“Ma’am, would you like for me to catch your son the next time he runs past me?”
I was sitting in McDonald’s just the other day, sipping coffee and studying while my car was getting the oil changed across the street.
I saw a mom trying to corral her four-year-old into his jacket, but he was having none of it. Instead, little “Billy” went tearing around McDonald’s laughing and screaming and shouting “No!” in very defiant tones every time Mom asked him to come.
I heard her say, “Now Billy, you know that isn’t nice. Please come. Mommy is very tired.” I noticed she was well dressed (business attire, high heels, perfectly coiffed hair) as though she had just gotten off work at a professional building.
His defiant behavior and her anemic pleading were wearing thin. That’s when I offered to catch her little escapee.
“Oh could you? I would love it!” she said. (Pretty hard to catch a four-year-old if you are in high heels.) So, as soon as he was in reach I grabbed him by the arm and presented him to his mother.
“Ma’am, I am a pastor, and my wife and I have raised four children — three of them rambunctious boys. Would you be interested in some advice?”
The very frazzled mom answered, “Sure! How did you do it?”
“First of all, my wife and I recognized that we were in charge. The child is not the boss, the parents are,” I told her. “And almost from birth we set boundaries.” That was a slight exaggeration, of course.
“If the child willfully and deliberately crossed those boundaries, we spanked him,” I said. “Yes, we know that kids spill their milk and make mistakes. That’s not a big deal. But rebellion is a big deal, and pain is a good motivator to put an end to rebellion.”
“I never once chased after my kids,” I continued. “I would give them to the count of three, and if they were not there by three, they got spanked. And I made sure they felt it! If we were in public, I would take them to the car and spank them there. They knew they could never ‘get away with it.’ We never tried to reason with them or negotiate with them at this age. And we never bluffed. You need to spank this child and be consistent about it.”
I know that my comments were probably out of line, and I figured she would give me a good tongue-lashing. But her child was out of line, and I felt very sorry for her and risked getting cussed out so that maybe my advice could help her.
Surprisingly, the mom appreciated my advice! But Billy squirmed loose and took off again, squealing and taunting his mother.
“But my husband never helps me and he doesn’t spank,” she said.
“I see, well, I think you need to have this conversation with him,” I replied. “He needs to understand the severity of this situation and what will happen to Billy years from now if he does not learn to obey and control himself. But at least YOU can discipline him, and Billy will know you mean business.”
“But my husband never helps me and he doesn’t spank,” she said.
“I see, well, I think you need to have this conversation with him. He needs to understand the severity of this situation and what will happen to Billy years from now if he does not learn to obey and control himself. But at least YOU can discipline him, and Billy will know you mean business.”
I then finally introduced myself: “I’m sorry I’m so rude. My name is Jeff. What’s your name?”
“Carol.” She then asked, “But isn’t spanking child abuse? Won’t that hurt him? I mean, I’ve tried taking away toys and privileges…”
I almost could not believe what I was hearing. This thirty-something-year-old mom was honestly asking me this. It was obvious to me that no one was disciplining in the home.
“Carol, it seems pretty clear that whatever you’re doing now isn’t working. He is out of control. No, spanking — if done properly — is not child abuse. So long as you do not break the skin or leave bruises or break bones everything should be fine,” I told her. “We want to wound their pride and break their rebellion, not cripple them physically.”
“The good Lord put a nice padded area on him called the ‘behind.’ Smack it with a little authority and he’ll get the message,” I said. “But you have to be consistent with setting boundaries and following through. He has to know that you are the boss. You can be friends later, but right now you are his parent. Once he gets older, like maybe nine or ten, he will not need spanking. But it seems to me he really needs it now.”
I noticed Billy was on the other side of the store. “Tell you what. You go that way and I’ll go this way and we’ll catch him between us.”
“Sounds like a plan!”
Billy saw me coming and immediately turned around — and ran right into Mom. She had him by the arm again and was asking him…asking him…to please, please put his coat on! Billy was thrashing about, struggling with might and main to break free, and was actually GROWLING like an animal!
“See that Carol? You do not need to put up with this,” I said. “You can actually enjoy your child. If we can train a dog, we can train a child. And the child is a whole lot smarter! If I were you, I would take him out to the car right now and spank him.”
“And if he pitches a fit, spank him some more! And if he doesn’t settle down in a decent amount of time, tell him you’ll give him something to cry about! Carol, you MUST win this battle!! If you don’t, then he will never respect your authority or anyone else’s and he will grow up to be a criminal!” (I probably went too far with that last comment, but I really did say that.)
She finally stuffed Billy in the jacket, thanked me (!), and hustled him out to the car.
I felt immense sadness after that. A few people in McDonald’s saw and heard the whole thing (how could they not?) and thanked me for trying to help her. But it just grieved me that this poor lady and her husband did not have a clue about how to raise a child. Did they think it just happened by accident? Did they think it was somebody else’s job? I don’t know.
I wish I had more time with her. My wife and I would have sat down with her and her husband to try to impress upon them that it is very possible to enjoy one’s children! (We did—and still do!) But attitudes must change. It is imperative that the parents come to grips with who is in charge. And it is not the kid.
My job as a parent is to train them, to teach them, to model good behavior and to punish bad behavior. I am the parent, not their buddy and pal. Now, when they’re all grown up, I am the buddy and pal with my kids! But first, I’ve gotta be the parent.
Of course, not every form of discipline works the same for every kid. We had one child who only had to see the look of displeasure on a parent’s face and that kid would melt. But another kid was as stubborn and resolute as the Rock of Gibraltar. Our job was not to break his will, but to bend it. (The stubborn kid grew up to be a Marine, by the way, and is doing very well in life!)
What is for sure, however, is that if Carol and her husband and little Billy quickly change their attitudes and actions, the future for that family can be much more peaceful, and battles in McDonald’s can be a thing of the past.