Parents Need To Stop Talking For Their Kids

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

Waitstaff either hate us or think it’s the cutest thing ever.

“I want a cheeseburger and fries,” my six-year-old will say to me.

“Tell that to him,” I’ll say, nodding my head in the direction the waiter, who is either melting from the cute or toweringly annoyed by now. “And say it politely.”

My son takes a deep breath. “I’ll take a cheeseburger and fries, please. With ketchup. And a Sprite.”

I make every child order for himself, including the four-year-old. We don’t do it out of some notion that our children are somehow uniquely adorbs. We do it because they need to learn to speak the fuck up.

It’s a baby step.

But our kids are going out into the world. Little by little, they step into a wider universe, away from the safety of mama and daddy and the picket fence, the three dogs and homeschooling and all is right and easy. And what do people bitch about Millennials? That they can’t handle their own shit. That mommy has to call the college professor to complain about their grade. That mummy tagged along on their job interview. That they can’t even manage to change their smartphone plan without a parent or guardian present.

This is not okay. Something has to change. It has to start with our kids, and it has to start now.

This is why my kids order for themselves. This is why I send my kids up to the counter at a popular fast-food restaurant, littlest hand-in-hand with the biggest, to snag the ice cream cone that goes with their kids’ meal. They have to observe courtesies, like wearing shoes and waiting in line and not acting like total fucking savages. They have to speak to strangers. People are either (a) appalled, because they think my 8-, 6-, and 4-year-olds will be kidnapped in the five minutes it takes them to do this in my line of sight across a restaurant, or (b) utterly charmed by their determination to live up to the standards they’ve set for themselves.

I also make them ask for playdates. Of course, they ask me first. But then I make them ask their friend’s parents if so-and-so can play on such-and-such date from wheneverthefuck to wheneverthefuck. They ask politely. They stand up straight. They accept no for an answer, and maybe have a backup date and time in mind. Default to questions they don’t know, of course, is, “You’ll have to ask my mama,” but they are they ones that do the original asking.

If it has to do with the kids, they deal with it. We stand back while they ask about fishing lures, or the location of a certain item in a store, or if it’s even stocked. We watch while they talk to the shoe guy in the sports store, resist the urge to swoop in and demand which ones fit and how much toe room is there. If strangers compliment their hats, their clothes, or anything else, they are expected to respond, not foist a response off on me. They literally must speak when spoken to. This doesn’t just have to do with confidence. This is about seeing people as humans worthy of their notice and attention.

And if they were in school (they are homeschooled), you bet they’d deal with their own teachers. I come from a family of teachers. I know how often they’re required to phone parents about one failing grade, one project deadline missed, one test grade dropping. This is bullshit, friends. Kids need to step up and deal with their own messes. When I was in high school, your parents signed all your test papers, so they knew what you got (unless you forged their signature, in which case you were up shit creek without a paddle come report card time). If you didn’t agree with a test grade, or a question, or the way they curved a test, you approached them and said something like, “Hey, Mr. Clay, I think the answer to question six was really this instead of that. Can you explain it?” You didn’t get mommy involved.

This is what I want for my kids: to avoid getting mommy involved. Not because mama doesn’t care. But because mama knows it’s a big bad world out there, and she can’t balance your fucking bank statements and pay your damn mortgage. She can’t hold your hand when they screw up your Starbucks order, and you shouldn’t feel some sinking well of existential guilt when they do. You handle it. We want to teach our kids to handle it.

So they order for themselves. They pay for their own toys, at the register, with their own money, and damn it, if you’re behind us, sorry not sorry but you can wait while my six-year-old counts out his dimes (I’ll have warned you about it beforehand so you can change lanes if you want. I’m not an entitled monster and I’m not raising them). They talk to strangers. They deal with the things that pertain to them as they come up, be they commerce or courtesy or just simply stuff in the realm of their shit. They scan the barcodes of the toys at self-checkout. They bag them and carry them. They carry their own bags full of library books (okay, I carry the 4-year-old’s).

And when the time comes to deal with the adults in their lives, I hope they have the confidence to do it on their own, without my interference or staging or prodding. Like people. Like the adults they’re so rapidly becoming.

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