The call came years ago on a raw afternoon in early spring.
The woman on the other end of the phone introduced herself as a writer. She explained that Parenting magazine had hired her to write a story about how to prevent spoiled children, and she wanted to interview me on the topic. She’d been given my name through a convoluted series of contacts, none of whom had ever met me or my children. How did she know my kids weren’t spoiled?
The interview was fascinating. The writer presented me with eight specific scenarios involving children who were not getting what they wanted. I had to describe how I would handle each situation. The writer planned to conduct similar interviews with parents and experts around the country.
Months later, the November issue of Parenting landed in my mailbox. Turning quickly to page 78, I discovered that the entire article revolved around six people who were listed as national experts on how to avoid spoiled children. I was one of the six.
Seriously? A national expert? My professional background was with IBM. In college, I was a cafeteria ticket puncher; in the summer, I stuffed mail-order steak knives into envelopes. In what universe did this qualify me as an expert?
Friends and family had a good laugh about the magazine article. Then we returned to everyday life.
One morning a year or two later, the magazine article came to mind as I picked up my easygoing 4-year-old from nursery school. Victoria greeted me with her sweet hug and kiss, then ran off to play. I asked her to get her jacket.
She looked up with those soft brown eyes and declared, “No.”
I know this sounds crazy, but this had never happened. Victoria was always so compliant. I called to her again, and again she said no. I was stunned. I’d dealt with plenty of defiance from my other children, but this was new territory for Victoria.
I walked over to her, picked her up, carried her to the coat hooks, plopped her down and instructed her to grab her jacket. She refused. I insisted. She refused. And then, to my astonishment, she hurled herself to the floor, kicked her little hands and feet and began wailing. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
By this time, a small crowd had gathered. Normally, when a recalcitrant child throws a public tantrum, other parents offer sympathy. Not this time. The parents who gathered were actually cheering — enthusiastically. “I’m so glad your child isn’t perfect!” one mother laughed. “It makes me feel so much better!”
In the end, a teacher “helped” Victoria get her coat.
Victoria did not have another tantrum for five years.
Her tantrum reminded me of another story. Years ago, there was an elementary school in California located on a busy street. For safety, the playground was surrounded by a tall fence. A group of parents petitioned the school board to remove the fence, however, claiming that it limited their children’s freedom and creativity. Astoundingly, the board complied.
An immediate change occurred at recess: the children began huddling in the center of the playground because they were frightened by the traffic. The fence hadn’t shackled their freedom; it had given them the freedom to play.
The fence was reinstalled and the children again played freely.
And thus it is with discipline. Boundaries and discipline do not limit a child; they keep the child safe and give tangible evidence of how deeply the child is loved.
The day will come when I must give an account for my life. I hope I can say that I loved my children unconditionally, trained them in holiness and led them into a relationship with God. If I can say these things, perhaps I will have become an expert.
M. REGINA CRAM is a writer, speaker and author. She and her husband live in Glastonbury and have four children and seven grandchildren.