• author
    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • September 28, 2013 in Columnists

    Fairy princess parents: grow a spine

    If from infancy you treat children as gods, they are liable in adulthood to act as devils.
    P.D. James

    As a mom and Nana with 38 years of experience, I am going to give you some advice, you parents of kids both neurotypical and not.  Grow a spine.

    I’m not being heartless.  In fact, I would quite likely love your kids darn near as much as you do if I met them.  I’m just that way about kids.  I love them at every age from melt-in-your-arms newborns to argumentative teenagers.  I even love them when they’re grownups, because, until they’re 30, they’re still kind of like kids to me (that’s a function of my age).

    But yeah.  Grow a spine.

    You’ve seen them, those I call “fairy princess parents.”  They’re the ones pleading with two-year-olds to get into their carseats.  They’re begging their four-year-old to get out of the road when there’s a car coming.  They’re asking permission of their child to go out to dinner without the kiddo along – and it’s in a cocktail bar.  And if the child says “no,” these are the parents who call and cancel their plans!

    I’ve also seen the results of such parenting in overprecious 25-year-olds who practically do the finger-in-the-dimple aren’t-I-cute thing every time they make some inane pronouncement that is only clever to said 25-year-old and her doting parents.  I’ve seen them in the huffy, self-righteous, overdefensive behavior of a store clerk who was selling half-filled containers of beads along with full ones – for the same price.  I’ve seen them in the so-called adults who can’t take even the most tactful criticisms, who walk off a job mid-task because they aren’t having fun, who think that being rude is fine because, after all, their parents saw nothing wrong with it.

    These people are not suited to inherit the earth, in part, because at the first sign of difficulty, they dissolve in tears or tantrums.  Nor do they have the will to persist when life gets tough.

    These are the children of parents who wanted to be their friends or who felt they had been disrespected as children and were determined to treat their children as one would an adult colleague.


    I’m not saying that you don’t respect a child’s intellect.  Nor am I saying that you shouldn’t appreciate them as people.  I respected and adored my kids when they were little.  I was staggered by their enormous minds and I was smart enough to take their incredibly wise and perceptive advice.  But I was the grownup, and it was crucial that I was.  Kids know exactly how tiny and vulnerable they are.  If they are stronger than you – and if they can run you, they know perfectly well they are – then the first big predator that comes along is going to get them because the parent who has abdicated their alpha position isn’t strong enough to protect them.  This is terrifying to little kids – absolutely wall-eyed terrifying.

    You do need to be alpha, and that basically means love them to the point of near-if-not-absolute insanity but put up with nothing.

    Kids are not born civilized.  Are you kidding?  Watch toddlers sometime.  One moment they’re cuddly and sweet with each other.  The next minute one is screaming because the other just bit the snot out of the other and the two next to them are both shrieking because one whacked the other with a wooden block – the one he snatched away from his little friend.

    Likewise, to some extent, they are little sociopaths.  They are designed that way – they have to be.  Nature has bred us to be able to survive on our own and no small child survives being parentless without being a savage.  So yes, your five-year-old will often say or do to you anything he or she deems necessary to get the desired result, and if it drives you nuts or even makes you cry, that’s fine.

    Don’t.  Put.  Up with it.  And don’t say in your gentlest voice, “please honey, don’t talk to MommyDaddy, like that.  It makes MommyDaddy sad.”

    Kid doesn’t really care.  Kid wants what kid wants.

    There are at least two good reasons to stand up for yourself.  First and foremost, you don’t deserve to be treated like that by anybody.  But it also stands as a teaching moment if you refuse to tolerate abuse.  It says that it’s not acceptable for them to treat others like that.  It also says that they should not tolerate abuse, either.  You are teaching them to be human and they must learn to neither a perpetrator nor a victim be.

    A very long time ago, a kiddo I knew well and utterly adored (still do) with a fair bit of work to do (not neurotypical, bright as a whip with a heart of pure gold) came up to me and screamed (like a buzzsaw) in my face “I’M HUNGRY!”

