feel that teaching kids to delay gratification is perhaps one of the most important things to teach them.

        And, not to get randomly political in a discussion about kids, but I suspect that *lack* of learning delayed gratification is one of the things contributing to the cycle of poverty, because delayed gratification is something the poor do not have…or, rather, have too much delayed gratification forced upon them involuntary, so never display any *voluntary* delayed gratification for their children. (And I want to make it clear I’m not *blaming* them for this lack. If I had been denied all sorts of things for years, I’d probably spend randomly whenever I got money also.)

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        • Will all due respect, alot of what you say here rankles me.

          Kids aren’t dumb.

          “If adults say something is a special occasion, it is. If adults say something is a rare treat that they only get once in a while, kids are excited about it.”

          ACT NOW BEFORE THE LIMITED EDITION MINTED COIN’S SUPPLIES ARE EXHAUSTED!

          “But maybe not. I mean, most of us know of stuff our families restricted for no reason other than ‘That is not something we want children doing all the time’.”

          You say this as if promoting moderation and diversity of life experiences is a bad thing. A Friday night movie is perfectly okay and can actually be really beneficial if structured as family bonding time. Screen-time 24/7 is demonstrably harmful to growth and development. So saying, “Yes, we can watch movies once a week together as a family but you otherwise aren’t to turn the TV on without permission,” isn’t just some weird wielding of parental power or restricting behavior on a whim… it is perfectly consistent with various models of good parenting.

          I agree with you that delaying gratification is hugely important and there is pretty solid research to this effect… Though I’ll let weigh in on if that study has stood the test of time.

          But kids acting in ways that are perfectly consistent with their brain development (which includes cognition, emotional regulation, executive functioning, etc.) is not something we should fault kids OR parents for.

          Are there bad parents out there? Yes. Are there parents that response to age-appropriate behaviors in ways that make matters worse? Sure. Are there kids who act in ways that are not age-appropriate? Of course. But given all the variables involved and, oh yea, your complete lack of experience and understanding of young children, you’d probably be best served to reserve judgement in these situations.

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          • ACT NOW BEFORE THE LIMITED EDITION MINTED COIN’S SUPPLIES ARE EXHAUSTED!

            I think you’e just demonstrated that adults can be as dumb as kids, not that kids aren’t dumb.

            Kids just have less knowledge and experience. You can tell them ‘For a special treat, we’re going to the park!’ and they’ll go for it.

            Whereas if you try to tell an adult that, they’d just look at you blankly, even if they are dependent on you driving them to the park. This is because they realize that you and them could, in fact, go to the park whenever you guys wanted, and hardly need some special occasion.

            Children do not know enough to be able to tell the difference between when an adult explains that going to Disney World is a big event they can only do once in a while and is a super-special occasion…and when an adult *living in Orlando and with a free pass to Disney World* claims that.

            Dumb might be the wrong word. Children are just completely ignorant of the relative difficulties adults have in doing things, so it’s pretty easy to mislead them into thinking something can’t be done, or is really hard.

            You say this as if promoting moderation and diversity of life experiences is a bad thing.

            Uh, if I did, I didn’t mean to.

            It is perfectly reasonable to restrict children from enjoyable things, and make them do different things that are better for them.

            Well, it is more reasonable when they are younger, and gets less reasonable as they get older, although, as I pointed, part of that is because the kids *realize* there’s no real reason for the restriction, and if you keep doing it, they get rebellious.

            A Friday night movie is perfectly okay and can actually be really beneficial if structured as family bonding time. Screen-time 24/7 is demonstrably harmful to growth and development.

            I would argue that trying to assert what ‘screen time’ does is a somewhat vague and difficult to pin down thing, and there are a lot of things that are screen time. But you say doing it 24/7 is bad, which is indisputably correct…no one, not even adults, should watch TV 24/7, they will eventually have mental problems from sleep deprivation.

            But kids acting in ways that are perfectly consistent with their brain development (which includes cognition, emotional regulation, executive functioning, etc.) is not something we should fault kids OR parents for.

