The Good, The Bad, and The Unfriendly

Parents get a lot of shit. They always have. And I’m not talking about the kind that comes from diapers (although that is plentiful). I mean, the moment you embark on this parenting journey, you open yourself up to the whole world for an onslaught of hyper-surveillance: where you’ll be over scrutinized as to whether you’re a good parent or not. Parents will undoubtedly find themselves overwhelmed by the critiques and advices piled upon them by everyone from family members to verbose TV personalities who think they have a say in how you must raise your kids, even though they have no children of their own. Any deviation you might make from the established and agreed upon parenting model will win you instant scorn and an earful of crap. On top of that, in this wonderfully modern era, you might even earn a new title to go along with your particular style of bad parenting. You could be called a Helicopter, Snowplow, or Jellyfish Parent so that other people can feel more comfortable pigeon-holing you into some reviled subcategory of human breeder, while they gleefully berate you for your lack of character or seemingly shortage of common sense.

When did our society become so much more unfriendly to parents (I wonder), and why do parents have to suddenly conform to so much more higher standards than their parents did in the past? Parenting encompasses such a vast amalgam of different traits, skills, and duties that I can’t imagine we can define any one approach to raising kids as good or bad. Why can’t everyone just leave us alone to do as we please?

Now, one thing that I want to make clear in the outset of this post, is that mothers take the brunt of the judgmental attitudes directed at parents. Mothers have to live up to near unrealistic standards these days (and throughout history) to be considered a good mom. As a dad, I basically just have to show up and people give me kudos, while moms have a completely different set of criteria to conform to. Not only that, but receiving a pronouncement of being a ‘bad mom’ is such an enormous implication for a woman’s self-identity;  it’s nowhere near what I would feel if someone called me a bad dad.

In any case, it’s still not fair for either moms or dads to face such scrutiny or opinion. When kids grow up to be bad people, parents always get the full blame for how they turned out, but no one ever considers how the external social values or cultural paradigms may have contributed to it. What makes matters worse is that other parents seem to be the worst culprits in the overdramatic judgements being thrown about to frame other parents as some sort of villain or idiot who has no business having kids in the first place. It’s almost as if, by mocking other parents, they can feel better about their own perceived failures in how they raise their own kids. It’s such a cliché. All in all, when you become a parent you will find yourself in an unfriendly, cutthroat world of cynicism. So… you know. Have fun with that.

As a stay at home dad, I face a lot of scorn for not living up to the stereotypical role of a father, because I’m not bringing any money to the home. However, as far as other areas of parenting go, I get a lot of praise. People see the way I interact with my boys and stay interested in their development, and they say, “You’re such a good dad.” Whenever I’m told that I say, “No I’m not”, because I honestly don’t think I am. On a very basic level, I feel like I’m not meeting a lot of the parenting standards, hallowed by society, which would merit that kind of title. I usually tell people, “I’m not a good dad, but I’m trying to be.” I know that, if my situation were different (like if I had more money, more time, or more help), I could be a better dad. As things are, I’m doing the best I can and when I compare myself to the admired methods of parenting laid out in popular culture, I’m severely lacking. But for the most part, I don’t like assigning titles like good or bad to parenting. In extreme cases, such pronouncements are valid, but for most parents, we’re just doing what we think is best. We may not always be doing the right thing, but I feel it’s our choice how to raise our kids.

In fact, I purposely engage in many of the poor styles of parenting subcategories which I previously mentioned. For example, when I take my kids to the park and let them play on the playground, I try to have the Free Range Parent attitude and let them do their own thing with little or no observation from me. However, when some pubescent, middle school-aged kids show up to the playground and run around with no sense of the danger their larger bodies might pose to the little kids around them, I turn into full Helicopter Dad. Furthermore, whether you call it Snowplow, Lawnmower, or Bulldozer Parenting, I fully participate in such activities when I see my kids struggling over how to act in this world and engage with other humans.

I feel like I use these parenting categories like a deck of Pokémon cards: can’t get my son to potty-train, Outsourcer Parent – I choose you! I’m fully aware I might be setting my kids up for future failure and may be failing them by not letting them learn to do things on their own, but I don’t care. I feel like there will always be time for them to learn that kind of stuff when they get older, but the time they have to be kids, have fun, and be sheltered is finite.

What’s more, I feel that all these ‘bad’ parenting styles are really just reactions to modern problems that parents have observed and faced first hand. Tiger Parents, who put their kids into anything from violin classes to learning Chinese, probably are worried their kids might be living in their basements until well into their thirties, like many Gen X and Millennial kids have done. Snowplow Parents might be taking as many obstacles out of their child’s way because they feel an overwhelming guilt about bringing their kids into a world where they will have less opportunities and more ecological problems than they did themselves. Personally, I feel a visceral rejection to many of the parenting practices that were common when I was a kid (and are still extolled today) and don’t want to subject my sons to the same treatment. For example, as a Gen Xer, I was a kid when the common practice of teaching a kid to swim was just to throw us into the water and let us figure it out. The same attitude of teaching was applied in many other circumstances of our upbringing, and I feel like it was just unnecessary and sometimes cruel. Like the idea that, even though attending public schools subject kids to bullying and extreme peer pressure, it’s believed to be the best way to prepare a kid to handle the social situations an adult is expected to face. Maybe I’ll be called an Elephant or Jellyfish Parent for going easy on my kids in that regard, but it’s totally by my choice.

For any parent reading this post, just know that any criticism you may be receiving about your parenting methods, whether it comes from other people, parents, or yourself, is to be expected and has no relation to how you are really doing. You’re going to get shit no matter what. If you are a new parent, it may be tough to not gravitate to the doctrines of good parenting set down in popular culture, but you need to realize you probably will never live up to such high standards anyway. The trick you need to learn is to embrace your imperfections as a parent. Find your own style, animal, or logo that suits the way you want to parent. If people want to label you as good or bad, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they know what they are talking about when they refer to you as some type of animal or some other insulting construct. In fact, maybe you could have fun and apply labels to all the haters out there so you can categorize them just like they’re trying to do to you. I’m not so clever in my attempts at it though. People who don’t have kids and try to tell me how to parent, I call Morons. Other childless people who give me advice based on how they care for their pets (which they think of as their kids) I call Nuts. Like I said, not so clever, but it helps to weather the critiques I face as a parent. In the end, the only people who I care what they call me are my sons. They just call me dad.

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