A Good Parent Has To Play The Bad Guy Sometimes

When I was young, I can remember being forced to spend the day with a family friend, Jimmy, and his son. Having recently been divorced, Jimmy was getting a rare day to spend with Jimmy Junior. He seemed so happy.

I, however, wasn’t. Jimmy Junior was kind of a dipstick and not the most fun to have around. I shuddered at the thought of spending a forced day with him and was elated by the time dinner rolled around because it signaled the end of the experience. Feed me and send them packing. That was how I saw it.

Before we began eating, one of the grown ups at the table raised their glass and offered a toast. Jimmy Junior, though, had already begun to drink from his cup. It caused an awkward moment where everyone was left waiting for him to raise his glass. Filling the silence, Jimmy Senior leaned in.

Raise your glass. Didn’t you hear they are making a toast?

Jimmy Junior lowered the brim of his cup every so slightly and, with his eyes angrily turned sideways, shouted.

I’m drinkin’ ova here! Whaddaya, blind?!

Silence swept over the table. I thought my eyes were going to pop from my head and roll around the floor. I looked to the adults for someone to scream or throw a chair at him. Nothing. Instead, his dad settled back into the chair and his awful kid finished his sip before lifting his glass. We all toasted as if none of that happened.

Oh, but it did happen. I saw it and it blew my mind. I remember remarking later, “His dad must hate him.”

annoylivTo a kid, stuff like that makes no sense. Seeing behavior like that would cause group conversations to break out among us kids about how we would eventually discipline our unborn children.   We’d make grand statements about how our kids “will never speak to me like that” or how we’d run our homes like well-oiled machines. Ask any elementary schooler how they will parent their children, and most will give you outlooks that rival dictators. Iron fist. It’s easy.

Oh yeah? Well, let’s imagine your child spoke to you like that…after you put in three hours of watching their favorite movie. It’s some animated garbage about princess fairies complete with songs and dance numbers. You take her for her favorite meal, buy her a Lala Loopsy, and spend the whole day doing some real parent-child bonding. It’s a perfect time with your child. It better be, you devoted a full day and lots of money to it.

So, what do you do, after that entire expensive day of magic, when they scream out “shut your mouth” in a crowded Macaroni Grill? Do you throw away hours and hours of work to create good memories? Do you spend the whole day making your kid happy, even at the expense of your own free time, only to send her to bed angry at you anyway because you corrected her rude behavior?

You’re darn right you do. That’s one of the parts about parenting that stinks the most, but it’s part of the job description.

It’s not so easy when the kids are no longer hypothetical. You’re not a ten-year-old, eager to grow up and yell at kids, talking about some imaginary children you don’t have. Now they’re real. Flesh and bone and attitude and anger all wrapped up in front of you and it’s your job to train them. Sure, it means throwing away any good will you’ve worked to build with your moodier-by-the-moment kid, but it’s your job. You signed up for this. You bought the crib. You got on the bus.

I’ve had to do it on a few occasions and, while there is always that pause in time to determine if a major battle is truly worth it, I never let anything slide completely without making her aware of it. Not everything has to be a tirade and warzone. Sometimes it’s a word or a look, but it needs to be done. If I let my daughter tear into the world without so much as a peep, I’ll be responsible for the monster she grows to be.

That’s the real issue. The world is full of angry adults who were never told to sit in the corner. I may not be one of them, but I see them all around me. They’re on line at the mall. They’re the people who make mall parking so annoying. They’re the ones screaming at McDonald’s cashiers on Youtube.

annoylucasMy children won’t grow up to be like that. If either one deserves to be sent to their rooms or given a talking to, they are. If my non-verbal son steals a quesadilla off his sister’s plate, he gets taken to his room. That literally happened on Saturday night. He cried and I sat him down to explain why. The fact that he’s non-verbal doesn’t prevent him from understanding a repeated “no, no, no”.   When I tried to give him a hug before bed and he pulled back, I felt awful but that’s part of daddy duty. He sulked while I turned out the light. The next morning, he was my best buddy again.

That’s the trick. I will punish my kids when they deserve it, but a punishment without explanation is like listening to a Ted Talk in a language you don’t speak. What’s the point? If your kids don’t know why you flipped out over them sticking peas up their nose, then sitting in their room accomplishes nothing more than making them angrier at you.

I love my kids with all my heart, but if I don’t do my part now to make them quality adults, the rest of the world will hate them with all their hearts later. I’ll take the glares, bad feelings, and wasted days at Chuck E. Cheese if it means my kids grow up to be wonderful people.

Even if they grow up to be jerks, that happens. I accept it. But if it does, I can rest easy knowing that no one will ever be able to say that it was because I didn’t parent them right.