Yesterday’s debate is an excellent reminder of the one holy truth in American parenting: it’s blindingly easy to look at other parents and think they’re goddamn insane. Not that I’d do this with any of you, but how many times have you driven home from some playdate or birthday party or miserable yard-monster-fest and commiserated with your spouse on how freakish other parents’ habits are?
Other parents let their kids get away with murder, they let their kids eat Strawberry Quik right out of the package, they stay up until 10pm or else they’re all put to bed at 5:30 in the afternoon, they hover over their kids like a storm cloud, they have no idea where their kids are, how could they have possibly gotten a Rottweiler, that kid is unbelievably fat, and that kid must be on the autism spectrum, blah fargin’ blah blah blah.
I say these things knowing full well I’ve indulged myself in them a time or two, and it certainly reveals some painfully shallow and judgmental aspects of my own character – especially instances where it’s so easy to blame the kid, even though the poor little soul is, by definition, doing only what he or she knows in order to survive. Certainly I should know better, having felt constantly judged and vilified growing up, even though I had been given ZERO lessons on what the world expected.
Of course, if we simply looked the other way when parents engage in crazy shit with their kids, then the whole “village” concept is a sham, and our community means nothing. As to the specifics mentioned yesterday by the observant la la, here’s where I’d stand:
1) Sticking your kid in a crib and leaving your house to do errands is illegal, unconscionable, and it’s entirely okay to call the DSS. Sean, you don’t count in this instance, because the deli is forty feet away from your bedroom, and Mom is home most of the time with a monitor. True, she’s probably bent over a score of “Peter and the Wolf” making corrections, but she’d know if the place caught fire.
2) Smoking pot and drinking beer whilst in your third trimester is not illegal, and it probably won’t do a damn thing to the baby, but you don’t need a post-doc psych degree from Amherst to sense much bigger issues at work here. I mean, you only have to stop drinking and smoking for nine months, and at 8 1/2 months, you haven’t got that far to go. If your jones is that severe, and you absolutely HAVE to be the chick with the enormous pregnant belly, a Bud Light in one hand and your mouth around a bong, you might be an addict, my friend. Which probably needs to get looked at.
3) Screaming at your kid about a “time out” during a party seems pretty sysiphean, but like my brother says, nobody has any idea how many methods a parent has exhausted in an effort to get their child to behave. Screaming “time out” may actually be the 45th technique she tried.
Leaving aside for the moment our extreme examples, the real battle most of us fight every day is this: where can we draw the line between our kids’ lust for adventure, and our fear for their lives? Obviously that line flutters and wows greatly by temperament and gender, but it remains constant through a series of microjudgments we make every few seconds we’re with them.
To those without kids, this must read as a manifesto of unrelenting misery, a non-call-to-arms if you will, a call-to-not-bother. Like anything gloriously worthwhile, the play-by-play is unbearable to describe. So I’d leave it at this: none of us on these pages will knowingly let our kids do anything disastrous. The rest of your parenting is more about your temperament, and occasionally you’re going to have to ask yourself if your style is doing you any favors.
My brother Kent always says that parenting is basically pass-fail, so, as far as grades go, we’re cautiously optimistic about this semester.