Confessions from an Old School Parent: The Value of Saying “No”

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I am a mom to four kids, from young adulthood down to teen. We’ve dealt with special needs, severe health issues and parenting long-distance. One child is married, another is engaged and another is developing big, aka expensive, college plans to start in a few years. Life with four kids, four distinctly different personalities, has kept things interesting. We’ve learned that each personality requires a different parenting approach, but there’s one thing in common: in public, you will behave. So here are my confessions from an old school parent.

old school parent

What does behave mean for us? It means that you will wait in line. You will keep your voice down. You’ll watch what you say and you’ll be appropriate with your jokes and comments. You will be kind to others and you’ll treat adults, and other children, respectfully. If we tell you to stop doing something, you will stop. And maybe most importantly, you’ll remember that everyone else in public is equally important and wants to enjoy their time out, too.

It’s pretty simple: I love my children more than life itself, and I think I have the most amazing four children on the planet.

Thing is, we ALL feel that way.

Just because I think my kids are the most amazing doesn’t mean that they get to do whatever they want. It doesn’t mean I’m going to let them run wild all around your table, to stand in the middle of a large aisle blocking your cart or that they can squeeze in front of others because they want a better view. They don’t get to talk through a movie or take handfuls of cookies before everyone has had a chance to get at least one. I won’t commandeer a buffet while they touch multiple foods that they don’t end up taking and can’t decide between a hot dog or a burger.

I’m going to tell them that if someone’s holding a camera, no, you can’t stand in front of them. Find another seat and be respectful of their right to view something. I’m going to try to be a good role model for them and move aside to give everyone room to view and film without me being in their shot.

If we are exploring a new place, I’m going to remind them that everyone’s exploring it, so they should take turns and give everyone an equal chance to explore. No, you can’t stay there playing with it, you have to share. I want them to learn that as much as they are my amazing kids, all parents feel that way so chances are, other parents aren’t going to be as impressed by their behavior nor will they want to see it. Yes, you sing so pretty…except we’re in a restaurant and that family over there wants to hear their own kids talk or have their own adult conversation, so pipe down, precious.

When I take them out, I make them wait in line. No, you can’t rush to the front in front of people who were there first. I want them to know they are valued and important and to boost their self-esteem in every way possible, but I also don’t want them to grow into entitled snots who expect front of the line treatment everywhere they go. Of course, they would rush up front when they were little, but I would grab them. Oh the stories I have of wrangling four kids at once when I was by myself! Even when it was the husband and I together, we only could be in so many places at once.

It’s not always perfect. They are kids, so there were times when they would go noisy. So there were times we’d take them outside. You can’t teach children how to behave in a vacuum, so I tend to give parents more time than many might to try to quiet a child, but after a while, you have to remember others spent good money to attend an event and they don’t want to hear your toddler scream. We’d tag team when we were out together, or I’d just go home if I was alone. Parenting includes sacrificing, meaning we sometimes sacrifice our time out socializing, rather than making others sacrifice their time out; we have to remember others may have paid for babysitters and saved up for that night for a long time, or it might be their first night out in ages. It’s not just about me and my kids so, no, you can’t disrupt everyone.

I also don’t worry so much about some of the issues I see pop up in the news now. I turned out four healthy, productive, smart kids who don’t have problems because they saw posters about boys being astronauts and girls being models. Ads for bikini bodies didn’t have my girls running to hide. When my son wanted a doll, he got one, and when my daughter wanted to play with cars all day, go for it, there’s the mud, have a blast. We let them be themselves and showed them they could be whatever they want. Sometimes we “older” parents get a bad rep but look around, there are some pretty amazing members of society out there, many young parents themselves now, who rock at life due to parenting before we worried about what aisle a toy was found in at Target. Yep, I’m an old school parent but it has worked and continues to do so.

Free-range parenting is awesome, but it still needs to come with some guidelines. We adults have guidelines in our jobs, our marriages, our homes, you name it, so to not give the kids reasonable expectations, are we doing them any favors? A colleague of mine told me that she felt her daughter was too smart for school so she didn’t stop her from correcting the teacher; the girl just left her third job, she can’t handle a boss reminding her that he/she is the boss. That girl is learning a hard lesson she should have learned earlier, but mom didn’t want to squash her child’s intelligence and ‘quirky personality.’ Now she’s getting it squashed by boss after boss.

I was recently at a business event for a non-child product. One mom brought her two kids, who literally ran all around our legs, bumping us and talking over the speaker. We couldn’t get close enough to the item we were there to take photos of, and mom did nothing. Someone said “Whose kids are these?” and mom proudly said “They’re mine! They’re just so inquisitive.” No one laughed. Great, inquisitive is good, but at an appropriate place. And aren’t all kids inquisitive? Did she think hers were an adorable exception? The speaker probably should have handled it but I think she was pretty surprised as well, and honestly, was it her job to handle? Probably not, mom should have…though maybe next time, the speaker will be forced to say no kids…which will tick people off, I’m sure. Not everyone has an option, and some kids will behave fine and now be blocked because this mom refused to stop her kids from ruining photos and making it hard for us to hear. When you make arrangements for your own kids, sacrificing time or money, it’s hard to swallow losing that because someone else is inconsiderate and teaching their kids how to be inconsiderate as well. Kids at many events are fine, but not at a business event discussing something entirely unrelated to kids. It was a real bummer and I felt like I’d wasted a couple of hours after drive time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-kids at all. I have fun with others’ kids and really feel we moms do have to stick together. We can help and support and if someone needs me to spot a kid while they potty or take a photo or have a bite to eat, no problem. But sticking together works both ways. It means remembering that those who didn’t bring their kids aren’t there to be enamored with yours. Just because I’ve smiled at your child once doesn’t mean I want them grabbing food off my plate…especially if I don’t know you. (A few years ago, a toddler ran up to my son and grabbed his $5 cupcake off his plate. My son had had maybe two bites. The parents laughed. No apology, no replacement of the cupcake. Just laughter. “He has been eyeing it since your son sat down! hahaha” Uhm, my son was eyeing while while we waited in line and paid for it and carried it over here. And they were out of cupcakes, so I couldn’t even replace it myself. It wasn’t funny to anyone at all and I felt bad my son’s dessert was ruined because of entitlement by the other family. Just because a child is older than yours doesn’t mean yours gets a pass, you know?)

We all have these stories so I won’t go on and there’s no real answer in how to handle them when they occur. I don’t want someone else parenting my kids, so I make sure I’m doing all I can to prevent you from feeling as though you need to. I’d expect the same in return, so I won’t tell someone else how to parent, but next time your kid steals my child’s cupcake, I may have enough brass to ask you to replace it. I don’t want to have to say “Can you please let all of us have a shot at photographing that product?” but I shouldn’t have to. Your child is adorable, yes, but aren’t they all?

Being an old school parent isn’t a bad thing. There isn’t one right way of parenting, but we can all agree that being considerate of others is something that should be the foundation of all styles of parenting. We public-schooled, attachment-parented, homeschooled, have an alternative vaccination schedule, paid for chores, didn’t pay for chores — we tried all sorts of things all throughout the years but no matter what we tried, we still focused on them behaving in public. Shake hands. Say hello. Say excuse me. Hold the door for others and say thank you if they hold the door for you. Thank someone for giving them a gift and if they already have it, don’t tell them that. Stand up for the underdog and if you see something wrong happening, seek out an adult. Speak up.

And as parents, we have to do the same. Speak up. Use the power of “no.” Everyone benefits.



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