            You’ve turned this all general, instead of the *specific* thing I was talking about, which has to be a learned bad habit.

            There are a lot of things I will not fault parents for. And, as I said, it’s is entirely possible for children to learn bad things from people *other than their parents*, so I won’t even fault parents. And it’s even possible they have some sort of special needs, and I can’t tell that kid that looks ten is operating at the level of a three year old.

            But there are basically only two possible explanations of why a kid is whining until they get a toy. Either they do not actually developed enough to understand ownership and the concept that not every toy is theirs (Fair enough), or at some point they whined about a toy and someone got it for them, aka, they were taught a bad habit by an adult. (Or someone with money, at least.) Those are pretty much the only two reasons they might think that toy might become theirs.

            Now, is that enough to *fault* whatever unknown adult did that? Seems like it to me.

            And, yes, I’m sure there is some kid out there with autism who has a breakdown if he isn’t allowed to keep every squirt gun he sees, and that’s a fair enough point. (Although at that point I’m slightly baffled as to why they’re being *argued with*!) Or maybe the kid has other sort of emotional problems, and his meltdowns just include ‘demanding random things’…like I said, three-year olds are completely random in what sets them off, and maybe he’s emotionally three.

            But it seems like those would be pretty distinguishable from general ‘I want this toy!’ whining, which is something that should essentially disappear from children by six or eight or whenever if all adults follow the basic rule of *not caving to whining*. If it didn’t ever work, it wouldn’t keep being tried.

            This is somewhat different that children *failing to learn things*, even things children their age ‘should’ know, which is something that can be caused by a bunch of different things. This is children specifically being taught to do *the wrong thing*, because it produces good outcomes for them.

            Are there bad parents out there? Yes. Are there parents that response to age-appropriate behaviors in ways that make matters worse? Sure. Are there kids who act in ways that are not age-appropriate? Of course. But given all the variables involved and, oh yea, your complete lack of experience and understanding of young children, you’d probably be best served to reserve judgement in these situations.

            Again, as I said, I don’t judge *parents*, I judge *whoever taught them that*, who I do not actually know. I know very well that parents are not the only people who influence children, which, as I said, I explicitly remind myself of every time I see misbehaving children.

            I don’t know why exactly *you’re* allowed to say there are bad parents out there, while at the same time you don’t want me saying ‘There are adults out there teaching kids bad habits.’ That seems a bit dubious logic.

            Are you saying that because that *specific* kid might not have learned a bad habit, but instead have some sort of problem I don’t know about? Well, that might be relevant if I was judging the *kid*, but, uh, I’m not.

            No, when I see children behaving in *certain specific ways* (Not poor behavior in general), I think ‘Some idiot adult taught them that habit. They tried it a few times, as all children do, and learned it worked from an idiot adult.’. You seem to think I shouldn’t think that because I might be wrong and no one taught them that (Which does not seem true for such an oddly specific way, but let’s just accept the hypothetical for now.), and I shouldn’t…uh…think bad things about non-existent people? Huh?

            Feel free to try to convince me that I am *wrong* more often than I think about why children behave this way. Maybe I am. But, again, all that means is I’m blaming imaginary people for children’s behavior, which hardly seems like an actual problem. (And, frankly, asserting it’s some sort of developmental problem of the child seems to be risking the blame moving *to* the child.)

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    • I try not to judge parents in public, but, honestly, I tend to think of parents that have kids running around begging for them to get some toy or candy or whatever while they’re not specifically shopping for that kid like people who have dogs that sit and beg while they eat…dude, at some point you encouraged that behavior (…) But *someone* clearly screwed up somewhere.

      I have trouble with that viewpoint from a couple of different angles. I think they all center on the comment about the dog, really.

      It is normal when we are out doing something with other humans, to make, and consider, requests to modify what we are doing as options presents themselves. If you see a couple out shopping, and one spouse says “Look, the salmon is on sale – shall we have salmon for supper?” do you think of the spouse expecting to be granted a respectful hearing as similar to a misbehaving dog? I hope not.

