As I was frantically leafing through my copy of How to Talk so Kids will Listen to find out just how to address my five year-old who was draped over the kitchen chair accusing his brother of torturing him with a banana, I realized that my father would have simply walked to the telephone, picked it up, and threatened to call the Indians to take us away. Or told us to stop yapping and go and play in the traffic. Amazingly, I didn’t grow up with an inexplicable aversion to Native Americans, though admittedly I am not overly fond of highway driving. In fact, I grew up pretty well-adjusted; a least for a child who grew up in a decade of rolling around in the backseat of cars, chicken pox, swimming unchaperoned in pools that were regularly peed in and walking to Cumberland Farms with a note to buy cigarettes for my mother.
As parents today, we are running ourselves ragged trying to be the very best parents we can be. All the freaking time. Ironically, the kids we are churning out seem to be increasingly unhappy, but that’s another post. But I’m often left wondering if retro parenting, that is, parenting with a little less zeal and a little more common sense and humor, may not be the way to go. Oh hell, I know it’s the way to go. In the past few weeks I have, in moments of frustration, told my children that someday their father and I would be dead and they would be glad to have each other. I have also, when my eldest son did something that made me question his IQ, threatened to buy one of those tee-shirts that say “I’m With Stupid” and wear it when I’m with him. I’m not confessing because I’m particularly proud of these parenting gems (I’m not) nor because I think they are examples of good parenting (questionable), but to prove that it is just as ok to be more of an oafish Bert as it is to futilely strive to be a practically perfect Mary Poppins.
In addition to threatening Native American child slavery, my father also told my sister that her brain would shrink when she slept and fall out of her ear. If we were wandering around looking for my mother, he would tell us that she’d broken her leg and he had to shoot her. He often offered to kick us in the shin to make our (fill in the blank) stop hurting. We were yelled at, chased with wooden spoons, reprimanded, punished, grounded, and of course, spanked. The 70s was all about spanking. Positive discipline meant not hurting your palm when you smacked some bare butt. And while I don’t spank my own children out of personal choice, I don’t think badly of my parents for giving us the occasional backside backhand. Far from it.
Despite all these seemingly parental no-nos, I never doubted my parent’s love. Yet as parents today we fret over every statement we make to our kids. We take classes and read books and hover and search for the secret of how be practically perfect. But the secret is this: Mary Poppins was practically perfect in every way because she got to leave. If the going got tough, she could just take her spoonful of sugar and umbrella-fly the heck out of Dodge. She could chim chimminy herself into an alternate reality and enjoy a day out at the fair. She could even, I imagine, hide out in her carpet-bag until the coast was clear. The point is, she could leave. Parents can’t.
So for all us bumbling Berts out there, I hereby give you permission to stop striving for perfection, to laugh until you hit the ceiling and to go fly a kite, even if it means having pizza for the third time that week.
It’s okay to admit you don’t know the answer, that’s what Google is for;
It’s ok to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner;
It’s ok to pull something out of the laundry pile for them to wear to school just to avoid a scene;
It’s ok to stop at 7/11 and buy a chocolate croissant for lunch and call it a sandwich;
It’s ok to let them watch television while eating McDonald’s with a coke. How else are they going to learn moderation?
It’s ok if it’s store bought;
It’s ok for the kid’s bathroom to smell like pee;
It’s ok to shout. Not all day every day, but hey, we all know there are better ways of dealing with it, but sometimes it’s just easier to yell;
It’s ok to watch a movie in the middle of a sunny Saturday;
It’s ok to say you have other plans when you get invited to a birthday party, even if you don’t;
It’s ok to go a whole day or even a few without having a fruit or vegetable;
It’s ok to let your kids stay up late every now and again, even if it means they will be horrible and cranky the next day. Those are the nights memories are made in;
It’s ok to say something you instantly regret, and it’s equally ok to apologize for it;
It’s ok to admit you were wrong, or mistaken;
It’s ok to change your mind;
It’s ok to eat the Halloween candy before October 31 and then have to run out to get some more;
It’s ok to scare some sense into them from time to time. A plastic cup thrown across the kitchen in a fit of mom rage makes a lasting impression, just saying;
It’s ok (shudder) for their clothes not to match;
It’s ok to give them the same thing for lunch every day;
It’s ok if they aren’t playing Bach on the cello at age 6, or if they aren’t on track for Manchester United under 18s or they aren’t swimming 100 meters;
It’s ok to just let them play, by themselves;
It’s ok to hate board games, or puzzles, or Richard Scarry books;
It’s ok to feel like parenthood is more like GroundHog Day than Miracle on 34th Street;
It’s ok. It’s ok to have a little soot on your face now and then. To jump up and click your heels when school starts up again. To yell so loud you sound like a cannon. And most of all, to question which way the wind is really blowing when it comes to your own kids. Really and truly. If I survived the 70s, retro parenting and all, you’ve got nothing to worry about.