I've been noticing it more and more lately. Perhaps it's due to the economy, the heated political environment, or maybe just a cultural shift towards impatience with anything that doesn't bring immediate gratification.
This is an observation I made last week as I was setting up displays for the latest changes during Fashion Week.
The Setting: An upscale fashion store.
A mother is waiting for a fitting room. There are six fitting rooms and each one is occupied. She has her three children with her, a daughter about twelve, a son about ten, a little girl about four. Mom is around 30, she has a fantastic tanning-bed tan, and she is in incredible shape. No doubt she keeps her personal trainer very busy.
She's wearing enough diamonds and gold to give Queen Elizabeth an inferiority complex. She's carrying Dolce and Gabbana (the big blue bag, not the little one). And she's driving a gas-guzzling SUV. Her clothes are high end. The kid's clothes are high end as well. She is extremely rude to the sales staff and other patrons. She is gaudy and ostentatious; one of the patrons hand-coughs bourgeois as she walks by and others titter at the joke. However she seems blissfully oblivious of this fact. And also of the fact that she strongly resembles a ridiculous caricature of a late night TV drama character.
Mom has dragged the kids into the store so she can shop for herself. She has loaded up her arms with clothes that she wants to try on, and now, a good hour or so into shopping, she is starting to get angry and impatient that she can't get into a fitting room right away. She starts to yell at the sales associate, demanding to know why there aren't more fitting rooms.
In the meantime baby is running around grabbing clothes off of racks and screaming 'I want this!', stamping her little feet and glaring at mom with an 'I dare you to say no' look on her face. Mom turns to her and says, 'No. You can't have that'. Baby angrily throws the garment on the floor and goes back to the rack to grab another garment and return with it – she repeats this scenario over and over. Mom turns to big sis and yells at her, 'I told you to keep an eye on her! Go get her now!' I'm thinking… It's your kid, lady, you go get her.
Big sis looks overwhelmed trying to wrestle garments from baby and drags her, literally kicking and screaming, back to the fitting rooms where she promptly breaks loose and runs back out onto the sales floor.
Brother has been completely ignored during this time and he's obviously been trained that negative attention is better than no attention at all. He's been knocking over displays and taking swipes at big sis while she wrestles with baby. Mom yells at him to 'cut it out or else'.
Mom demands to see a manager. When the manager arrives mom starts yelling at her that she needs a fitting room now! Right now. She starts to curse. She wants to know what's wrong with 'you people'.
As her agitation mounts the kids become more agitated as well. They're all angry, stressed out. Lashing out both physically and verbally. Big sis looks like she's going to cry, and she is becoming increasingly rough in her handling of baby who is now slapping, kicking and pulling sis' hair to try to escape her restraint. Brother has School Bully written all over him. He's actually enjoying the negative attention he's getting for his acts of violence. He reaches over and thunks baby on the back of the head with his thumb and middle finger, making her scream like someone has poked her eye out. Big sis says 'you're a jerk!' He mimics back at her 'You're a jerk' in a nasally voice that makes me want to pop him one. Then smack! He slaps big sis in the face while she tries to hang onto the squirming, kicking baby. Mom shouts 'I mean it! You're both going to get it!'
When a fitting room finally comes available mom turns to the fitting room attendant and says 'Watch them while I try these on'. Not a request. An order.
My jaw almost hits the floor.
She chooses to bring the children. She chooses to overload her arms with clothes to try on, at least a good hour's worth of clothes changing, and now the fitting room attendant is expected to be her babysitter.
The fitting room attendant declines politely, explaining that she can't be responsible for the kids.
Mom begins another cursing fit, throws the clothes on the floor next to baby's rejected wish list, and starts yelling for the kids, with another severe outburst at big sis for not keeping baby under control. She storms out of the store screaming about what a horrible place this is and that she'll never shop here again. She's going to call corporate and complain. She stalks out to her SUV, her face distorted into a mask of insanity as she screams and yells unheard instructions at poor big sis who is trying to wrangle baby into a car seat.
When she was safely out of the parking lot and on her way back to her happy life, I walked over to the fitting room attendant, who looked up at me sheepishly, with tears in her eyes from the verbal beating she had just taken. I felt bad for her. I let loose a few choice names for 'crazy mom', telling her not to worry about it. If anything we should feel sorry for those kids. She's creating monsters that she's going to have to deal with later on. Her life must be horrid. Can you imagine being that stressed out all of the time? And teaching her kids to get that stressed out whenever they don't immediately get their way?
The ladies waiting patiently in line for their fitting rooms chimed in with their own support…
'I don't take my kids shopping with me. It's not fair to them…'
'She can afford that purse, but she can't afford a babysitter?'
'I've got news for you. That purse is a knock-off.'
'It's not your fault honey, that woman is nuts…'
And then a woman who was old enough to have finished raising her kids said the most profound thing:
'I wonder why people like that even have kids? Some sort of self gratification I guess.'
I can't think of anything that will guarantee that your kids will grow up to be frustrated, miserable people more than teaching them that they, for whatever reason, should expect immediate gratification. That their wants and desires should become someone else's priority, simply because that's what they want. Now. And they absolutely should not be made to wait.
I see similar behaviors every day in different forms. From the grocery store to vacation spots, I see kids stressed out because they cannot get what they want immediately, and I see their parents and how they behave, how their stress and frustration is passed on to their children. It won't be long before those chickens come home to roost.
If all kids grow up to think that others should acquiesce to them, they are bound to live lives of frustration and anger. Because no one is going to give them what they want all of the time. Particularly not others who have been raised to think that what they want, they should get as well.
It is a vicious circle.
Disclaimer: This story is based on actual events; however the details have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent. If you see yourself or any of your family members in these characters, I can promise you that I probably was not writing this about you. And you should seek family therapy as soon as possible.
"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." – Winston Churchill