So she walked away out of sight, the ice cream in the cart and the child finally quiet – until the candy aisle, no doubt.
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. Usually I don’t buy. I’m like a tourist – just passing through. But I do like to glance, in case by some miracle, they’ve come up with a no-fat, no- sugar, melt-in-your mouth-version that makes your taste buds tingle with joy – but has fewer calories than a leaf of lettuce.
The ear shattering screeching of a boy about three-years old, sitting in his mother’s shopping cart, quickly diverted my attention. His shrieks were leveled at his mother, a young woman wearing a sheitel, demanding that she buy a particular ice cream novelty. She said no in a rather noncommittal voice and ignored him as she looked in the ice cream case. At which point 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 take out a six-pack box of ice cream – obviously the one her son wanted – and put it in the cart. She then proceeded to share her concern with him that, “Totty was going to be angry” at her for purchasing this ice cream because it was so expensive.
When he looked at her blankly, she repeated it. It seemed that the adult was asking permission from the child to allow her to do what she knew was best. I wondered if she thought that explaining to a three-year-old why she shouldn’t buy something would ultimately convince him to change his mind.
It seemed she believed that a pre-nursery-age child would see the logic of her argument – that purchasing a less costly substitute was a fiscally sound idea. One that would also enhance shalom bayis – and consequently the child would change his mind and allow her to put the item back in the freezer.
But of course he didn’t. He was a toddler who wanted his ice cream.
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 driving. I debated whether or not I should run after her and tell her she was making a tremendous mistake, one that if continued, would come to haunt her in the future.
I wanted to tell her that it might be the easy way out to give into a child’s tantrum and gain his good will. But ultimately ” the easy way out” could eventually lead to a “no way out” with a socially dysfunctional teenager/young adult, spoiled and insecure.
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. They really want them – despite their highly vocal protests to the contrary.
“Giving in” occasionally because of special circumstances is okay, but if this kind of 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 and their every whim 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 kow-tow to them. They risk being social misfits unable to relate to their more mature and realistic peers.
Kids who were allowed to be in control way before they were intellectually and emotionally equipped can lack self-esteem. The message these kids likely internalized over the years was “You didn’t care enough to stop me from myself.” This too will hamper their ability to make it in the adult world.
I ended up not going after this young mother. Her nerves already frazzled, I sensed she would not appreciate that I didn’t mind my own business.