Five Parenting Myths–or Lies (According to Me)

I’ve been a parent for over 20 years now.  I’ve also been a child for 51 years.  So, I know a thing or two about parents and children.  Experience is, after all, the best teacher.

I don’t listen to parenting advice, because most of it is useless.  I also haven’t done any research on parenting, except for my own hands-on research with three sons.  As a result, anything you read here should be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s unlikely that I know any more than you do, unless you don’t have children.  In that case, I know more about parenting than you will EVER know, unless you end up having kids.  As an aside, if you have dogs, I’m fine with that, but it doesn’t count unless you have to send your dog to college or it learns to drive a car.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stuff about parenting.  Most of it is wrong, at least for me.  As a service to my fellow parents and future members of the club, here are the Five Myths of Parenting:

1.  PARENTING IS THE HARDEST JOB YOU’LL EVER HAVE

I guess this is possible, depending on what kind of job you have.  I’m a lawyer, and it’s a pretty hard job.  I’ve worked long hours under tremendous stress.  Parenting isn’t nearly that stressful.

Have you ever heard of a “belt mucker?”  That’s a job in a coal mine where you clean up coal spills on the conveyor belt line.  You use a shovel.  Often, you work bent over or on your knees because there isn’t room to stand up.  Sometimes, the mine floor is so wet that you have to use buckets to clean up the coal and muck.  It’s a hard, hard job–much harder than being a lawyer and a hell of a lot harder than taking care of children.

Watch the film The Hurt Locker.  Think about being on a bomb squad in Iraq.  Helping Johnny with his homework doesn’t seem so tough, does it?

I saw a guy pumping out a port-a-potty the other day.   I bet he wouldn’t mind doing your kid’s laundry.

None of this means being a parent is easy.  Nothing worthwhile is easy.  Nevertheless, there’s a huge gulf between easy and the most difficult thing on Earth.  If parenting is the hardest job you’ve ever done, chances are you’re doing it all wrong.

2.  YOU MUST DO THE BEST YOU KNOW HOW TO DO

We all like to think we’re doing our very best in raising our children.  That’s a lofty goal, but it’s not true nor is it necessary.  Is there anything you do that you always do the best you know how to do?  How about your job?  C’mon.  Everyone slacks off at work.  You take vacations don’t you?

The thing about parenting is that you’re always on the clock.  We all take breaks on occasion, and that’s okay.  Ever park your kid in front of the television?  I have.  My oldest son used to be hypnotized by Barney.  We need that sometimes.  Who among hasn’t sent one of the kids to a neighbor’s house just for some peace and quiet?  Again, it’s okay.

Here’s what we should do all the time:  Stuff. Something. Anything (assuming it’s not harmful).  Make your kids dinner, even if it’s crappy.  Ask them about school, even if you really don’t give a damn at the moment.  Feign interest in what they’re doing, even when you are much more concerned about yourself.    Go to their ball games despite them being poorly played or your kid not being any good.  Act like you’re interested.  Maybe this is the best we can do, but that’s doubtful.

Just do stuff.  Half-ass is okay.  Often, you’ll be totally on your parenting game and fully engaged.  When you’re not, just do stuff.

3.  YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR CHILD’S SUCCESS

This is a double-edged lie–that you are responsible for the success of your children and the converse that you are to blame for their failures.  Although you can make substantial contributions to either outcome, you can’t truthfully claim credit.

Your kids are people–human beings even.  They make decisions.  They don’t listen well.  Some of them, despite being otherwise fine children, rebel against your advice.  I was like that.  If told to do something, I spent all my energy on finding another way to do it.  The older they get, the worse it gets, too.  Have you ever tried to force someone to do something?  It’s not easy.

Maybe your kid does well, because you’re the greatest parent on Earth.  Then again, maybe your kid has certain natural strengths and exploits them.  I have two sons who are excellent athletes.  Why?  They were born that way.  Another of my sons is as smart as anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s just how he is.  I didn’t train him to be that way.

