Monday, October 7, 2013

Praising Bare Minimum Parenting

I suppose it would be bad form to stand up at a funeral, in the middle of a bereft's eulogy for his or her deceased parent, and to yawp, over the heads of the congregation, "Big deal! Is that ALL?"

Nevertheless, I have been tempted. (Arguably, that makes me a relatively horrible human being. But, hey -- I did resist the urge...)

I understand the depth of love a child feels for his or her parents. I, too, was spawned and nurtured by two wonderful people whom I love deeply. But should that love cloud my evaluation of them as parents; should it expunge their shortcomings; should it cause me to praise them effusively for having done the bare minimum? If it does, what hope do I have of being an even better parent than they were?

And shouldn't that be our goal as parents: to build upon the good things our parents did and to become even better? Isn't that what our parents would want? (I know that's what my parents did.) How high can we build, though, if the pinnacle of our standards of parenting is having kept the gas tank full for taxi service to the movies?

Yes, I have heard it in eulogies: "My dad worked hard to put food on the table and to give us good things. He was always supportive of us; always drove us to games and picked us up from the mall whenever we needed a ride. I knew I could count on him..." It's not just eulogies, though, because, in all seriousness, we have to allow for catharsis in those. Not everyone, under such sad and stressful conditions, is expressive enough to illustrate what their parents really meant to them, but I've also read it on Facebook posts: "Repost if your dad was the best dad ever...etc."

I submit this for your consideration: "Always there for me" is the parental equivalent of getting to work on time. It is supposed to be implicit in the gig. If you can't "be there" for your kids, what the hell good are you?

"He was always there for me. He drove me to practice and he played with me... " BIG DEAL!

Maybe parents, in general, would be become generally better at raising kids if there wasn't this prevailing love-filtered tendency to praise them for having done the bare minimum. Rides, support, attendance at games -- these things are all important to kids; but, if that is what is left for you when you sum up your parents' lives, impressing children is really no hard job and the standards remain pretty weak. how does society get better under those conditions?

Just once I want to see someone say: "My dad -- he was a wonderful person. Sure, he did all of those 'dad things,' like going to games and giving me rides and talking with me when I needed it, but he was better than that. My dad really taught me how to reason my way through my emotions; he taught me how to make sense of the chaotic world around me; he raised a force-field of sanity around me in an insane era. My dad...he made me ready to face life and he selflessly, gently and lovingly let me go when he needed to...and neither of us cried much about it, because we knew all would be well between us, forever. Sure, when I was growing up, my dad knew how to 'lay down the law' but he never bought that nonsense about kids and parents not being friends. My dad was one of the greatest friends I have ever had. Real friends make each other better, and that's what we did for each other. My pop laid the foundation and then let me build the house of my life. Some parents follow a trite blueprint to raising 'good kids.' My dad drew me a map based on what he saw in my heart."


  1. "He was always there for me. He drove me to practice and he played with me... " BIG DEAL!"

    Yes, yes it is. It's a HUGE deal.

    First and foremost, what a beautiful tribute to your dad. My maternal grandparents, my Great-aunt Mary (the beautiful 94 year old with me in my FB profile pic) & both my FIL & MIL were all shining examples of how to parent with firm but loving hands. They were all "there" for me in every sense of the word. For them, I will always be extremely grateful.

    For the most part I agree with much of what you usually write. This time I have to admit that unless I'm misunderstanding what you mean, through my own experience I feel that a portion of your premise is deeply flawed. While many do, a good portion of our parent population neither shows up physically or emotionally. Just being there MATTERS!!! It matters more than you could ever possibly realize. I'm sure your parents made mistakes, we all do, but by reading many of your blogs, yours seems to have done most of the biggies right. I'm glad you don't know how it feels to have your parents NOT show up to parent teacher conferences, science fairs, back to school nights, talent shows, award assemblies, graduations... & yes I mean JHS & HS graduation included, or that you were the lead in the HS play singing and dancing your heart out and neither parents bothered to be there... but I do know. I know exactly how that feels. What seems even sadder to me now is that at a very young age I stopped expecting them to do so.

    My parents (well my mother & her ex-husband, who I now only ever refer to as my SD - give it a minute) were levels below awful in the parenting, showing up or even "being there" departments. Sadly, for them, they still suck at it. Way too many stories to tell, but one that immediately comes to mind was an argument I had with my mother over 20 years ago. Despite multiple invitations & the fact that it is only a 2 hour drive from NY, (that I btw frequently still make), she had only been out to visit our home 3 times in 3 years. Her response on the phone was that I always expected too much from her. I never wanted anything material from my parents only their presence in my life and not out of obligation but out of a genuine desire to be there. I was so frustrated that I said to her, "So what you're saying is that I should expect nothing from you and I'll never be disappointed?" Her response was "That's great, let's go with that." No physical blow could have been more painful.

    Being married 26 years, having 4 children who I treasure and adore, I understand their "disinterest" even less now than I did as a child. I have however come to being at least partially grateful for some of the neglect and the mistakes they have made. They have taught me, by their own shoddy examples of what NEVER to do with my own children.

    As a society and especially as parents we all need to strive to be our best selves, learning from past mistakes of our own and those around us. However, we should never discount or take for granted all of the things that are done right... & trust me when I tell you that simply showing up is the fundamental foundation and is as right as it gets.

  2. I think we actually agree, Patty. My point is that being there IS a big deal -- such a big deal that is should be expected; like, as I mentioned, showing up for work on time. I think parents need to demand more of themselves than just "being there." Being there is essential, but we need to demand more of ourselves, was my only point. If parents are not involved in their kids' lives, they are not even meeting the minimum requirement. If they are, they are doing something important, but we need to be more than cheerleaders. I think too many parents excuse themselves from deeper issues because they fill up their days with taxi service and pom-poms. Good parents do the minimum and then some. We shouldn't give parents an A+ just for being at things. Being at things is a C. Being at things and really being an insightful life guide gets one the A+. Being with your kids and adding something to their lives while you are there is what we need. You said: "trust me when I tell you that simply showing up is the fundamental foundation and is as right as it gets" and you are correct, but you underscore my point: it is fundamental -- bare minimum. As a good parent, yourself (and I speak with some degree of past proof!), you do the rest by instinct, I am sure. I just think too many think they can be "off" when they are not driving and cheering and it just ain't so.