    “Okay,” I replied.  “Try again with a better tone.”

    She drew back, shocked and shrieked her demand again.

    “That was a bit better,” I responded.  “Now try again.”

    I think it took about seven tries.  On the eighth, she requested quite politely of me “I’m hungry.  Will you please make me something to eat?”

    “I would be delighted to do that and very nicely done!” I beamed at her and gave her a hug.  She helped me make her lunch calmly and happily, delighted with herself for having managed a civilized request.  As for me, I’d set her up for success and firmly, lovingly and calmly helped model a better way to go about getting what she wanted.

    Which brings me to my last and somewhat more difficult point.  Fairy princess parents of kids with work to do* – don’t burden your children with even more work by pandering to them.  I heard of a child who had an absolute meltdown because he couldn’t bear to drink after someone else and was thirsty.  He was not neurotypical and I get that, but truth was, his mother, for whatever reason (guilt?  helplessness?) had pandered to him and this child was a little hooligan.

    There are things you won’t be able to change in your non neurotypical child, but they are not stupid and they are more than capable of growing and changing.  Your job is not to cushion them to the point of perfect insulation but to guide them through their learning process so that they are at the best point they can be to function in the world.  So, to this melting down child, a mild but firm “I am perfectly happy to get you some water if you ask nicely.   Try again” is a reasonable response.  Rewarding that tantrum with parental obedience is teaching him that this is an excellent strategy and you will be rewarded with many more fits.

    So, yes, please, fairy princess parents.  Do grow a spine.  Do it so that you will have a child who can stand up to the vagaries and difficulties that life will throw at them, because it will, and once grown, your child will not always have you there to ensure all their days are sweet, smooth and easy.  They will be inheriting the earth, even those who are not neurotypical.  It’s important to make sure they’re ready for it.

    *I dislike the terms ‘disabled’ and ‘disordered’ because I don’t believe they are incapable, out of order or broken.  They just have work to do, as we all do in one form or another.  All but the most profoundly affected are capable of doing this work and becoming the very best they can be.  I have seen it multiple times and it has taught me to have a lot more faith in these kiddos than those terms would suggest.  After all, I have plenty of work to do myself.


    • I love when they say, “You are not the boss of me, I am the boss of me” and I would reply watch me. Oh the fun we had back in the day. But I must have done something right as my grown sons are great parents. Makes me proud.

        • Maya North

        • September 29, 2013 at 7:37 pm
        • Reply

        “Watch me” is right. I kept control of an entire room full of my little Hebrew students with one lifted eyebrow and the fingersnap and point move. I warned the little dears when the year started that I’d been a mom for (at the time) 22 years, so I’d pretty much seen it all, but if they would behave, we’d have a blast — and we did. I told them “I expect respect FROM you, but I will also expect respect FOR you.” It’s just crucial. And my daughter is an awesome mama, too 🙂

    • Oh, we couldn’t be more in agreement!!!! When I see parents these days tiptoe around their children and treat them like tiny royalty who must be obeyed, I want to shriek. Aside from raising little brats, they aren’t raising their children to deal with the real world. In a way – it’s child abuse.

        • Maya North

        • September 29, 2013 at 7:40 pm
        • Reply

        I wrote an 8 page instruction manual for a kid living with us whose (late) mother had wanted to be her friend. I started with “You mom was my friend and I loved her with all my heart, but by wanting to be your friend and refusing to teach you how to live in this world, she was not doing you a favor. Please remember I love you as you read this entire thing.” She thanked me because she truly was feral and she had no idea why people would have less and less to do with her. As I told my youngest, “I want people to say ‘Oh, cool! We get to have her stay with us!’ instead of ‘Dear God, she’s back.’ 😛

      • Jesse

      • September 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm
      • Reply

      Yep. Love it.

        • Maya North

        • September 29, 2013 at 8:18 pm
        • Reply

        Yeah, for those of us with a parental spine, it’s rather akin to watching a train wreck. Gads…

    Leave a Comment