Let’s say you send your kid to only the best schools.  Here’s a little secret that your kid probably hasn’t shared with you.  Kids at the best schools drink, take drugs and have sex with each other.  They do. If your kid wants to find a bad crowd, it’s right there.  You can provide opportunities for your son or daughter, but if he or she does well, give credit where credit is due–and it ain’t to you!

If you are fortunate enough to be able to provide the best for your kids–schools, clothes, houses, etc.–consider that your kids have many advantages.  In fact, they should do well under those conditions.  If you’re born on third base, you didn’t hit a triple.

The other side is that your kid may do very poorly.  Do you want the blame for that?  I sure wouldn’t.  The good news is that it’s probably not your fault.  Oh, you may play a part, just like with the successes.  You may be one of those despicable parents who do nothing for their kids.  If so, you’ve laid the groundwork.  Ultimately, though, your kid gets to own his or her failures.

Another reminder–here’s what you can do:  Something.  Just do something.  Try.  Give them some direction.  Set a good example.  Help them when they need help.  Be sure they go to the doctor.  Feed them.  Clothe them.  Just put forth a little effort.  Something is better than nothing.

4.  YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN

I’m not suggesting that you ignore your children.  Of course, we all should try to shield our children from harm and do no harm to them ourselves.  That’s not the same as insulating them from the world.  That just can’t be done.

Nowadays, we’re bombarded with terrifying scenarios:  drug abuse, pedophiles, bullies, Internet stalkers, ungodly schools and general evil.  It would be nice to just spare our kids all of this.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We can’t.  The world has a lot of rough edges.  And that is where we all have to live.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.  If your kid gets bullied or just does something disappointing, it’s not because of bad parenting.  It’s what happens in the world.  Deal with the consequences, but don’t delude yourself into thinking you can smooth off all those rough edges.

We can’t hide our kids.  Bad things can happen to kids, just like adults.  Illness, accidents–even death befall kids.  Everyone who dies is someone’s child, you know.  Now, I realize this will step on toes, but even God won’t protect your kids from the world.  What makes you think you can?

If something bad befalls your kids, it’s not your fault–unless you did it.  The world is a tough place.

Again, do stuff.  You won’t always do the best you can, but do stuff.  Every little bit helps.

5.  YOUR CHILDREN MUST BE YOUR NO. 1 PRIORITY

This is another lofty goal, but unrealistic for all but the truly deranged.  Think about it.  If your kids really are your Number 1 priority, that means they rank ahead of you; your spouse,  faith and job; and everything else.  If you have more than one child, you have to spread this maniacal devotion among multiple targets.  That’s a tall order.

I’ve heard many people say “My children come first.”  I doubt that’s true or even should be.  For example, I have a job and need it to feed, clothe and shelter my kids.  If I always put them before my job, I’ll soon be unemployed and spending ALL my time with them.

Are you married?  If so, you might think about making your spouse a top priority.  Here’s a radical thought for many:  Sometimes, your spouse should be your top priority.  If your kids rank ahead of your spouse, you probably have a fairly toxic relationship going on there.  Good luck.

There’s also a fine line between prioritizing your kids and making them think they are the most important people on Earth.  The latter is not good.  Kids are already self-centered ego maniacs.  They believe that the world exists for their entertainment.  Reinforce that for them, and pretty soon you’ll have little monsters.

Try this for a more realistic ideal.  Your kids should be a top priority.  Keep them in mind.  Just don’t let them choose the dinner menu or decide what time they go to bed or what the family watches on TV.  Just pay some attention to them.  My kids want my time–not all my time.  Just some of it.

