Charlotte and I were en route to Fairhope, Alabama, and then Orange Beach, Alabama, (both coastal towns). We stopped at a Cracker Barrel (restaurant) for lunch. At the table beside us were an older woman and a younger woman (seemed to be mother and daughter). Two little girls were on the other side of the table. Apparently they had ordered and now were waiting for their food. Meanwhile, the two little girls got louder and louder while the two women seemed to tune it out. Finally, these girls got so loud it became difficult to carry on a conversation at surrounding tables.
Finally, the mother said, "I’ve told you girls five times to be quiet!" She then made a few comments to the older woman about the slow service. At that point, she abruptly said to the children, "You girls have been good. You will get a surprise when you get home."
I thought about how difficult it must be for these little girls to sort out these comments. "I"ve told you five times to be quiet" standing next to "You girls have been good today. When you get home, you will get a surprise." I suspect these little girls were a bit confused. Talk about a mixed message!
I do remember those years of taking our small children into a restaurant. Yes, it can be challenging. After having two small children, I am very sympathetic to parents of small children in restaurants. Yet, not following through and then sending mixed messages only makes it more difficult in the long run. When rearing children, one can either "pay now or pay later." In other words, I may choose the easy way right now. I might ignore certain behaviors, allow my child to be disrespectful, and indulge his every whim. However, that often comes back to haunt a parent. Disrespect and talking back can be annoying when a child is four. It can be exhausting to deal with this (I remember). On the other hand, a parent can let it go when that child is four and then have to deal with an attitude that is much worse when that child is fifteen.
There are no perfect children. There are no perfect parents. Rearing children is not about perfection. Rather, parenting is a ministry in which we are stewards of what God has given us to prepare for a life with him.
A few days ago, I finished reading Thinking About Tomorrow. At one point, Susan Crandell reflects upon the child-rearing of her generation (my own generation as well). She observes: "… A generation reluctant to accept our own adulthood, we were sometimes more eager to win our children’s approval than their cooperation." This might be worth thinking about.