Sunday, January 13, 2013

I'm A Bad Parent - Calgary Sun Column

By Stephen Lautens

January 11, 2013

I am admittedly a bad parent. To be perfectly honest, my son stays up too late, gets too many treats and is probably exposed to many things more mature than his age.

Oh, to other parents I pretend that I’m strict about such things. I’ll make noises about big, healthy breakfasts, 10 km bike rides and reading nothing but improving books on the weekend, but the ugly reality often falls well short.

Some parents underachieve out of laziness or desperation. I understand. Being a parent is a full-time job and requires constant attention. Every day requires a million little decisions and several large ones, and you can never be quite sure that you are making good ones because it will be years before you know if you were on the right track.

That’s why we make hundreds of little course corrections every day. Parenting is like sailing across the Atlantic with a barely functioning compass. In a storm. While fighting off the Kraken.

The books on parenting? If you’ve read one or two dozen you know they’re useless. Every kid needs his or her own book, because every child is different. And if you find something relevant, your kid changes fifteen minutes later and it doesn’t work any more.

There are times when you wish you could take a parent break and just let them do whatever they want without any adult supervision. Let them eat ice cream all day, paint the dog and wear ice skates to bed? Anything to get a five minute break.

But you can't, or at least you shouldn't. You have to look over their shoulder while they surf the Internet and sit down and watch their favourite TV shows with them. You have to talk to them, especially when they’re trying to figure out the world, other people and especially themselves.

In a word, it’s exhausting.

There are also the parents who take the cautious and easy route of denying their children everything - sugar, cartoons, toys that are actually fun. They are super cautious either because they’re afraid of making bad decisions or they don’t believe their kids can be trusted to make good decisions.

And that’s where the “bad” parenting comes in. Unless our son is making big mistakes, my wife and I don’t sweat the small stuff. We leave candy out on the table and the video game console isn’t locked on a timer. As a result my son walks by them without even a glance.

One of the tests came last week when my son was lobbying for a new video game a few of his friends were playing. It was called “Gut Splatter 7: The Revenge of Chainsaw Jack” or something similar.

I checked it out online. I didn’t like what I saw. It wasn’t just violent. It was sadistic and cruel, and that’s where I draw the line.

I'm not a psychologist - just a father. I'm not qualified to say what makes some kids aggressive or worse and don’t believe video games can make good kids turn bad. But I sat down with my son and talked about the danger of dulling your empathy and compassion, even if you can tell the difference between games and real life.

Bad parent I might be, I was drawing a line. I expected my 11-year old to be upset. Instead he surprised me.

“Thanks dad,” he said. “I probably shouldn’t play it then.”

I’d love to take credit for bringing him up right, if I only knew where I didn’t go wrong. 

© 2013 - Stephen Lautens