Anne Kester: All parents have complaints about their children: the speed at which they mess up a clean house; the constant fighting with siblings; the refusal to eat anything nutritious; the incessant whining, tattling and ... oh, you get the picture. All children have that special gift for (sometimes, anyway) making everyone around them insane, and our kids are no exception.
Don't get me wrong: We love them; it's just that we wonder if we would have had them had we known how hard it was going to be! We have been feeling that way this summer, especially, because our children have been at home during the days instead of at camp (thank you, economy), and man, have our nerves taken a beating. It's no easy thing to have two siblings at home -- all day, all week -- when you don't have the budget to provide weekly field trips to Six Flags, Chuck E. Cheese or the club for lunch and swimming.
That's why we jumped at the chance to get out of town when it was offered to us recently. Friends of ours (more like acquaintances, really) invited us to spend a week with them in Colorado, where they spend every July and August. Since my children are good friends with theirs, and since we were overdue a vacation (even if it did include children), we agreed.
At first, everything was fine. We were so excited to be there, I guess we didn't notice anything. But after a week of living with these people, we saw that our children weren't the crazy tyrants we had been in the habit of calling them -- at least, not like our friends' kids were. If ours were annoying, theirs were total horrors. If ours sassed, theirs talked back with a vengeance. (Seriously, we could not believe how they spoke to their parents!) If ours fought with each other, theirs attacked one another. And if ours messed up their room, their kids destroyed theirs -- and then weren't forced to clean it up.
My husband and I would huddle in our room at night and freak over the way this family lived. Even though spending a week with our friends was uncomfortable, we realized that we had been given something more valuable than a free vacation: We had been given perspective. Being in another family's home made us realize that our kids weren't as bad as we had assumed (in comparison, they were angels), but that they could be if we didn't do something about it. We learned that children behave the way they do simply because they can. If our kids talk back and hit each other, it's because their parents -- i.e., my husband and I -- haven't been consistent with consequences for their poor behavior.
What a wake-up call! Someone should have been complaining about US: the parents of the so-called "crazy tyrants." Anyway, we couldn't wait to get out of Colorado and back in our own home to put our new perspective into practice. And now that we're here, we're committed to being consistent and realistic with our discipline. While our kids still test their boundaries, we stay at it, constantly reminding ourselves what could happen if we adopted a "no discipline" policy like another family we won't mention. Suddenly, we're enjoying our kids' company. Now that they know they can't get away with certain behaviors, they aren't "tyrants," but normal children we are proud to say are ours.