Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Angels or Demons

Did you hear about the Pamela Root/Southwestern Airlines controversy? Root boarded a flight in Amarillo with her two-year-old son Adam, who proceeded to yell, scream, and wail so long and so loudly that passengers could not even hear the safety announcements. It was so bad that the pilot finally returned to the gate and had a flight attendant ask the mother and son to deboard the plane.

If I were Root, I would have been terribly embarassed. But was she? No. Of course not. She was "appalled" and "angry" that the airlines would do that to her. She demanded an apology. And a free flight. And reimbursement for diapers and a portable crib she had to buy for an overnight stay at her parents'. Not once did she acknowledge the rights of the other passengers to a calm, quiet flight. Not once did she feel the need to apologize to the other passengers for her son's uncontrollable behavior and/or the subsequent flight delay.

I agree with Amy Alkon, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times:

"Parents like Root and others who selfishly force the rest of us to pay the cost of their choices in life aren't just bothering us; they're stealing from us. Most people don't see it this way because what they're stealing isn't a thing we can grab on to, like a wallet. They're stealing our attention, our time and our peace of mind.

"More and more, we're all victims of these many small muggings every day. [ . . . ] These little acts of social thuggery are inconsequential in and of themselves, but they add up--wearing away at our patience and good nature and making our daily lives feel like one big wrestling smackdown."

When I was a child and we went out in public--to eat, to shop, to watch a movie, whatever--my parents made it clear to us that good behavior was expected. We didn't yell and run around in restaurants. We didn't talk loudly in movies. We quietly stayed with our parents while they shopped, and if we didn't do these things we suffered the consequences and quickly got ourselves back in line. Dad's refrain was something along the lines of "These people didn't come here to be disturbed by you." In other words, we were taught to be aware of others and to show them respect. Consequently, we learned to respect others and ourselves.

My husband and I raised our children the same way. When they were babies, if one started to cry while we were in a restaurant, one of us would take him or her out. The other would watch the other children and finish eating; then we'd switch places. It wasn't fun, but it was our crying child and our responsibility. The other diners didn't deserve to have their meal ruined by a wailing baby, so we did the right thing. When the children got older, we shifted some of the responsibility to them. We explained how we expected them to behave in advance. We explained why. We explained the consequences of misbehavior, and we also told them that how they acted would affect how likely they were to be rewarded with future fun outings. The rules were the same if we were eating at McDonalds or a nice restaurant. Our children were not perfect, but they learned quickly, and I remember several instances of older couples stopping by our table and commenting on how nice it was to see children behave so well in public.

I understand and appreciate the sentiment. When our children were small, my husband and I didn't get many nice evenings out, and if we did, the last thing we wanted to hear was a crying baby or a screaming toddler.

Respect. What a concept.


Ash said...

I totally agree - I've been told by friends that it's only because I'm not a parent that I'm constantly appalled by kid's behavior, but I disagree. My brothers and I were taught to "act right" or face the consequences, with the seemingly long-lost attitude that the world does not exist to serve us. It just seems like more often than not kids are being taught to demand the world bend to them, no matter who is inconvenienced, and that just for existing they're entitled to stuff they want. I guess with today's parenting standards I'm just a grouchy curmudgeon.

Stephanie said...

By today's parenting standards maybe, but not by what's right. And I'm one, too. It's really just common courtesy. The columnist also wrote about loud phone conversations in public as one of the thefts of our attention, but I've already sounded off about that ...

Kelly said...

As a mom of two toddlers, taking little ones out in public can be difficult. So many parents don't see that much of the hassle can be eliminated before you leave the front door. You go somewhere when a kid isn't going to be cranky. You have food on hand in case they get hungry, etc.

Kids understand, too. They want to please for the most part. If you tell them your expectations before you go in, most of the time, they live up to them.

I also know that even the best kids will do something out of character sometimes - like walk all the way to the front door of the library before stopping to let Mom pick him up. However, consequences make a world of difference. For instance, that little boy spent the rest of library time strapped in the stroller.

I think there is a certain level of age appropriate tolerance people should have. A two year old may not sit perfectly still for an entire plane ride and not say a word. However, uncontrollable screaming and crying is not normal two year old behavior.

Stephanie said...

Kelly, you are so right. I know that just seeing parents attempting to handle and correct their children, whether or not they are perfectly successful, goes a long way with me. Then, I'm sympathetic rather than aggravated.