A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were voted the worst parents ever.
The vote was held by my three children in our minivan on the drive home from a rather challenging trip to town. And while their intention was to upset us, it only strengthened us.
We’re on a mission to avoid raising entitled kids.
Our oldest boy had an after school activity, so we decided to pick the younger two boys up from school and take them for haircuts while we were waiting for him to be done. It was a beautiful spring day – the first nice day we’d had in a long time – and we thought we would take the kids to Dairy Queen for dinner as a treat.
Now, for those who know me, I love to go out to eat. It doesn’t matter if it’s fast food or a sit-down restaurant – I love it all. But Dairy Queen isn’t a regular stop for us because by the time you get through the meal and the desserts for 5 people, it’s about $40. So while the kids are used to going out to eat a lot, they know they don’t get to go to DQ very often.
You would think this would have evoked some good behavior, but, sadly, no.
The two 5-year-olds were crazy during their haircuts and errand running. Then we picked up the 7-year-old and he was grumpy.
We told them where we were going and that it was a special treat. They were alternating between being silly and fighting. I had to yell at one of the boys because he put his brother into a headlock as we were walking into the Dairy Queen.
One boy had to use the restroom, so while Dad was taking him, I spent my time trying to keep the other two from fighting while they forgot any semblance of manners and demanded what they wanted from the menu. When the boy got back from the bathroom and added to the fray, I stopped everything. I had reached my limit.
I firmly announced that if no on was going to listen to Mom and Dad and no one was going to remember their manners, that we were going home for dinner. Dad wisely agreed and started to direct the boys out of the restaurant.
And that’s when the boys began to wail. Oh, the sobbing. And the bargaining. The oldest boy (who has Aspergers and doesn’t always read social situations well) kept laughing at his crying brothers until he realized (about 10 minutes later) that Mom and Dad were serious and we were really going home. Then he was mad and declared us the worst parents ever. The others agreed.
It’s about a 30-minute car ride home and with each argument and whine, my husband and I hammered home the lessons we were trying to teach. We found ourselves repeating the lessons – sometimes worded in different ways, but the message was the same:
- Going out is a special treat – not something you should expect.
- Your behavior is the reason we are not going out to eat. It is not Mom or Dad’s fault you’re not going out to eat.
- What could you have done differently?
It was a long car ride. I kept remembering the parenting advice of a dear friend of mine: “If it’s really hard, you’re probably doing the right thing.”
Unfortunately, you don’t always get to pick when those teachable moments show up. And as much as I wanted to go out to eat, I knew that we were doing the right thing. We just wanted our boys to realize that they need to behave properly in public, that they need to take responsibility for their actions, that they should expect there to be consequences for bad behavior, and that they should remember to use their manners and be appreciative for what they have.
The boys calmed down when we got home, and even began talking about what went wrong. The message got through!
A few days later, we surprised the boys by giving them another chance at going out to eat. And you know what? They were great! They were polite and well-behaved. And they’ve been well-behaved at other family outings since then.
The boys learned a tough lesson that day, but we learned a few lessons, too. We learned that we don’t want our kids to act entitled. We don’t want to live in a world where everyone demands things and no one appreciates them.
It would have been so easy for us to have just tolerated the behavior that day at DQ. But we didn’t. We fought for the life we want for our family. We fought for what we want the world to be like.
And maybe we aren’t the worst parents ever.