So, I can sum up all I know about parenting with this:  Do stuff.  Some of it will be really good and pay off.  Some of it won’t.  One day, your kids will have kids and know just as little you do.  Then, they’ll think you’re a genius and may even seek your advice.  Do stuff.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

How To Raise Your Children…or Not

Nothing generates more unsolicited advice than children.  Or, I should say “raising” children.  “Raising” connotes that this is a relatively simple task similar to growing tomatoes.  If you’ve ever grown tomatoes you know that they can turn out all kinds of different ways.  Some are big and beautiful and you beam with pride when your neighbors see them.  Others wither on the vine.  The neighbors see those, too, but you’re not so proud of those. Most are just kind of average.  You did your best.  Oh, well.

I have children–three of them, in fact. All boys. I was present at their births.  I’ve stayed up with them at night, fed them bottles, changed their diapers and read books to them.  I’ve played with them outside.  I’ve talked to them and paid great attention to them throughout their lives.  I notice when they grow.  I love them and I think they love me.  All of this qualifies me to advise anyone on how to raise THEIR children.  What?  It doesn’t?  Wait a second.  People have given me all kinds of advice about school, discipline, good manners, sports, and all other aspects of parenting.  You mean they are NOT experts?  Good Lord, why would they feel so free to impose their views on me?  It’s because they have children, and they know what to do.  Or so they say.

I can understand why parents might seek advice.  We all want to raise scholars, saints, athletes and world leaders.  No one intends to end up with Levi Johnston or Snookie.  Also, some children have such profound physical, mental and emotional problems that advice must be sought.  It is those that offer advice that must be ignored, at least by me.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about parenting or, more accurately, parenting advice.  It’s likely to be offensive, but so are my children on many occasions.  What do I know?  As much as you do, it turns out.

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have a child!  It’s a miracle.  It’s a blessing.  It’s a gift from God.  These and many other platitudes are sure to be thrown your way.  We’re all happy for you.  Really.  Good job.

Here’s the deal.  Procreation is not that impressive.  Sorry, but that’s a fact.  Take a look around, folks.  All these people you see got here through roughly the same process.  Oh, now some of us had to work at a little harder and spent time wondering why we had such difficulty doing something which countless teenagers accidentally accomplish everyday. But, by and large, it’s just biology.  Dogs, cats, wolverines, chimps, etc., all reproduce. Maybe that’s miraculous, too.  Possibly, it’s a miracle than anyone reproduced with ME.  I’ll grant you that one.  Overall, it’s just not that big a deal.

Octo-Mom has 14 children. FOURTEEN!  I don’t call that a miracle.  I call that science gone horribly wrong.  Charles Manson’s parents reproduced.  Good job.  So did Charles Manson.  Let’s don’t wear ourselves out patting ourselves on the back.

NOW WHAT?

If you have kids, you know the thrill of a new baby.  It’s just great.  Really.  They’re cute and funny and you just love them.  At some point, though, the work starts.  Usually, right after someone hands you the baby.

We took our first child home and laid him in the floor and just looked at him.  What do we do now?  It’s not a like a car.  They don’t give you an owner’s manual or an 800 number to call if something goes wrong.  They just say:  “Here’s your baby!  It’s a miracle!  Good luck to you.”

One good thing is that babies are tough–a lot tougher than they look.  You can drop them, although I don’t advise testing that theory.  (The second day my oldest son was home I dropped him but caught him by the neck before he hit the floor.  Tough little booger).  You can, like we did, fail to realize that even wet diapers must be promptly changed.  A horrible case of diaper rash will draw your attention to your negligence.  They won’t starve quietly.  So, you’re bound to feed them often.  These basic maintenance issues are much like caring for a pet.  You quickly learned just enough to keep the baby going.  That’s a great first step.

This phase passes quickly. Baby isn’t an “it.” Baby  is a him or her. Baby has a name. Baby has a personality.  Baby is a little person. With a big personality.  He can talk. He has opinions. He schemes. He manipulates. He charms. He lies. He’s a human. Now, the hard part starts…and never ends. This is also when the advice starts. Good luck with that.

