The Joy Of Parenting … Is Lost on Me

Don't feel sorry for the childless. They're probably happier than you.

Photograph by Getty Images

I don’t have any kids. Sometimes this makes me a little sad, but mostly, I am relieved. I am relieved because kids make a lot of noise. (For example, the child two seats ahead of me on this plane is yelling, "Hi-ho, hi-ho.") I am relieved because I don’t know what I would do if my kid came to me and said people were making fun of him on Twitter. I would probably want to kill Twitter, and Twitter is not something you can kill. Mostly, however, I am glad I don’t have a kid because my idea of parenting involves very strict control, and I am not sure how you would do that in a world where other kids are so, for lack of a better word, empowered.

I watch people parent now and think: Are you really just suggesting that your kid throw his gum into a fountain? Are you really presenting your kids with a choice of what he wants to eat for lunch, instead of just giving him food and saying, eat this? Are you really telling your kid that driving home from a party while shit-faced was “a bad choice?” I have a friend whose kid smokes tons of crazy, potent, brain-stunting weed. I asked my friend if this worried her and she said, “Well, it’s not like I can stop her from smoking pot.” From her tone of voice I realized I was just supposed to agree, but what I was thinking was, “Really? Why can’t you?”

I have always thought that annoyance with my friend’s kids was justified. There’s certainly a lot of support for it in the cultural conversation about parenting these days — the conversation is well represented in the lines above. And I have always had this image of my childhood, in which my parents successfully molded me into a being, more or less, just like them.

But then I started thinking about something that happened when I was 15 and my brother was 17. We had a party. There were only about 15 people at this party, and nothing earth-shattering horrible happened at it, aside from us all getting really drunk, but when my parents found out about it, they were furious. They barely spoke to us for a month, and they remained mad for a long, long time. A long time like years. I thought about how it felt to have having disappointed them, and to fear disappointing them again, and how it made me behave. I barely drank for the rest of high school. I don’t think I ever lied to them again.

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I had always held that up in my mind as an example of good parenting, how terror can lead you away from bad behavior. Sure, I didn’t enjoy it, but kids needed to be afraid of their parents, kids needed to be afraid of doing bad things. If it hadn’t been for that fear, I would have been doing all those bad, scary things — like drinking, smoking pot, driving drunk, hanging with people who may have distracted me from my very important ultimate goal of graduating from a prestigious college — and not been doing good, safe things, like, I don’t know, getting good grades and watching "St. Elsewhere."

Then I realized that when I got angry at my friends for not being more strict with their kids or at my friend’s kids because I felt they weren’t behaving properly and respecting their parents, I wasn’t just angry. I was also jealous. I was jealous of them because they weren’t being shamed every time they did something bad. I was jealous of them because they didn’t walk around in constant terror of their parents. I thought about the good grades I got, and whether they were worth being conditioned to have a fear response to just about everything that comes in my path. My guess is that they’re not.

I’m not saying that there’s not some screwed up parenting going on these days. I’m just saying that as far as I’m concerned, I now realize I also see kids whose parents cut them a lot of slack through this lens of resentment: “I had to be intimidated and brow-beaten into becoming the person I am today, and you should be, too.” The truth is, I really don’t have any idea what ultimate effect someone’s less than ideally strict parenting is going to have on their kid. It seems like some pretty successful people — this is sort of a weird one, but the song writer Dr. Luke, who is a fucking genius, used to sell pot to his own mom — had some less than ideal adult supervision.

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As the child two seats ahead of me is still screaming and his mother seems to have made no effort to curb his behavior, I would like to add that the above, with all its “who am I to judge” and “live and let live” sensibilities, does not apply to airplanes.

Tags: Parenting