      I believe we should be teaching our children that it’s OK to advocate for themselves, to propose activities or purchases when they present themselves. Yes, that’s probably going to mean they’ll beg for stuff in the impulse-buy shelves at the checkout counter. It’s probably going to mean a tantrum or two, because just as kids need to figure out asking for things, they need to figure out dealing with “no” when they do.

      You can explain “no, it’s not in the grocery budget,” you can explain, “no, we’re going home where you already have sweets you haven’t eaten,” you can explain, “no, you’ve already had sweets today.” But if the explanation is “no, you’re not allowed to ask for specific groceries that you like while we’re at the grocery store,” I think that’s kind of messed up.

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      • As a teacher, parent, and all-around judgey person, I have worked really hard to not judge parents in public. Yes, I might see something that sets off all sorts of alerts and red flags… but then I remember I am seeing but a tiny snippet of that child and that parent, often devoid of context.

        Maybe the child has special needs.
        Maybe they just landed in the states after a month in Asia and everyone is jet lagged.
        Maybe the mom or kid or both were or are sick.
        Maybe the dad snapped and raised his voice for the first time in two months.

        I try to think, “What would I want people to think of me if they saw me in my worst moment as a parent?” I try to offer that in return.

        Also, what said. I am continually amazed at how often we have *higher* expectations of children than we do of adults. A kid whose executive function skills are in their relative infancy throws a tantrum because he can’t get the candy that is in a package specifically designed to make him want it right away and we say, “What the fuck is his problem? Those parents are raising a monster.”

        Than we look at the 40-something dude who raises his voice with the waitress because he clearly ordered his steak medium and maybe we think, “What the fuck is his problem?” but maybe we also think, “That guy knows how to get what he wants,” or “If you can’t take a simple order right, why are you a waitress in the first place?”

        You can do *everything* right as a parent and your kid might still tantrum in the super market. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT KIDS’ BRAINS ARE DESIGNED TO DO!

        As Chris Rock said about the Siegfried and Roy tiger mauling, “That tiger didn’t go crazy… that tiger went tiger!”

        Kids are supposed to act like kids. Let’s focus on the adults that act like kids when they shouldn’t be.

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        • A kid whose executive function skills are in their relative infancy throws a tantrum because he can’t get the candy that is in a package specifically designed to make him want it right away and we say, “What the fuck is his problem? Those parents are raising a monster.”

          As I have come to realize babysitting, three year olds throw tantrums for literally any reason.

          I don’t mean any *bad* reason. I mean *literally* any reason. I’ve seen them want to do something like try to get out of their chair, adults try halfhearted to stop them, they do it anyway, and then they throw a tantrum a good two minutes after that because…they were slightly impeded earlier, despite already accomplishing whatever dumbass thing they wanted since then? Heck, I’m pretty certain I saw one of them picked up a dime off the floor and throw a tantrum because…dime?

          Three-year olds are like people 90% of the time. But the other 10% of the time, their higher faculties just melt away and they’re weird animals that can make human sounds but don’t understand anything that’s going on, just that they’re upset. They don’t even know *why* they’re upset.

          If I see a three-year old having a meltdown, I don’t assume *anything*.

          My comments were more directed at six and older.

          Oh, and I don’t assume ‘monster’. Just kinda dumb parents who don’t realize that immediately giving a child whatever stuff they want is not a particularly clever idea. I mean, the mere fact there *is* currently a problem I’ve noticed means the parents don’t *always* cave. (It’s the parents that *always* cave who have kids grow up to be entitled assholes..and to do that, the parents pretty much have to be rich.)

          No, those parents just *sometimes* cave, and their kid will grow up to be normal…they’ve just got to deal with the mess they caused until their child learns better. They *should* have just not started, but at least they’ve stopped.

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      • I didn’t say anything about asking for *groceries*. I said asking for *toys* and *candy*.

        I.e., Things They Know We Do Not Buy At The Grocery Store.

