I hate to sound judgmental, but let’s face it, people. It’s not rocket science. Predictable routine. Clear expectations. Understood boundaries. Consistent and effective discipline. Positive encouragement. Yet there are some people out there that seem to be simply unable to manage their children. It doesn’t take long in the home of one of these before you know their children will not be top choice on the list of playmates for your own. Hopefully we all know about human nature by now and all of our children misbehave at times. Surely, however, a really good parent will never let things get to the point of total uncontrolled chaos. Even when our children are naughty we will never let them be that naughty.
I was stunned by the recent behavior of some children on an afternoon visit. To protect her identity we’ll call the hostess “the Mother” and change some names. I will try to simply narrate her actions without editorializing.
Just after greetings were exchanged the Mother had to set Max, a baby, down to make cups of tea. The moment she put him down he happened to make eye contact with the Guest, a harmless sort of mommy-type person (if I do say so) and he began to scream hysterically. That’s what insecure, over-coddled babies tend to do and he did it well, ceasing only when the Mother returned and picked him up. She shared that he was feeling slightly on edge since Annabel, the two-year-old, had stepped on his head a few minutes previously. The Guest nodded and smiled, having no trouble believing this since Annabel had just shoved her own child hard in the chest and was attempting to stab him with the narrow end of a brush. When the Mother became aware of this, she made a futile attempt to instruct Annabel to be gentle and to distract her with an activity at the table. While she was speaking, Lily, her preschooler, was talking loudly to the Guest and following her child closely around the room, poking toys at him.
The Mother then served snacks to her own children while clutching the fussing Max, completely forgetting the Guest’s child. By the time she remembered, her own children were finished and beating their bowls on the table. She told them to play toys. The Guest’s child asked politely for a drink and, while she was serving it, Annabel pitched a screaming tantrum on the kitchen floor demanding a drink as well. She said, “If you want a drink, you can ask me for it properly,” and left the kitchen. Over the next few minutes she tried repeatedly to make conversation with the Guest over the screams of Annabel, the fusses of Max, and the constant interruptions of Lily. With a sort of glazed expression the Mother quenched neither Annabel nor Lily, and failed in every attempt to pacify Max.
Finally, Annabel shoved in and asked for juice. The Mother set Max down near Lily and served the juice. Lily began to play roughly with Max until he began to cry. When the Guest stepped over to try and encourage him, Lily began to poke toys at the visiting child, left undefended. The Mother returned and picked up Max, who stopped crying, admonished Lily (who ignored her), and turned to speak to the Guest at last–just as Annabel hopped up from the table and dumped her juice all over the carpeting. The Mother put Max down again (he began to cry), and began to soak up the mess with a cloth. Annabel and Lily then began to tussle together. Suddenly Annabel burst into hysterical crying. “What happened?” the Mother asked Lily. “I bit her,” came the reply. The Mother sent Lily from the room and picked up Annabel, setting down Max (who then began to cry). To comfort Annabel the Mother suggested that she and the Guest’s child step out into the garden. When they began to dig at the plants, she put Max down to call them back in. Annabel came in directly and began to hurt Max. Distracted by this, the Mother accidentally shut the door on the Guest’s child’s finger.
During the next half hour, Annabel attacked the Guest’s child four times and Lily twice, was sent over and over to her room, and came out on her own against her mother’s orders. She hit the Guest’s child with a hammer, was spanked for pinching the Guest’s child’s face (a case of too little, too late, no doubt) and finally, at the conclusion of the visit, was placed in her room with the door shut and not allowed to exit for the remainder of the Guest’s stay. By this time, Lily was also quarantined in another room for attempting to kick Annabel in the head for tearing a favorite toy away from her. With both older children behind closed doors and Max being held by his tired Mother, it was finally quiet enough for conversation, which consisted at this point mostly of apologies on the part of the Mother and futile repetitions of “I promise it’s not always like this” and “I don’t know what’s gotten into them today!”
Let me clarify something: I would never let my children act like that. But on this afternoon, I just couldn’t stop them.