IMAGINARY CHILDREN

“If I had a kid…” Say no more. You don’t have a kid. You don’t know what you’d do. Might as well say “If I owned a camel …” or “If I were an astronaut…” You don’t and you’re not. Shut the hell up.

Similar is “If he were my son…” This comes from someone who has a kid and presumes he knows what would help your son. Here’s the deal. He’s NOT your son. You haven’t seen his best and worst. Good days and bad days. You don’t know his strengths and weaknesses.  Clearly, if he were YOUR son, he’d be like you and know everything. Plus, if he were your son, he’d be your problem, and I wouldn’t need to hear about it.

LITTLE ANGELS

I love my kids. I also like them. They’re fun and funny. I like talking to them and hearing about what they’re up to. They often impress me, but they’re not perfect.  They’re  not angels nor do I expect them to be.

Some folks have kids who ARE little angels. They are perfect, at least that’s what their parents say. That may well be true. If so, you can’t help me. My kids are human. They are capable of great things. They can also disappoint me. They don’t take all my advice. They don’t listen. Their judgment is often very poor.  In other words, they are like me.

I suppose some children never disappoint.  That’s probably because their parents have no expectations of them and don’t give a damn about what they do.  The rest of us get frequent reality checks.

Perfect kids don’t do things like back talk, lie, break things, drink alcohol, smoke, curse, have sex, take drugs or just generally annoy their parents.  Their parents will tell you that.  They are the ideal.  They also have parents who apparently aren’t paying much attention to what they are doing.  Lucky dogs.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Some folks want things the way they were. “Back in my day….”  Things are better now. They just are.

If you are fond of social media as I am, you’ll see posts like this:

Growing up, I had only one toy, and it was a rock.  I wasn’t allowed in the house and had to play outside all day.  If I spoke at the dinner table, I had to eat with the dogs.  I said “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.”  I was hit in the face if I back talked.  I didn’t make eye contact with adults.  I grew up respectful of everyone and did no wrong ever.  If you had great parents like mine, repost.

Wow.  It sucks to be you.  Oliver Twist had it better.  These kinds of posts are based upon nostalgia.  Webster’s Dictionary defines nostalgia as an “excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”  We all believe, on some level, that things were better in the past.  In the parenting advice world, it translates into:  “This is how things used to be.  And they were just better.  If we all acted like this, everything would be better.”

Boy, oh, boy.  This is wrong in so many ways, I don’t know where to start.  First,  if all our parents were so good at raising kids, why have so many of us done so poorly?  Didn’t we learn anything? With such great parents, why do we need any advice at all?  Second, some people have horrible parents.  Maybe you did.  You probably don’t know that because they were the only parents you had.  Third, how’d you turn out?

Folks of my generation largely live in a fantasy world where everyone was raised by Ward and June Cleaver.  Hey, I knew people who had HORRIBLE parents.  Awful people.  These scumbags don’t deserve Father’s Day, Mother’s Day or even their next birthdays.  Here’s some advice that might be helpful:  Tell me how awful your parents were and how you learned from it.  THAT would be impressive.

SPARE THE ROD, PLEASE

If you hit your kids, I guess it’s none of my business unless you hurt them.  In that case, it’s everyone’s business.  It wasn’t always that way, but it is now.  That’s a good thing.  If you hit your kids, just don’t tell me that I need to do that, too.

I’m not perfect.  I’ve swatted my kids on the rear end. I’ve thought about strangling them…just a little bit.  I think that’s why babies are so cute.  Even when I’m enraged at my kids, I remember those little babies.  I wouldn’t strangle them. I’ve just reached the point that I’m sure that hitting my kids will help my relationship with them as much as hitting my wife will help my marriage. Readers of this blog know that I have, in fact, fought a woman, but that wasn’t a domestic dispute.

