Having spent most of my adult years childless, I had a lot of time to be irritated by children who weren't mine. I had plenty of time to judge and ridicule parents who let their kids run wild in supermarkets, sing in restaurants and whine in movie theaters. Had plenty of time to bemoan the lack of effective parenting skills of these parents, the damage that they were doing to their kids not dispensing proper discipline that would help them later in life and the fact that they were contributing to more rude, inconsiderate jerks who already littered the planet.
And then it happened. I had a kid. And my kid is a brat.
Like the chicken or the egg, I'm not sure what came first. Was she a brat initially and I just her parent? Or was she cool at one point and I made her into a brat? Was it nature or nurture? Was she a brat by biological design, the brat gene imbedded in her DNA? Or had she become a brat simply by way of bad parenting?
I remember the first time her grandmother tapped her hand for reaching over into her plate at a restaurant. I had never hit my daughter and we had never discussed the rules, but I think my face said it all. I also remember my mom telling me, after watching my daughter stand on the sofa and bend the window blinds until they snapped, "You need to start swatting her hands." There was that look again.
My kid is the one you hear singing two aisles over in Walmart. She's the one running ahead of me, narrowly missing you as you walk, as I look at you with a shrug and mutter, "Sorry."
It's not like I didn't give this whole topic any thought. In a culture fashioned by the horrors of slavery and white oppression, Black parents were typically harsh on their kids-- a legacy of the oppression as well as the very practical need of saving your child's life. A Black child 'acting up' was no simple matter. Emmitt Till. I need say no more.
With Black parents being quick to slap you in the mouth, there were plenty of things we would see white children getting away with that Black children never could: Talking back, slamming doors, yelling, "I hate you!" But, to be honest, many Black children are meaner, more violent, more hardened than they would be had they not been raised that way and Black parenting certainly hasn't stopped Black children from falling into the pitfalls of teen pregnancy or jail. I wondered if I visited the local jail and asked all the sisters and brothers "Were you beaten or given whippings as a child?" I am sure that the majority of them would say "Yes". So, keeping a child from falling into the dangers of the streets or becoming teenage moms is a lot more complex than simply slapping your child in the mouth when they talk out of turn.
I was also influenced by my time living in Japan. There, people don't consider children as being responsible for their actions, so there is a shockingly little amount of discipline and regulation given to children. They're literally quite wild. But something happens.. by the time they reach middle school, they have evolved into the perfect little accommodating, stoic, calm, afraid-to-disappoint-you humans that a harmonious society treasures-- almost Borg-like. Meanwhile, here in America, we press our children to act like little adults and then by the time, they're in middle school, teenage rebellion is in full effect.
Like the chicken or the egg, I'm not sure what came first. Was she a brat initially and I just her parent? Or was she cool at one point and I made her into a brat? Was it nature or nurture?
I wanted my daughter to be a free spirit, someone who would embrace her mistakes as lessons and not be burdened by the fear of judgment and failure as I had. It was important to me that I not break her spirit. Society be damned.
So I allowed her to be free. My kid is the one you hear singing two aisles over in Walmart. She's the one running ahead of me, narrowly missing you as you walk, as I look at you with a shrug and mutter, "Sorry." She stops and dances in inappropriate places, doesn't always listen when her name is called and only holds my hand when it's her idea.
And I'm okay with that. My daughter has a confidence and an aura that is undimmed by judgment or fear of punishment. She laughs with her mouth wide open and with an enviable unconsciousness. She has a charm that attracts both children and adults alike and makes people smile. While she possesses intense powers of concentration and is quite the observer, she is also capable of mustering up such light-hearted energy, joy and pure joie de vivre that she is like a breath of fresh air. My daughter is my greatest experiment. She is the answer to my unending question: What happens when a child is raised with unconditional love, acceptance and without the fear of punishment or judgment? And I am proud of her.
However, she does need to be able to consider other people's needs and preferences while out and about in society. I realize that my tolerance for my kid is going to most certainly outlast that of someone who used to be like me: childless and easily annoyed. Besides, I don't want her to grow up and be a jerk.
So, while she's singing in the aisles, I'm working on my child-behavior-modification plan. While I admire her confidence in pushing her agenda of being herself, I want her to be conscious of other people's needs as well. And while I want her to be relentless in following her own mind, I also want her to learn how to cooperate and listen, as well. So, I'm working on it. And I know, in my heart, she'll get it.
Being the parent of a brat means that me and my kid are gonna piss a lot of people off. But as I watch her, beaming and shining, her heart unburdened by the need to be 'hard' or 'strong' like so many of our children, and her psyche unfettered by the fear of punishment, I'm at peace. Perhaps, she won't feel the need to rebel against me if I let her be herself. Maybe she won't feel the need to hide her mistakes for fear of punishment or disdain if I show her that God is not a god of punishment and reward. Perhaps, my daughter will assist in ushering in a new breed of humanity and human culture: where people do the right thing not because of rules or fear of punishment, but because it is in their hearts.Maybe.
But in the meantime, if you see us in the supermarket, I'm saying sorry in advance.
[Donella Martin Braddix is a mother, blogger, and the author of The Dating Mom's Thrive Guide To Successful Dating, the first of a series dedicated to the unique dating dilemmas of single mothers.This essay was originally posted on her blog The Dating Mom's Thrive Guide.]