Down at the drug store this morning getting a knee strap to help reduce the pain of an ancient knee injury, I was fitting said item when a young family pulled up in their big Ford F250 pickup. Mum, Dad and two boys, and a babe in arms. Now in England this is a recipe for chaos. Sulky, ill natured kids who don’t want to be there and exasperated parents who would rather be anywhere else than with their whining ungrateful little mini-thems. Over here in BC it’s (Well, mostly) a totally different atmosphere.
One of the things I’ve noticed, being a recent import to these shores, is how generally quiet and well behaved many Canadian children are. But I’d never quite made the connection until today. Babe in arms, about a year old I’d reckon. Too big to be a newborn, too chubby for a Toddler, was swung into Mums front facing papoose and began squalling. Dad was leading his two boys across the car park, urging them on without raising his voice. Answering their torrent of questions and demands with a good natured; “But that’s not what we’re here for.” Mum was paying attention to the baby and using the same quiet, insistent and non-confrontational voice. There was no demand for the child to “Behave! Or else!” Just patient explanation that yes they were going to the store, no they already had too many toys and treats, and we’re going out this afternoon for a picnic. Please keep your voice down, I can hear you perfectly well. No heightened emotions, no drama and after the first exchange, no raised voices. The kids weren’t being ignored, au contraire, they were being engaged every step of the way. None of the usual parent to child guilt or threat exchanges. Just persuasion. I’ve overheard children at every turn presented with a “How would you feel if….?” option followed by a suggested positive outcome. In this particular case I got the feeling that this was a long-practised routine which both parents engaged in. A form of neuro-liguistic programming of their children, encouraging their progeny into preferred behaviours. Specifically not behaving like self-entitled little socipaths. At least until the soup of raging adolescent hormones turn them all into Kevins. Been there, done that. Twice, God help me. With girls, who make teenage boys look like pussycats, let me tell you.
Most of us grow out of the more unlovable traits of childhood. We can even break the generational cycle of abusive relationships, should we develop the will. Unfortunately this is often a protracted and very painful process for the person involved, and can be a terrible waste of a human being. Heavens to Betsy, some might even end up bloggers.
Which rather leads me to the thought that we are what we are programmed to be. Larkin expressed it as “They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad” but then again, Larkin was always one of my least favourite British poets. Having seen that side of the coin, I’m becoming convinced that parents don’t have to screw up their kids, they can engage, communicate and guide. Minimise the damage peer groups and aggressive marketing can do to kids minds by ensuring a child knows where their support mechanisms lie.
So it is with grown up life. Treat people with trust and engage them without being judgemental and my experience is that most will respond positively. Not too much trust mind, just enough to account for the one in twenty five that is a conscience-free zone. Treat everyone like wayward children, regulate their every waking moment with near incomprehensible rules they can’t help but break, and what response profile will they follow? Got it in one.