Dear Sensible Midwesterner,
I know these people.
The man and the woman are divorced. When the man comes to visit his 2 children ages 5 and 9 at the mother’s home and she has prepared a plate of food for each child, as they sit down to eat, the father always steals food off their plates and scoffs it down before they have had a chance to eat. He does this every time. I’m wondering what this must do psychologically to the children.
I feel it is domineering behavior and belittling to the kids and making them feel worthless. What do you think about this scenario?
Concerned in Connecticut
Dear Concerned in Connecticut,
A sensible Midwesterner can read that you don’t like this man much, that’s for sure. Word choices like “steals” and “scoffs” (along with “worthless”) give you away. Does your dislike make you see otherwise fairly typical behavior (how much mas-and-cheese have most parents eaten off their children’s plates?) in a sinister light? Perhaps.
Reading your letter with that in mind, it’s tricky not to think this man is doing what parents have done for generations—nay eons!—with varying degrees of fall-out.
The thing about psychological effects of parenting choices is that they vary. Different children can experience the exact same action in wildly different ways. Take a father who steal the frosting off a child’s birthday cake. To some people that would become story that summarized their father’s overall selfishness or lack of regard; to others it would become a hilarious anecdote about their father’s love of sweets. They could both be totally correct, by the way. Context, personality, and perspective are everything in these things.
That the mother appears to be inviting her ex-husband into her home while she’s feeding the children despite this behavior, and you don’t mention that she objects, a sensible Midwesterner can’t help but think you are, perhaps, blowing things a tad out of proportion.
You don’t mention where you fit in this situation. Are you a grandparent of the children? A neighbor whose children play with the ones in your letter? It sort of matters and it sort of doesn’t. In the end, unless the children and/or their mother object, any sensible person would realize that this stretches the definition of “scenario,” with its implications of plot and drama, and is, in any case, none of their business.