I have no kids.
Looking back on it, I see that my childlessness resulted from a combination of circumstances and nature -- but also some unfortunate decisions on my part. Or rather, the lack of decision. Sometime inaction turns into a decision in itself.
Last year I published an essay that I had written 14 years earlier, "Not Having Children." It resonated with many women, and I was lucky enough to have The Huffington Post translate it into French and Spanish, and so I was able to share my experience with more women than I had ever imagined.
I have a happy life, though, and -- except for that very big one -- few regrets.
So this may be a rather serious post, but it is not a sad one.
It is irritating -- and unfair -- that because of my childlessness, I am also considered excluded from commenting on child-rearing. "Oh, you just don't KNOW," say Mothers everywhere when I venture an opinion on kids' behavior.
But I DO know. Who better to see the good and not-so-good in children than someone who has had nothing but objective observation for decades? I have no vested interest. I am not comparing your little monsters to my little monsters. I am not sizing up your parenting skills against mine. I am not going to start a sentence with, "Back when I was raising my Joey..."
I see. I really see.
I see that a kid of 4 should no longer hit.
I see that a kid of 5 should be able to eat without extraordinary mess. There should be little food on floor or table. It can, however, still be on his plate, as I recognize all the fussy stages that kids go through.
By 6, she should be able to wait maybe two minutes for anything, including you, before pulling out the cranky tears. If you run into me in the supermarket and want to chat, I know that your kid wants to get the show on the road. But two minutes of patience is not a bad thing to learn. And I am also aware that if we go over two minutes, all bets are off. This is a kid, not a saint.
Also by 6, a kid should be able to lose a game once in a while. It is always fun to win, but to lose with good humor is a skill that will last her a lifetime.
A 7-year-old should know how to behave in public. I remember working in a kitchen shop years ago, and a tiny boy of maybe five came in with his mother. He walked over to me, past all the breakable dishes and glassware and announced: "I'm not touching anything. And I'm using my inside voice." If a 5-year-old understands the rules, so should your 7-year-old.
And you should be able to take an 8-year-old to a restaurant. A kid-friendly restaurant is probably a wise choice, but once in a while, your kids should go someplace nice, and act nice. They should have some appropriate manners and conversation. This will help enormously in the future. Especially when you visit me. I like talking to and listening to your kids. I do not like yelling at them to stop jumping on the furniture or banging the piano. I'd rather discuss History and Kung Fu Panda -- and so would they.
And while we are on the subject of food (and it seems that LOTS of kids' behaviors revolve around food), I expect a 9-year-old to be polite about what he likes or doesn't. Recently at a family gathering, a kid much older than that called a certain dish, "disgusting." I really don't care whether it is my kid or not -- or whether I am short of the correct parenting qualifications. I told that kid -- pleasantly enough -- that someone at that very table took the time and trouble to make that food as a gift for us. That he could eat it or not eat it. But that he was not allowed to call it disgusting.
My expectations are realistic. I know the difference between overtired and bratty. I have a tremendous amount of patience (and sympathy for you, by the way) for the kid who is having a meltdown because it's already 7:30 p.m. and you're still running errands, and he hasn't had dinner yet.
And I know that good behavior is far more plentiful than bad behavior -- we just notice the bad stuff more.
One more comment: With regards to "overtired" -- it seems there is a huge increase in kids who are over-extended and under-rested. So please, for the sake of their well-being and your sanity (and mine), give the kids a decent bedtime.
And give them a hug and kiss for me when you put them to bed.
Because down deep, I wish they were mine.
**Read more from Nancy at her blog "Not Quite Old."