Remember those horrific, "Mommy, mommy" jokes? Unbearably offensive a generation ago, they are almost unpublishable by the more enlightened standards of today: "Mommy, mommy, I don't want to go to Europe." "Shut up and keep swimming." "Mommy, mommy, I don't want to run in circles." "Shut up or I'll nail your other foot to the floor."
Whether "Life imitates art" is beyond the scope of this poor author. But I frequently hear scathing examples of bad parenting that seem to be beyond parody. Here is a recent favorite. A divorced dad is talking to his daughter on the phone. A visit has been scheduled for that evening.
Dad: "Are you coming to see me because you want to? Or are you coming to see me because your mother is making you?"
Horrific, right? Puts the kid in a bad spot. What is she supposed to say? There's no good answer. Here's another one. The only back-story you need is that the divorced dad has had an argument with his adolescent daughter and has left her in a department store. Driven away. At night. On the other side of town. Here is his text:
Dad: "I'm gone and I'm gone for good. Call your mom she can come get you."
There is so much wrong with this communication that one hardly knows where to begin. The lack of punctuation between the words "mom" and "she" cries out for attention. A semicolon would make, "Call your mom; she can come get you" that much more emphatic. But even a period would correct the run-on sentence. If this child isn't going to see her father for some time-which seems likely, frankly-shouldn't her last memory of their time together at least be grammatically correct? The purists among my readers might argue that rhetorical concerns are the least of this dad's issues. Some elite few might even suggest that abandoning an adolescent daughter to be picked up on the other side of town in a department store at night is a criminally inept act, never mind shitty parenting. And who am I to disagree?
What could be worse? You'll be sorry you asked. Unfortunately, we're only getting started. Here are actual summaries of recent conversations I've had with parents. If it sounds like I'm being judgmental and condescending, that's only because I'm being judgmental and condescending.
1) Statement: My children's responsibility is to do well in school. There is no reason for them to load the dishwasher, mow the lawn, or walk the dog.
Justification: Academics take precedence over responsibilities. The kids will doubtless be successful and be able to hire subordinates to make their beds.
Likely result: Kids who are unable to do anything, academic or otherwise.
2) Statement: I smoke pot with my high school age children.
Justification: The kids are going to take drugs anyway. It's better that they get high at home where I can supervise.
Likely result: Kids who take drugs at home and elsewhere.
3) Statement: I do my child's fourth grade homework for him.
Justification: He won't do his homework by himself.
Likely result: Yeah, nothing is going to change here.
4) Statement: My kid is disrespectful and yells at me. So I yell at my kid.
Justification: I can yell louder.
Likely result: How's that working out for you?
In all these examples, somebody needs to stand up and be the parent. That somebody has to BE the actual parent because the position of child is already occupied. By the child. So you have to contain your excess emotions--anger, for example--so that your kid can feel her own feelings.
Some people pontificate endlessly about how hard it is to raise healthy kids in this toxic culture. "Process addictions are everywhere!" these pundits intone. "Threats to families are ubiquitous!" they go on. "Watch out for that tree!"
Maybe being a good parent is simpler than all that. Perhaps the dangers to healthy families can be kept outside the home. Maybe all you need to do to be an adequate parent is to put your child's need in front of your own. And the rest will take care of itself. Putting your child's needs ahead of your own may just involve the following:
- Getting up in the middle of the night to change a diaper.
- Eating salads once in a while.
- Reading bedtime stories even when you'd rather be sitting in the hot tub with Sophia Vergara sipping Veuve Clicquot.
And of course, being a responsible parent does not involve:
- Doing homework for your kid.
- Absolving your kid of responsibility
- Encouraging your kid to become a drug addict.
- Yelling like an idiot.
- Leaving your kid in a department store.
In any case, I welcome your stories about the worst parenting you've seen lately. Your contributions will be posted on the website. Click here to share your vignettes. Extra credit for not being judgmental and condescending.