By Mordechai Schmutter
I’m a horrible parent. I know, because my kids told me. And they’re my kids. If they wouldn’t know, then who would? It’s about time I admitted it. And it’s not just me; my wife’s a horrible parent too. We’re a team. It’s about time I admitted it for her.
I can’t believe it took me 11 years to realize this. I apparently never learn. You can tell me something over and over and it won’t sink in until I come up with it on my own. Apparently, this is genetic.
We never hear it the other way: “You guys aren’t so bad; my friend’s parents are meaner!” All we ever hear about anyone else’s parents are the “good” things. “His mother lets him ride a bike without a helmet.” What are we supposed to say?
“Well, his mother doesn’t care about him as much.”
That’s not going to come back to bite us:
“My mommy said your mommy doesn’t care about you.”
“As much! I said ‘as much’!”
Sometimes, we don’t let our kids do something that, in the words of our kids, “everybody’s parents let them” do. Everybody’s parents. They all got together and had a meeting about it. And we weren’t invited because we’re bad parents. They don’t want to hear our genius ideas.
Everybody? Seriously? How do you know this? You’re not even friends with everybody. For example, my kids recently told me about this new fad toy that everybody has, which is basically a bag of rubber bands. Seriously, that’s it. Tiny rubber bands. They’re too small to use on anything, except maybe braces, but you’re supposed to tie them together and make bigger rubber bands that you can then wear on your arm.
But I hear about the fad things last, apparently, because I miss the meetings. So my kids have to tell me.
“Everybody has rubber bands.”
They’re rubber bands. I have some in my desk that you can play with. Mine are beige.
The only reason my kids even want them is because the other kids have them. I could see the other kids telling their parents, “Can I have it? Everyone except Schmutter has it.”
Another way in which we’re horrible parents is that we don’t even give our kids everything they ask for. And they don’t ask for much. Just everything they want and everything they saw that they just realized they want and everything that everyone else has, even if they otherwise wouldn’t want it. (To be fair, that’s the only reason I wear neckties—because everyone else has one. I wear them to shul and that’s it, and I daven for them to go out of fashion. Unless they’re going to be replaced with rubber bands or something.)
We don’t buy our kids everything that they ask for in the store. Even things we can clearly afford. Sometimes we say no for no reason other than that we don’t want to say yes to everything. Aren’t we horrible? Sure, we could claim that if we gave them what they ask for, they’re not going to stop asking for things. They’re not going to say, “Well, I’m not going to ask for candy today because he already bought me a toy.” But that’s really just an excuse on my part.
Also, sometimes we say they can have the item if they earn it. Can you imagine? Adults can buy whatever they want even without earning it.
And not only that, we sometimes make our kids do things around the house without even rewarding them. Like picking up things that they left on the floor. Or putting their shoes away so they can find them in the morning. Or putting things in their knapsacks so they don’t have to do it in a rush the next morning with one shoe on. Or taking plates out of a cabinet and putting them on a table. (Though maybe we can be excused for that one. Normally, they love taking things out of closets and scattering them all over the place. We’re playing to their strengths.)
But my point is that we ask them to do things all the time. Is this why we had kids? So we could have someone to clean up toys and put away homework and set the table for that many people? For goodness’ sake!
And here’s what happens: I ask them to do one thing, and they don’t do it. They continue whatever it is they’re doing, which is of course really important. Then a second job comes up, and I ask them to do that, and also remind them about the first job that they still have to do. By the time they even notice I’ve been asking them to do things, I’m up to 15 things, and then they freeze up, because seriously, I’m asking them to do 15 things? Don’t I do anything around here?
So I tell them that they’re the ones who let it build up to 15 things. But their logic is that I was always going to ask them to do those 15 things—I was just sneaking them in one at a time. You think they don’t notice that? They invented that. It’s exactly what they do in the store.
And it’s not like I jump to do what they ask. Sometimes I’m working on the computer, and they say, “Totty, can you play with me?” and I say no, and they say, “So then can I play on the computer?” And I say no.
“Well, I either need to play with you or play on the computer.”
I’m a horrible parent. I should just stop working altogether and live out on the street so I can play with them all the time. But my logic is that I need to work so they can eat and outgrow clothing and continue to break things.
So I explain it to them when they ask:
“Why do you have to work?”
“So I can buy things.”
“Well then why every time we go to the store and we ask you to buy things, you give us a whole argument?”
And if I didn’t want to play with them, why did I decide to get them board games? They can’t play board games by themselves; they have to play them with me. My 4-year-old is the only one who plays board games by himself. It’s both cute and sad. He also makes up rules as he plays. But from his perspective, the older kids are also making up rules. He doesn’t know they read the instructions. Those were lost ages ago.
But my point is that our kids think that we’re making up rules as we go along too. And we sort of are.
For example, we have a rule that they can’t come into our room in the mornings without knocking. And their response is, “Well, everybody’s parents wake up before them and then wake them up.”
I don’t want to wake you up. I hate waking people up, because I know how much fun it is to sleep. I yell at you all night to go to sleep; if I yell at you in the morning to wake up, I’m sending mixed messages. Who’s the bad parent then, huh?
When I was a kid, I woke up before my parents too. It’s the way of the world. Parents need quiet at night with no kids around so they can get work done, and kids need quiet in the morning without the parents around so they can break things. And then they wake us up to tell us what they broke.
And okay, maybe our kids have some bad traits too. But it turns out that a lot of their bad traits are things that my wife or I used to do when we were little. We passed them on, apparently. You can’t give somebody something and then yell at them for using it.
Am I the only parent out there like this? I can’t be, right?
“Don’t worry about it,” I tell my kids. “Everyone’s a bad parent.”
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.