There was a time when my family practically had our own exam room at the pediatrician's office. Four children meant we had four sets of ears to infect, four sets of tonsils that eventually had to come out and four bodies to measure, mend and medicate.
Winters blew in with wind, ice, snow and viruses. I had the doctor's office on speed dial and even mastered the art of getting in right after lunch break for the quickest service. I was a pro, pediatrically speaking.
Without my noticing, my trips to the pediatrician began to taper off. I went from being a "frequent flier" mom who knew the names of all the nurses on the office staff to a mom of four relatively healthy children whose medical needs could be handled in annual check-ups and the occasional office visit.
Well, the other day brought an occasional office visit.
Jimmy contracted the crud that apparently is making its way through the eighth grade, causing fever, a painful cough, a nose that runs like a river and, because he's a guy, a disposition typical of the male of the species when afflicted with disease (hint: rhymes with "gimpy").
So here we are, in the waiting room of the pediatrician's office, where my lanky teenager looks overgrown and out of place among the brightly colored kiddie furniture and the video monitor playing Disney favorites in the corner.
Jimmy slumps in his chair, drops his head back and groans for a tissue. I hand him a box of Kleenex and then reach for something to read, absent-mindedly picking up a magazine for parents.
There's a beautiful baby on the cover and headlines touting stories about picky eaters, finding the best deals for family vacations and how to "steal time from the kids for romance," an article I assume will be short and hopeful, but largely useless.
Flipping pages, I look for something that might be relevant for a woman who already has handled toilet training, my first teacher conference and discovering my child has told a lie. There are some things you don't have to revisit, thank goodness.
What's this? An article on discipline — a subject upon which even we experienced moms can always brush up. I settle in to read what the "experts" say about how to get children to behave.
Suddenly I remember why I stopped reading parenting magazines. It wasn't because my children no longer required me to make frequent trips to the doctor's office — a place where the only other reading material has been chewed on and is covered in germs.
No, I stopped reading parenting magazines because I reached my limit of articles about reasoning with children to get them to behave. It's not that I felt inadequate or unskilled as a parent when I read articles about discipline.
It's that the expert advice made me agitated.
Here's a sampling: Never tell a child he is "good" or "bad" – these are value judgments that can damage self-esteem. Instead, always reaffirm the child's worth while suggesting more positive choices. (Funny, I thought the biggest self-esteem spoiler was being a bad child.)
Never say "never" – or "no," or "stop it," or "quit it," or "cut it out" or "knock it off." These are negative. Instead, always convey preferred behavior in a positive way, such as, "I really like it when you sit in your chair and eat your meal using your good manners." (The fact that your child is throwing her mashed potatoes in her sister's hair is not important.)
Never make a child feel guilty about his or her mistakes because mistakes are always learning experiences. Instead, find positive elements in every situation and focus on those. This will highlight for your son or daughter the good behavior you truly value. (If his mistake happens to cause pain for others or shame on the family, all the more to be learned, I guess.)
I can stand to read only a few paragraphs of the article on discipline before I toss the magazine back on the table. These articles have not changed in the 18 years I have been a parent, nor has my visceral response to such "expert" advice.
Am I the only one who's noticed that those same years have brought us the most undisciplined, disrespectful and unruly generation of children our culture has ever seen?
Ah, but I'm no expert. I'm just a mom.