Our Parents Did Their Best, Didn’t They?
Our parents did their best, right?
This is not your usual parenting blog, and ‘yes’ is not going to be at the top of my list of relevant answers. If you’re looking for support for a normal parenting model, structure, discipline, that sort of thing, move on. I am not in the business of seeking to be popular with the great masses on those topics, and here you will find only one piece of advice regarding those things. Unless your child has special needs I don’t know anything about – just don’t do it, or rather do it as little as possible. I don’t mean socially possible, or possible for us, uh . . . mentally without a lot of internal conflict and even pain. I don’t care about that. I mean, I care, a little. Parental pain however, is not my primary concern; this is for the kids, as they say. What I will accept as a real constraint is money. If you’ve got to go to work and your kid is screaming blue bloody murder and doesn’t want to be dropped off – well then my concern may also be that you keep your job and the kids continue to eat and enjoy their roof – still though, there is probably an entire range of income levels where people might say that. At some point, uh, no. Somewhere between if you’re rich and if you really could stay home without losing that home, your excuse for forcing and frightening that kid starts to wear thin. I’m not saying ‘Ladies, stay home.’ I’m saying go to work, Mom AND Dad even, but find a way to get to work without having to use force and discipline on your kids, that’s all. Your chance of parenting success improves if both parents are doing the work.
That’s all I’m saying.
If you’re poor, or unsupported, working class, even lower middle class, people have to work, and so my ask of the world of parents becomes a big one. I know you have to move them around quickly, I know certain sorts of misbehaviours just aren’t tolerable in the short term and a short-term only fix, less than optimal as it is, is sometimes all you’ve got. Society, inequity, all manner of evil shit conspires to make life tough all around and worse for the poor and working poor, and anyway, everyone thinks that the tougher we are on our kids the better, so no shame in it, it’s normal. I still ask one thing though:
Just think about it. Just as you go about your busy days, doing all the stuff you have to do, just try to keep me and my plea – don’t punish your kids – in mind, see how it fits. Maybe notice the times when a promised punishment wound up with the kid in harm’s way from trying to avoid it, or that the worst kids seem to have the parents who are ‘using discipline in the most vigorous way,’ things like that. I know most of us don’t have the luxury to wait and reason with a child, but just start to think about doing just that if you could. A lot of rich folks could, but they never think about it and they don’t.
What we do regarding discipline is the problem, and not a solution for anything in the medium or long terms. Structure, unfortunately, requires discipline, so that’s out the window too. So to whatever extent you can afford it, even if it’s only dreaming about gentle, patient parenting, please, live free-range, give up the structure and the tradition and anything else that makes you want to punish your kids, that is my position.
Are you still here? Really?
You know I mean any punishment at all, right, not just the physical stuff, not just hitting and corporal punishment? That I mean don’t take away screen time or favourite toys (or God forbid, pacifiers, rattles, or Mom), don’t ground punitively (you may sometimes need to keep a child or teen home for their physical safety, I suppose), don’t put ‘in timeout,’ none of it? Just don’t do anything if you’re doing it for the specific reason that your child won’t like it. OK?
OK, we must be alone now!
Where were we? Oh yes:
Our parents did their best, right?
First of all – so what? ‘Did their best!’ That, as they say, plus a couple of bucks will get you a coffee at most places. Seriously - Hitler could have said that! Again, seriously! What do you suppose are the odds that his final prayers included the words ‘God, I tried, God, I did my best . . .’ oh, Man. I so want to blather on about Hitler right now . . . but no, back to kids, more important by sheer numbers. Riddle me this, Dear Reader if there is one, or Objection, Your Honour if you prefer: relevance?
In what other situation, when humanity attempts some feat and fails, is the admission – ‘they did their best’ – also the solution? That shouldn’t be the end of it! Of course it amounts to an Appeal to Emotion and can only serve to put a stop to any further questions, but sure . . . there. All fixed. Sigh.
Of course they did their best. If the Hitler illustration wasn’t clear enough: we all try to do our best. But what is it we’re doing that we have determined is ‘the best’ we have to give? Again – refer to your Hitler lessons. Everybody’s ‘best’ means something different and it’s not a good enough answer; we need to know why things go wrong, duh. But there’s something else.
If all the parents in our family’s history ‘did their best’ and that somehow means it’s OK or at least that we’re not going to talk about it anymore, then I would like to contrast that with how we seem to feel about them, the other, all those other parents out there whose best isn’t good enough at this very moment. Surely there must be a huge number of people out there who are neglecting their responsibilities and not educating or disciplining their kids. How else to explain the state of affairs in the world, the bullying, the disrespect, the crime and delinquency?
(I wanted to say ‘the music’ but I thought the joke would work better if I didn’t give it away for another quarter-second.)
With the present state of affairs, can we dispense with the apologetics and say that it might matter if the current batch of parents’ best isn’t good enough? No? Careful there, you’re right, it’s a trap: if the excuse that works for our parents works for the other, then we’re not going to be able to blame things nowadays on parents nowadays. After all, they’re doing their best, right? So . . . yes? It matters? Of course it matters, if parenting matters at all, but that is not enough agreement to matter, is it? How does it matter, exactly, that’s the thing. If it’s the thing I said above, ‘a huge number of people out there who are neglecting their responsibilities and not educating or disciplining their kids,’ then first, I thought you left the room a long time ago, and second, uh, no, not so much. There is no such large group of parents. How many do you know, how many people have you ever met who profess no interest in disciplining their children? Seriously, that hypothesis is bigotry in the broadest sense, postulating something that it is possible to believe about the other, but patently ridiculous if it were suggested about ourselves.
Pretty much everybody in our culture believes in discipline, don’t believe the talk, as if the support for discipline is threatened. Still, it is possible to see the world and children and teens as being in a terrible, uncontrolled state – so if there’s anything to it the answer must be somewhere else. And it is.
So they did their best, that’s true as far as it goes – not very far – and we can’t blame them, but I tell you this: if we don’t look at it, if we don’t figure out exactly how their best wasn’t good enough, we are going to repeat their mistakes, and our kids will say of us, ‘they did the best they could.’ - and they’ll be wrong. We have our chance to make changes right now, but we don’t want to even look at it.
June 5, 2015