Kids look cute in their Christmas finery but festive duds won’t cloak the fact that parents aren’t teaching youngsters their Ps and Qs. All the monkeys aren’t in the zoo. Many tykes are on the loose without social skills or discipline and, alas, manners matter.
We’ve just survived a Thanksgiving siege with out-of-town guests, a missionary couple and their four children who camped out in our finished basement. Obviously they embraced their call to the Biblical axiom “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” but it was clear they skipped “Train up a child in the way he should go.”
Our lower level has a bed, bath, TV, toys, videos, crafts, games and puzzles. Upstairs, I padded the dining room table and chairs, put away “irresistible pretties,” thinking, “Bring ‘em on!” Silly me.
The living room became Discovery Zone. My husband’s new leather chair doubled as gymnastic apparatus. Within two days towel bars were loose, chair legs scratched, carpets crayoned and toys littered the house. When the plumber hauled off a broken toilet, he muttered, “Better you than me.” The children’s father’s strongest rebuke? “Enough already.”
It’s rude to trim down another’s children so I persuaded my husband to try charm. But faced with pillow fights and crashing bodies, familial courtesy succumbed to panic. Simultaneously we barked, “Knock it off!” with such ferocity our wayward guests retreated to their subterranean digs.
Later when I had the kids alone I discovered they weren’t brats after all, just mildly uncivilized. A dash of Auntie El’s etiquette and clear-cut ground rules birthed a lovely transformation.
Granted, I was raised by a somewhat stodgy group and have routinely been ribbed about my propriety. Our church is California casual so I was teased when my kids addressed adults as “Mr. and Mrs.” Rather than “Hank and Babs.”
Even my family heckled me about keeping my two on a tight leash. Once while vacationing in a borrowed Hyannis, Ma. summer home I was outside drinking in the view. Mischievous chuckles came from a dormer window where my son and his cousins were inside lighting fireworks.
I yelled up, “Cut it out. You’ll burn up the place!” Surprisingly, my mother-the-matriarch yelled from another floor, “Pipe down, Ellen, you’ll wake the neighbors!” As I dragged my delinquent back to our wing in this very elegant house, I pondered just what the neighbors’ reaction would have been to a five-alarm blaze.
Today’s parents don’t have it easy with discipline and I always second-guess myself. Childhood gurus float the latest theories. Plus potential child-abuse charges threaten even the lightest fanny whack. Yet, when asked, kids repeatedly chorus their desire for defined and enforced guidelines. It’s a balancing act and, for better or worse, I’m glad I’m done.
Last Christmas, our 3-year old nephew toured the Pensacola Aeronautics Museum at a velocity matched only by the exhibited jets’ high-speed capabilities. During one pass, my husband grabbed hold of the pipsqueak tourist and, out of earshot of the indulgent dad, leaned low and growled, “Uncle Max says, ‘No running!’” The pop-eyed tot stopped in his tracks and sauntered civilly from then on. The two spent the next day on the couch as chums watching videos of “Victory at Sea.”
Family friction intensifies during the holidays and unchecked childish shenanigans tighten the tension rod. Junior isn’t cute when he dismantles grandfather’s clock. We need to rein in the unruly. If we don’t, kids run amok and I predict the ancient angelic announcement will evolve into a plea. “Peace on Earth – Please!”
article first appeared December 19, 1996, in The Denver Post.
© 2007 - Ellen Makkai - All Rights Reserved
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From 1985 to 2002, Ellen Brewster (Makkai) wrote for several major metropolitan editorial pages, a well-known website, Creator's Syndicate and a national Christian publication. Her columns provided a counterpoint to the vast majority of secular writers who frequently discount or insult the faith community. The small feature, "Bible Byte," offset daily horoscopes in one local newspaper.
Today’s parents don’t have it easy with discipline and I always second-guess myself. Childhood gurus float the latest theories. Plus potential child-abuse charges threaten even the lightest fanny whack.