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September 02

The Problem With Modern Parenting is... Nobody Does Any
Colin James Haslett
'Does that sound like a lot of work? It is. It’s still called parenting'.

I don’t have any kids. I don’t have any pets either. Heck, I don’t even have any plants these days and, given the fates that befell those few plants I’ve had in the past, my never-born children and never-bought kittens have been pretty damned lucky. I do have to admit that I’d kind of like to own a cat (as much as anyone manages to own a cat), but I really don’t want any kids; the financial burden, the inviolable long-term commitment, the sleepless nights when they’re infants screaming in the darkness and the sleepless nights when they’re teenagers out somewhere in the darkness. Mostly I don’t want to be that responsible for another living being. And it seems to me that an awful lot of parents today feel the same way.

I know, I know, it’s easy to criticize from the sidelines and where do I get off telling people how to raise their kids when I don’t know anything about it? I’ll grant you that I am on the sidelines on this one, but I do know a thing or two about raising a child. You see, I used to be a child. Sure my memories of the first three or four years are a little fuzzy, but I was essentially present the entire time I was being raised. And I think I turned out okay. I’ve never killed anyone, as much as I’ve sometimes wanted to, and I pay my taxes, as much as I don’t want to. All in all I think I’ve turned into a pretty decent contributing member of society. I’m a nice guy for crying out loud.

Sure, fine, okay, I think my parents went a little overboard on that last one. I’m on record on that point, but letting me run wild in the streets like a feral dog wasn’t their only other option. A pity that I see so many children today being allowed to do just that – I’m sorry, I mean being allowed to express themselves freely. If I’d ever expressed myself that freely as a lad I’d have had my rump warmed in no short order. I’m certainly not saying that children should be beaten or abused but, as a friend’s father used to put it so well, there are no vital organs in an ass. Nor am I saying that children should be seen and not heard; I ran around the local park and yelled from the top of the monkey bars and got plenty of grass stains on my knees as a kid and I think that’s fine. What’s not fine is when children run around a restaurant that doesn’t have its own ball pit, or climb the shelves at the supermarket, or kick strangers in the shins and run away giggling or yelling obscenities. And what is absolutely not fine is when their parents just stand around while these things are happening, ignoring it.

Two recent events set this rant off. The first occurred a few days ago at my local outlet of a multi-national caffeinated beverage company. I won’t name them, but in the Austin Powers movies Dr. Evil owns them, as I think he may in real life. I go there to either have a quiet conversation with friends or to read whatever book I’m reading at the moment (Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins, and it’s absolutely brilliant by the way) in peace and quiet and someplace that isn’t my apartment. I don’t go there to listen to a nine or ten year old stomp around yelling, essentially, "Look at me," while that child’s father chats blithely on his cell phone. No "Behave," no "Stop that this instant young man," no "Right, off home with you and no video games for a week if that’s how you think you should act in public," just willfully blind ignorance. Although I’m pretty sure that would have changed had I given in to my baser instincts and clipped the child one around the ear hole.

The second event that set this off is considerably more chilling, but I’m not really sure how far removed it is otherwise. I made the mistake of reading the newspaper and came across a brief article on the sentencing of Rie Fujii. I’d made a similar mistake a couple of months earlier and read a longer story about her conviction, and I was awe struck by the sheer horror of what she’d done. For those unfamiliar, Miss Fujii left her two infant children, aged 3 months and 15 months, alone in her apartment while she went out of town to party with her new boyfriend for ten days. When she returned to discover that they’d starved to death in her absence she tossed the younger child’s body in the dumpster and went back out of town to continue partying. I’m literally shaking with rage as I type this, folks. I’m the guy who doesn’t want to take responsibility for a houseplant, but this woman had two children. Think about that for a moment: her commitment to the responsibility of being a parent was so non-existent that she actually had a second child that she couldn’t be bothered taking care of!

Am I out of line suggesting that these are two incidents of the same phenomena? I don’t think so. I think it’s only a difference of degree – a big difference perhaps but nothing more than that. And there are plenty of examples to fit in between these two. As loathe as I am to suggest this, watch a few daytime TV talk shows. Watch a mother claim that it’s cruel to refuse to give her 100 lb. two year old french fries when he cries. Watch another decry that her teen daughter dresses too sexily, but be unable to answer the audience’s question as to who buys the daughter her the clothes. Watch yet another beg the host to "Boot Camp" her out of control pre-teen, whom it seems she’s done nothing to control herself. Watch the news to see which video game company or movie studio or rock band is being sued for some teenager’s rampage or suicide by parents who didn’t think it necessary to monitor what their child watched or listened to. Check out a news report about pedophiles who convince young girls on internet chat rooms to pose naked in front of their web cams in their bedrooms. Shoot the pedophiles, sure, but what kind of lazy parenting does it take to put a computer with an internet connection in your child’s bedroom. Put it in the family room or kitchen; put it in a corner, with the monitor facing out so you can see it; don’t give the kids your password so they can’t go online when you’re not there; and make them wear headphones so they can’t tell when you’re standing behind them, reading over their shoulders.

Does that sound like suffocating zealotry intended to crush a child’s spirit? It isn’t. It’s called parenting. Does that sound like a lot of work? It is. It’s still called parenting. And does that sound like too much work? Then don’t have kids.

I know some damn good parents, and some of them are single parents before anybody tries to use that as a defense. Some of them don’t have a heck of a lot of money, almost all of the two parent families are two working parent families, and none of them have degrees in psychology or nannies or superhuman patience or natural parenting instincts. But they are putting in the time and the effort and they’re raising their kids right. And one of these days their kids are going to leave the nest to become productive members of society, and I’m afraid they’re going to wind up the victims of some little sociopath whose parents thought could raise himself because they just couldn’t be bothered.

Prospective parents should have to pass a test to get a license to have children. Bugger civil liberties and government interference: if society is going to have to clean up the mess left by lazy, inept, careless parents then it should be able to protect itself from them. You need a license to own a firearm or to drive a car or to be a teacher because of the potential for harming others, but when is the potential for harm greater than taking responsibility for raising a child? Nobody would support a system that said "Here’s a handgun or a sports car or a class of young minds, have fun and we’ll check in on you in a few years." People wouldn’t stand for it, but we’ll let anybody have a child with no concerns about whether or not they’re going even to try to raise it properly until it’s too late for us or the kid. And I’m not talking about a knowledge test either: you can learn how to raise a child. I mean something that will determine if you are actually willing to raise a child; if you will put in those sleepless nights; if you will hand out discipline and praise and help and affection as required; if you will pay attention to what your kids are doing and where they’re doing it and who they’re doing it with; and if you will realize that parenting isn’t quality time or quantity time, it’s full time.

© Colin Haslett October 2002

The Big Lie
Colin James Haslett
'A guy can die if he doesn’t get any'

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