There were some things cool about my parents’ approach to child rearing. My younger sister was cursed with the affiliation most younger siblings are, which is tattling. My parents never doled out a consequence based on what The Rat, as she was affectionately known, told them. In fact, my dad explained to her that nobody liked a rat and she should cease and desist if she wanted to participate in a just society. When she thanked him for pointing out the error of her ways, he told her nobody likes an ass kisser. To this day I can’t abide rats or ass kissers – I think that’s a good thing. Our mom believed reading of any kind was good. I got kicked out of school for reading The Harrad Experiment (a campus sex romp that was really horrid). The assistant principal thought he would have a real ally in my mom – what a stupe.
My husband and I talked a lot about how we would parent and how we wouldn’t parent. I started observing parents in general making mental checklists of what I liked and didn’t like. Two years ago I supplemented my income as a retail sales clerk. One day I observed a customer – a mother who had two boys with her about the ages of six and ten. First, I noticed she encouraged them to sit up front together on a small bench and look at the books on display. While she was perusing the clothes in back I watched the kids. The older kid kept flicking the little one in the back of the head. This escalating to some minor slapping that resulted in the younger one throwing the cup of soda he was holding on the older one. The older one ran up to his mother – she looked down at him, made some psychic mother assessment in a nanosecond and before he could say anything, said, “I want you to help me pick out a shirt.” I mean it really stopped him cold because the kid was drenched and she hadn’t said a thing about it.
When she came to check out I couldn’t help myself. I asked her how she knew to do that. She said she had five kids – the first two she did a lot of intervening with and by the time the third one came she was really tired so she just addressed things that were really bad. When I got home that night I told my husband we should figure out how to raise whoever we got like they were the third child.
My cousin Amy is like one of the most awesome people ever. She has a son who is an adult now but she said the thing is, behavior has three categories: annoying, immoral and dangerous. Ignore the annoying, discuss the immoral and intervene immediately if dangerous. So, dangerous is where the big guns come out. All of which sounds like raising every child as the third child.
So – that kind of became our mantra. Our first is our third. And – when you think about it isn’t that how you would want to be treated now?