        I believe we should be teaching our children that it’s OK to advocate for themselves, to propose activities or purchases when they present themselves.

        If you’re waiting until the *grocery store* to learn what sort of food your children like, you’re doing parenting in an *entirely different* wrong direction.

        As I’ve actually mentioned here before, I feel that parents often tend to be a little *too* controlling in children’s diets, and that kids should be able to veto certain foods entirely, just like adults are allowed to.

        This involves talking to children like rational human beings before *making a grocery list*, not children running around a grocery store trying to randomly change future meals.

        As I said, but perhaps was not clear, I have no problem at all with children advocating certain things they should own, or do, or, yes, eat. None at all. In fact, I think some sort of *explicit* rule encouraging children to come with a proposals and lay out the pros and cons would be a good idea. ‘Explain to me why you want this.’

        That is something to be done *at home*, and not via having an argument in the store two seconds after it’s spotted.

        This is not to be confused with the adult asking ‘What cereal do you want this time between these three?’.

        And, as I said, sometimes people are going somewhere with the *intent* of buying something they don’t know beforehand. A book store, or a souvenir shop on vacation, whatever. Which is explained in advance as a special thing.

        Yes, that’s probably going to mean they’ll beg for stuff in the impulse-buy shelves at the checkout counter. It’s probably going to mean a tantrum or two, because just as kids need to figure out asking for things, they need to figure out dealing with “no” when they do.

        They do not need to figure it out if the answer is *always* ‘We are not getting that this time, but when we get home, feel free to propose it as something you should own and if the adults agree, we can get it next time’.

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        • Here we differ, it appears.

          They do not need to figure it out if the answer is *always* ‘We are not getting that this time, but when we get home, feel free to propose it as something you should own and if the adults agree, we can get it next time’.

          Would you treat your spouse that way? If you’re shopping with someone and they say “shall we get wine?” they don’t mean “eventually”, they mean “to drink this evening while we watch a movie.”

          “No” is a perfectly legitimate answer, but it’s not the only legitimate answer, and “When we get home you can explain to me why you think we should get wine even though you neglected to put it on the list before setting out to the grocery store,” is the kind of answer you only get to give a couple of times before you receive the divorce papers.

          So, why treat our children that way? Sometimes fun is OK. Sometimes spontaneity is OK. Sometimes it costs 25c more a bar than it would if we bought the family pack, and that’s OK.

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          • Would you treat your spouse that way? If you’re shopping with someone and they say “shall we get wine?” they don’t mean “eventually”, they mean “to drink this evening while we watch a movie.”

            “No” is a perfectly legitimate answer, but it’s not the only legitimate answer, and “When we get home you can explain to me why you think we should get wine even though you neglected to put it on the list before setting out to the grocery store,” is the kind of answer you only get to give a couple of times before you receive the divorce papers.

            “No” is not, in fact, a perfectly legitimate answer if your spouse asks you for permission to buy something! It’s a crazy answer! And in fact you’ve got a rather screwed up relationship if your spouse is *asking your permission* to buy things.

            Why the *hell* do you think I would have the ability to say no to something my hypothetical spouse wanted to buy? Why would they even *ask* me? They put it in the cart, I perhaps ask what it’s for, that’s it. Maybe if we’re in some sort of budget crunch we have a conversation about it, and it’s a decision we make together…which is, uh, a conversation we probably *should* have at home instead of the grocery store, and in a more general sense than a specific bottle of wine, but conversations between adults are usually more rational and less emotional, so whatever.

            This is, perhaps, the stupidest analogy I’ve ever heard.

            Couples make decisions jointly. (Or they don’t, and they each use their own money, whatever.) Children…do not make decisions on what get purchased. At all. They get to make suggestions.

            I especially the fact you think what *I* said is somehow worse than just flatly saying no. Uh, no. Children should be allowed to argue their case if they feel a ‘No’ was unfair. I don’t actually think a flat no, end of discussion, *is* an appropriate answer to a child’s request. I think children should be able to ask for an explanation, and attempt to justify what they want.

