The other day I was shopping at a large supermarket and happened to go down the frozen foods aisle, past the endless freezers containing every imaginable flavor, shape and size of ice cream. I rarely buy. Rather I am like a tourist in a museum – gawking at wondrous objects that I know I can’t take home with me.
But I do like to glance – in case by some miracle, food technologists have come up with a no-fat, no-sugar, melt-in-your mouth ice-cream that makes your taste buds tingle with joy – but has fewer calories than a leaf of lettuce.
Suddenly, the furious screeching of a boy about three-years old, ensconced in a shopping cart shattered my sweet daydream. His shrieks were directed at his mother, with him demanding, not asking, that she buy a particular ice cream novelty. She said “no” in a rather noncommittal voice and ignored him as she looked around at the various offerings in the freezer. Sensing defeat, he upped the volume and howled even louder for the ice cream he wanted.
I was torn between hurrying out of that section of the store to save my hearing or covering my ears with my hands and sticking around to see the end result of this tug-of war.
This boy was blessed with a set of lungs any self-respecting chazzan would envy, and he kept up his high-pitched whining. His mother still kept her back to him as she rummaged through the freezer.
I marveled that none of the employees came running to see the cause of this explosion. Perhaps then the mother would have been motivated to turn to him and in a very firm voice tell him, “NO, be quiet!” instead of allowing him to disturb the peace.
But she did not do this. What she did do, to my horror, was make a face, take out a six-pack of some kind of ice cream bar- obviously the one her son wanted – and put it in the cart. She then proceeded to share her concern with him that, “Daddy is going to be angry” at her for purchasing this ice cream because it was so expensive. After “explaining” to her toddler why it was not a good idea to make this particular purchase, she then asked him if it was OK if she put the item back.
When he looked at her blankly, she repeated her logical argument regarding the ice cream novelty. It seemed that the adult was trying to reason with the child, explaining why it was not fiscally sound to buy the product and was asking for his consent to allow her to do what she knew was best – and not buy it.
It seemed she believed, or at the very least hoped that a pre-nursery-age child would see the logic of her plea – that buying a less costly substitute would be good for the family’s bottom line and shalom bayis – and consequently the child would change his mind and “permit” her to put the item back in the freezer.
But of course he didn’t. He was a toddler who wanted this particular ice cream. No doubt he had been treated to it several times – perhaps at Bubby’s or an aunt’s, and having become aware of the existence of this wondrous treat, would have no other.
I stood there feeling very, very sorry for her. She was facing a long arduous journey on the road of life- because she was allowing her child to do the navigating.
I debated whether or not I should tell her she was making a tremendous mistake, one that if it was the rule, rather than the rare exception, would come to haunt her in the future.
I wanted to tell her that of course it was less physically and emotionally draining to give in to a child’s tantrum and gain his good will, but that ultimately resorting to “the easy way out” could eventually lead to a “no way out” with an immature, spoiled and socially dysfunctional teenager/young adult, who expected immediate gratification of not only his needs, but his wants.
He would go through life with an emotionally stunting “es kimpt mir” attitude, a crippling sense of entitlement, expecting his whims and demands to be addressed forthwith.
Not exactly good husband material.
This mother had failed the test that her child had unknowingly put her through – setting limits. Children know that they are just that – children. To them the world is at once fascinating but confusing, wondrous but scary. They WANT their parents, who they view as their guardians and protectors, to be in charge. Being in the driver’s seat terrifies them.
They desperately need to hear, “No” or “You can’t do that.” Limits, boundaries and restrictions reassure them and make them feel safe – and valued. They really want their demands to be over-ridden despite their highly vocal protests to the contrary. Instinctively they know that their parents are acting in their best interests – blatant proof that they care about them.
“Giving in” occasionally because of special circumstances is okay, even necessary at times for the parent’s mental and physical state – but if “capitulation parenting” is the norm, then both child and parents are in for a lot of grief. Children who are used to having the world revolve around them, with their every whim and demand catered to, will be in for a very rude awakening when they grow up. They will discover that the rest of the planet will not kowtow to them. They risk being social misfits unable to relate to their more mature peers who have realistic expectations in terms of obtaining immediate gratification.
Kids who are allowed to be in control way before they are intellectually and emotionally equipped to do so risk growing up with negative self-esteem. The message these kids likely internalize over the years is, “You didn’t care enough to stop me from myself.” This can cause a poor self -image and low self-esteem that can gravely hamper their ability to socially and emotionally interact in a functional way in the adult world.
The unrealistic expectation of always getting their way and having their demands met is especially problematic when they enter the shidduch parsha. A “kimpt mir” mindset can only lead to matrimonial disaster.
I remember to this day a cartoon I once saw with a timeless, ironic message. A bride and groom stand before the justice of the peace/cleric getting married and a bubble over their heads show an image of what they envision wedded life will be like. The bride sees herself in bed, her spouse carefully bending down as he smilingly hands her an elaborate breakfast tray full of goodies. The groom has the same vision of her catering to him!
They are both in for a very shocking, sobering surprise.
I ended up not talking to this young mother. Her nerves already frazzled, I sensed she would not appreciate that I didn’t mind my own business and would misdirect her angry frustration on me.
So she walked away out of sight, the ice cream in the cart and the child finally quiet – until the candy aisle, no doubt.Cheryl Kupfer
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