Tag Archives: parenting

“don’t misbehave”

 

 

A couple of years ago, I went back to my hometown, Canton, Massachusetts, for a high school reunion and visited an old friend. It was great to see him.

We got to talking briefly about our old school and our teachers. Our friendship had begun in the seventh grade.

My friend told me that in our elementary school, one of the teachers hit him one day — he didn’t know why. She whacked him across the face. My friend was not a great student (he was actually of above average intelligence), but he was not a bad kid. He could occasionally be mischievous, but his “sins” would probably pale in comparison to what some kids do today. I do recall one time that he got in a lot of trouble with the school authorities for writing an obscene word on a piece a paper that he either accidentally or on purpose dropped on the floor and that was found by a teacher.

 

 

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My friend said that, on the day he was whacked by the teacher, he told his father about it when the latter came home from work that evening. He said to his father, “Mrs. _______ hit me today.”

His father asked him why the teacher had hit him. He said he didn’t know why.

“Well, don’t misbehave,” his father said.

 

 

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I was thinking about this incident and its implications. It seems to reflect parental attitudes very different from nowadays.

Few will agree with me, I suspect, and I wasn’t the affected student or the son of this particular parent. Nevertheless, I do not think that one should jump to conclusions about how my friend’s father responded.

I think he may have — note I say may because I was not involved and my friend merely gave a bare factual account; I am not sure how he himself feels about this incident in retrospect — actually handled the situation well. By which I mean to say that not knowing what had occurred, the father assumed his son might have been misbehaving. He would have, it seems, had some basis for thinking so.

 

 

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I knew my friend’s father well. He was a soft spoken, kindly man. He worked in a factory. He was, from what I and my own parents could observe, a loving parent.

The message he conveyed to his son was, don’t do anything that might get you in trouble.

This was actually good (tacit) advice, because — although my friend was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “bad kid” — I know that he could be mischievous at times (which I think was probably a result of his being bored and restless in school), and he did get in trouble on at least one occasion, as I have noted above, where school administrators were on his case. So, actually, his father may have been trying to help him with the best advice he could.

Given what happened (I realize that it was no doubt hurtful to my friend, since he remembers it), I don’t think my friend’s father handled it badly. He didn’t freak out. He tacitly sent a message that may have actually been good for my friend to hear: don’t antagonize your superiors.

Do you think the case would be handled the same today? I doubt it. Parents are always crying “foul” and assuming that their children can do no wrong. When I was growing up, a premium was put on behavior, and adults were assumed to be right. I am not an advocate of corporal punishment, and I am not advocating a return to the days of schooling such as is depicted in George Orwell’s autobiographical essay “”Such, Such Were the Joys … .” I am merely trying to point out — the thought occurred to me — that sometimes parents can be more helpful to children by cautioning them to conform and submit to strictures rather than to defy or complain about them.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  October 2016; updated February 2018

 

 

 

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Addendum: The pedant in me gaining the upper hand, I can’t resist showing off. I wonder how many people know where the title of Orwell’s essay came from. It is from a line in William Blake’s poem “The Echoing Green.” I took a wonderful course in Blake with the revered professor and poet Allen Grossman at Brandeis University.

parenting (no one ever seems to get it right)

 

 

For what it’s worth, I would like to share something which I have been discussing with a relative of mine.

He has had issues with his son, who is a young adult.

They started when his son was a teenager. Prior to that, their relationship was hunky dory.

Sound familiar? It goes without saying that parent-child issues often arise during adolescence.

My relative has often told me that he did not have a good relationship with his own father. He felt that his father was not a good parent.

His son was born when he and his wife were approaching middle age. They were overjoyed to become parents.

He couldn’t spend enough time with his son. Every spare moment when he was home. He doted on his son.

He was determined to show what a good parent he could be. He was determined to be the father that he himself had never had.

In retrospect, my friend realizes, feels, that he tried too hard; it seems that way to him now.

He did not give his son enough “space,” so to speak. He thinks some of his son’s resentment towards him, which took him by surprise, might have been his son’s way of saying something that the son probably was not consciously aware of and would not have been able, in any case, to articulate: give me space; let me breathe.

To grow and develop on his own.

Recollecting his own experience as a son, with his neglectful and unsensitive father, my relative realizes that he was given a lot of space as a child, that his parents did not interfere, participate in, meddle with, take part in many of his childhood activities, and that, on balance, this was a good thing. He was able to play, daydream, think for himself, make friends, develop interests and pastimes, etc. on his own.

What do I think this story illustrates, one might ask. What’s the point?

I think one can conclude – not that my relative has been a bad parent, and not that he did not have legitimate grievances in the case of his own father — but that every parent makes mistakes (not just minor ones).

Every parent fails.

We all – us parents, that is – screw up. No matter how hard we try, we all seem to make major mistakes in child rearing. There is no right way to do it. No wonder children get angry with their parents as they grow older. There are no perfect parents. Maybe Ward and June Cleaver. In real life, there is no such thing.

And, there are no foolproof parenting strategies. The child rearing experts come and go. Their opinions are all over the map.

 

— Roger W. Smith

     December 2016