The few times I’ve spanked my kids I was mad.  This bothers me.  Why?  Because I was mad.  I get mad at many adults and hitting them often seems like a good idea, but I won’t do it.  One, I fear that I’ll be hit back.  Two, I fear I’ll get in trouble.  With kids, I don’t fear that.  That’s nice.  So, it’s okay to hit someone too small to defend himself and too much under my control to get me in trouble?  This isn’t a lesson I want my kids to learn.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  That’s not a Bible verse.  Sorry, but it’s not.  It comes from a 17th century poem called  Hudibras. The Bible actually says “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24.  At best, it’s a metaphor.  It doesn’t say to beat the crap out of your kid with a rod.  Discipline your children.  Simple stuff.  By the way, the Bible also says that if your son is disrespectful you should have him stoned to death.  Let’s take it easy on the ancient parenting suggestions.

We grew up with a kid who was raised by animals.  One day he comes to the house, and his back is covered in bloody welts.  He was beaten with a stick.  I’ll never forget what it looked like.  Now, would it be okay if it didn’t draw blood?  I’d say not.  I’d like to tell you that his story turned out okay, but it didn’t.  You don’t get to choose your parents.

I got spankings and whippings with a belt and a switch.  Why?  Because that’s how my parents were raised, I guess.  Never anything abusive, but it happened.  I guess I don’t trust myself enough to come at a kid with a weapon.  If you do, fine with me.  Just don’t tell me that’s what I need to do.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

When I was a kid, here is what I thought of adults:  Most of them seemed unhappy and bitter.  They were overly critical and suspicious and wanted to put an end to any fun I might be having.  Now that I’m 50 and my generation is now the ruling class, here is what I think of adults:  Most of them seem unhappy and bitter.  They are overly critical and suspicious and want to put an end to any fun I might be having. My friends and I vowed to never by like the adults, but we that’s exactly what happened.

Kids today.  Whew.  Listening that awful music.  Look at their clothes!  I wouldn’t have been allowed out of the house like that.  They’re disrespectful, too.  My parents wouldn’t have put with all that back talk.  Irresponsible, too.  We had chores and work to do.  Look at how lazy they are!  Does any of this sound familiar?  Of course, it does.  It’s what we all say now.  It’s also what our parents said about us.

Here’s a little test.  Did you, at any time before adulthood, do any of the following?  Smoke; drink; have sex; curse; lie; cheat; steal; take drugs; skip school.  If so, you were part of the problem.  Consider, too, that you listened to terrible music, dressed like an idiot and were generally a pain in the ass to your parents.  If you didn’t do any of that stuff, congratulations.  I hope you enjoyed those years being chained in your parents’ basement.

Here’s the point.  If any of your advice is founded upon a belief that kids today are so much worse than we were, you’re wrong.  Even my generation, raised by superior parents in superior times did the same stupid things that kids are doing now.  Lighten up.

WHAT NOW?

If you really are a parenting expert, write a book. Better yet, write a book about my kids.  I might even read that one.  It could contain helpful advice. My sons are three different people with three different personalities. Different strengths and weaknesses.  They were all raised the same but didn’t turn out the same. Chances are your book wouldn’t give me a different result.

Here’s MY parenting advice.  Do the best you know how to do at the moment.  Kids and their issues come at you at the speed of light.  Just do something.  Parents are great at acting put upon.  “It’s the toughest job in the world.”  I really doubt that.  Crab fishing looks a lot worse than parenting.  How about the guy who empties porta-potties?  Those jobs would suck.  Parenting is snap compared to that.

I think I had really good parents. They weren’t saints, but they did the  best they knew how to do. My Dad once told me: “Forget all these father-son fantasies.  Find out what your kids like and learn to like it yourself.”  THAT was good advice.

What about my kids?  They’re alright.  The good has far, far outweighed the bad so far.  They say I sound just like my Dad, which I guess is good.  They can aggravate me and disappoint me sometimes.  I’m sure I do the same to them.

So, everyone can (and will) continue to give parenting advice.  I’ll just nod and go on.  Gotta go now.  I’m sure one of my kids is doing something I need to deal with.  I’ll check back if I need any advice.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012