            They just don’t get to do that in the damn store by pitching a fit. Like I see them do.

            So, why treat our children that way?

            Yeah, it *is* a completely unfair how *they* don’t have a debit card and can buy whatever they want.

            Or, alternately, the interaction between adults and children is utterly different than the interaction between two adults?

            Sometimes fun is OK. Sometimes spontaneity is OK.

            The idea that adults can operate within *children’s* spontaneity is nonsense. Don’t you think it’s unfair how, instead of going to the park and getting ice cream, they have to go to bed? Shouldn’t parents be more *spontaneous*?

            What nonsense.

            Spontaneity, with children, in reality, is basically just adults not telling them things in advance. The adult decides to do something the kids will enjoy, and then ‘suggests’ it, and the kids love it, and they all do it ‘spontaneously’.

            No parents *actually* just up and does what kids want. I just *babysit* and even I can see that. The closest is adults blocking out, or just randomly having, some free time, and getting kids to suggest something.

            But I love the fact you think *grocery shopping* is a place for fun. Let me guess: You’ve never gone grocery shopping with tired kids before, have you?

            Sometimes it costs 25c more a bar than it would if we bought the family pack, and that’s OK.

            I’ve actually read this about ten times, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.

            Firstly, if a ‘family pack’, as in, a larger size, costs more, you should probably, uh, buy multiple smaller packs, regardless of what children urge you to do. (I’d say this isn’t how they generally price things, but perhaps you grocery shop at a Super Target, where the normal laws of pricing do not apply.)

            Secondly, in what universe do children run around demanding *different sized packaging* for things? I sorta like to think I’d be able to convince any hypothetical child of mine how we should buy the most economical size that we can actually use before it goes bad.

            Third, 90% of the time, do you even *plan* what size of an item you will buy? I mean, yeah, milk and eggs and a few other things, but what ‘bars’ are you talking about?

            Fourth, why is it *fun* to buy larger stuff? What spore of madness is this?

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  5. OK from my perspective, big picture, the 2 relevant factors in life and parenting is: Be Kind and Do the Right Thing. On ground level these can conflict, or rather figuring out the proportions can be tough.

    Being Kind to our kids won’t spoil them – using stuff to buy their love, or distract them from our unwillingness/inability to be there for them will.

    Seems to me based on this post, that’s pretty much where you guys are at. So the one suggestion I have is to stop the “terrible parent” narrative. It won’t do you any good generally and if things get really tough it will be highly corrosive to all the family relationships.

    Sure there are parents who do terrible stuff. (For a while I was a Child Protective Investigator.) And you will make some serious mistakes along the way. And things may turn out tragically. That’s why you need to know in your heart that you have tried your best to Be Kind and Do the Right Thing.

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  6. I’m not a parent, but I’m a former kid (some would argue I still am not fully mature…) with vivid memories of childhood.

    The author did the right thing. For goodness’ sake, the kid is THREE. She’s not a teen who vandalized something and now “Daddy” is trying to get her off the legal hook. She’s not even an eight-year-old who took a toy apart in a fit of curiosity and broke it. And, as Bath pointed out, as far as he can remember, it’s HIS fault the toy went missing.

    And I was a kid who grew up with “tough” parents. And I grew up in the 1970s, and was regularly reminded that there wasn’t money for stuff. I got toys on my birthday and at Christmas. If something broke and it couldn’t be fixed, it went in the trash, and it wasn’t replaced.

    Even though I said I had “tough” parents, I remember trusting my parents. I remember believing they could fix stuff. As an adult I know you can’t really fully trust any human, and that no one can fix everything all the time, even if they are willing to try.

    And so I tend to be – from my tired old, maybe-not-quite-an-adult-at-47 perspective, of the opinion that a little kid whose toy has got lost, probably through no fault of her own, and Dad can make it right….well, that’s a nice little lesson that the world isn’t always an awful place and sometimes things that go wrong can be fixed. She’ll have the rest of her life to learn that life is actually otherwise.

    Replacing her Hola will not turn her into a spoiled brat.

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