Please Stop Telling My Kids That Their Bad Behavior is Fine

I don’t remember what he was doing; it doesn’t really matter. He was clearly doing something naughty and gleefully mischievous that was bothering other people, and I could see that social mores were being violated so I spoke up and asked him to stop. That should have been the end of it, except the person to whom he was being horrible turned around with a pleasant smile and said “Oh, it’s fine dear.” And suddenly my parenting power was gone. Why should I tell him to stop kicking the seat in front of him if the person in that seat thinks it is okay? Why should I tell him to stop screaming in strangers’ ears, if those strangers seems pleasantly amused by it? Why on earth would he learn not to take things that don’t belong to him if nobody seems to care?!

There are three types of people that we parents encounter when our children are misbehaving in public. The third is so rare as to be almost mythological, but we get the first two quite a bit. The first is the judge. These people have seen your child’s behavior, and have decided that it is not acceptable, and that it is your fault. They will possibly just scowl and tut at you. Perhaps they will recommend this parenting book that they have read, since you clearly need help in that department. They may even attempt to discipline your child, because it takes a village and they have appointed themselves temporary chief. We have all dealt with the judges. It’s not fun, but at least you do get a little back-up in terms of convincing your child that their sudden departure from propriety is not making them any friends.

But then you have the other side. The people who mean so, so well. I  know that you mean well. I  know that you can see that kids are just kids, and that they are still learning about what is okay is what is not. I  know you are trying to show support so that we will feel better about our colossal temporary parenting failures. I know that it actually probably doesn’t bother you all that much, and that maybe you really do enjoy being trampled by the exuberance of youth. But there has to be another way to express this. There has to be some sort of secret sign, or code word, that you can use to communicate to the parent that you are not upset, that they are actually doing a great job, and to keep at it! But loudly informing the room that this sort of thing is fine is actually not helping.

Yeah, I know that you weren’t going to eat that last chocolate anyway, and you would have given it to him if he asked, and you actually are happy watching him enjoy it. But that still doesn’t make it okay that he grabbed it off your plate without asking. Because then he will go on to the next plate. And the next. And the next. And one of those plates belongs to a judge. And then I will get the stink eye. And then, one day, he will be 18, and he will take something, and when he is arrested he will say “But I thought it was fine! Nobody ever got upset before!” This is the parent nightmare. So maybe smile at him with a twinkle in your eye, and give us parents a loving wink or something, but do not interrupt when we scold him, saying “Oh, that’s fine, let him eat it.”

You see, honestly, it isn’t your job to decide what is okay for my child to be doing. That is my job. That is my wife’s job. We are his parents. And we have decided that stealing is not okay. And you don’t know. Maybe he’d already had nine chocolates and so we had decided that eating a tenth was not okay. Maybe he had lost candy privileges for the day due to a previous transgression. Maybe he has a mild chocolate allergy. Maybe he is on a special diet to deal with a medical condition. You have no idea. So when we say it is not okay for him to be doing what he is doing, then please trust us. It is not okay.

There are those mythical third types of people that I mentioned earlier, and we do see a few of those. The funny thing is, it would not be hard for all of you to become those. It might be a bit harder to get the judges to see the third way, but I think you beautiful, helpful, smiling enablers just might have a shot at it, which is why I am writing this. You see, what would really be helpful is not for you to judge their behavior as bad, OR to judge their behavior as good. What would help us parents out is for you to listen and to pay attention, and then to back us up. You don’t even have to be mad, or mean, or even lie! You can say “You know I’d be very happy for you to have my chocolate, but it sounds like your parents have said no right now.”


Look at that. You’ve gently told my child that you are fine with what they’ve done, but that you also are deferring to their parents’ judgement. You are being both loving and supportive, accepting and firm. You are being kind to both the child and the parent. This is what we need. This is what I beg of you. I ask that you say “You’d better listen to your parents,” rather than “Oh, I don’t mind being punched in face dearies, in fact I love it!” Because I don’t care whether or not you specifically like it. I care about creating consistent messages for my children that they will follow regardless of the situation. I care that they knows their boundaries, even if you don’t. And most of all I care that the next time I ask them not to do something, they don’t have any doubts about following my directions just because the last time they did it some stranger told them it was fine.

Posted in Chocolate, Parenting, Society.

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