The five-year-old hooligan continues howling as he elbows past me at Macy’s, nearly knocking over my umbrella stroller in the process. “I WON’T! AAAGH!”
“Connor!” his mother says futilely, brushing me as she chases after him. “Connor, please. You can have chocolate when you get home, Okay? Please, Connor.”
We’ve all seen them … pushover parents. Some of them believe they have angels who can do no wrong, others realize their kids misbehave but rather than meting out punishment, they prefer to “discuss” their children’s actions with them as though they were mini-adults.
Pushover parenting has become the norm if you think about it, reinforced on talk shows and in movies and magazines. It’s largely responsible for the growing popularity of wacky ideas like unschooling (an educational philosophy that asserts “the child knows best” and should decide on his own when, what and whether he wants to learn), and it’s also the reason why Bratz, baby beauty pageants, and Club Hoochylu exist. Pushover parents can’t say no to a child who demands a Bling Bling Barbie or a pair of pants with “Juicy” on the butt. That’s why pushover parents are the ultimate targets of most toy and children’s clothing manufacturers.
The fact is, pushover parents make my job a lot harder than it should be. When my three-year-old daughter acts up in public, reasoning with her doesn’t work half as well as a well-practiced evil eye coupled with my personal warning phrase, “Straighten. Up. Now.” delivered in a deep and ominous tone. It generally results in a petulant look, a few seconds of silence, and a tiny, “I’m sorry, Mommy,” which is good enough for me. In fact, I see absolutely nothing wrong with my strategy, but I sure get looks from the Pushover Parents when I have to put it to use.
Can you believe how she talks to her child? Their pitying glances say. Why, I’d never talk to Hayden like that. Of course, Hayden just knocked over a display of Chef Boyardee cans, but at least he has a mommy who treats him as though he just might be the next Dalai Lama.
When my little ones get a bit older, I can tell already that pushover parents are going to be the absolute bane of my existence, because they’ll be the ones my kids expect me to live up to on a day-to-day basis.
“Connor’s mommy let’s him eat Lucky Charms. Why do we have to get the store brand?”
“Mom, please let me wear lipstick to school! Katie’s mommy lets her wear it!”
And with two stepdaughters, I know from seeing their schoolmates in action that the children of pushover parents grow up to become true horrors. My husband has coached girls’ soccer for seven years now and in that time, he’s seen the good, the bad, and the pushover-spawn, who have arrogantly challenged him when he’s given them coaching direction, talked on their cell phones during team meetings, sassed referees, and even quit in the middle of games when things weren’t going their way. Their behavior is not all that surprising to me; when you’re never told “no” and you don’t grow up learning how to respect, well, anyone, this kind of thing is bound to happen.
Geez, Lindsay, you’re thinking, right? Aren’t you Little Miss Sanctimonious today? Let me just admit right now that the reason pushover parents bother me so much is that I often feel like I’m one, too. Every time I call Punky down, I worry that I’m somehow preventing her from developing a closer mother/daughter bond with me. Every time I nag my older girls to clean their rooms or put away dishes, I wonder if they’ll see me as less of a confidante and more of an enemy.
Like most pushover parents, I’m terrified of making a mistake and irrevocably damaging or even destroying the relationships I’ve formed with my kids. I also worry too much about being judged by everyone else. The bar has been set so impossibly high for parents, with advice coming at us from Dr. Phil, Babycenter, and The Happiest Baby on the Block and countless other sources that we end up ignoring our gut instincts and instead, wussing our way through every situation, letting our kids run the show, and trying our best to make sure everyone believes that our children are perfect, making us perfect, too.
Lately, I’ve been reminding myself on an almost-daily basis that my job is to send compassionate, caring, respectful young adults out into the world, not to show off my mad parenting skills to everyone around me. That’s easy to say in theory, but putting it into practice is much more difficult, not to mention lonely.
I’d love to know what you think about pushover parents. Do you encounter them everywhere you go, too? Do they make your life more difficult by their judgment and their example? Or am I just way off base?