I raised three boys and never laid a hand on one of them, not because I’m a saint. Pretty much the opposite. I didn’t want to land on the cover of PEOPLE magazine, in an orange jumpsuit, big bags under my eyes with the headline: Once She Started Beating Them…She Couldn’t STOP! Though I agree deeply with the principle that you shouldn’t hit kids, my restraint came only from the fear of being fodder to a large inmate in the Federal Prison for Violent Women with Bad Lawyers.
When my middle son Johnny, age 4, flooded the family room by dragging the garden hose through the door “to see if the rug would grow” I knew I had two choices: just scream and beat them for two decades until I succumbed to booze and Valium, or laugh my head off. Thank you Jesus, I opted for the latter. I screamed plenty, though, of course, because ITALIANS DO EVERY THING IN CAPS and my boys claim they were simply afraid of the volume, losing brain function from the sheer noise of it all but this is how I was raised. When I was six years old I accidentally broke my mother’s bottle of Jean Nate, and when I fessed up she screamed “I’m gonna break your HEAD!” which she never did but I was real careful around her toiletries after that.
I decided early on to lower my standards, get them immunized and then just let them crawl around wherever they wanted to go. I fed them whatever shut them up for the most part. As little ones, this meant a lot of Velveeta which is really more construction material than food but it worked, especially when it lodged in the windpipe if they decided to cry and eat at the same time. Lesson learned, right? And I figured if I tucked all three into bed alive at night, I was freaking Parent of the Year. These parents who worried about nutrition, clean clothes and – God help me – Baby Mozart or whatever those educational things are – these parents are never going to have any fun.
Times sure have changed and now apparently everyone’s worried about their kids succeeding in school etc. Shoot, I was happy when no one was on parole. I was in DC recently and witnessed one of these ridiculous over-educated couples that waited too long to have kids and now they’re scared to death of their three-year old. One was jumping on and off a bench in a restaurant, and screaming like an ape – having a ball torturing his parents who were both probably stuffy-ass lawyers – and the mother was like “Um, okay, Branson, you can either stop that right now or not have dessert” and the kid just laughed and spun his head around like The Exorcist. He got dessert of course.
We all screw our kids up. This is a given. The only questions are: will I screw them up as much as my parents did me, and how badly will they be screwed up? The headline of my local Sunday paper today says Mom Sees Positive Results From Giving Autistic Son Medical Marijuana. Is that bad parenting, or just plain smart? If you haven’t yet read the hilarious bestselling Sh**t My Dad Says PLEASE stop everything you’re doing and go to the website http://www.shitmydadsays.com/. This is a guy who says things to his son like, “Put the rake down. I don't wanna sit around watching you 'give it your best.' Either stop sucking or get the fuck out of the way."
There’s a book called Nurture Shock that offers a startling premise: when kids are praised constantly, they grow up to be liars. This is a troubling phenomenon with a generation of parents that worries constantly about “self-esteem” and over inflate a kid’s sense of self by never calling them to task on anything. These are the bratty, self-centered, twittering, face-booking asshole fools who think it’s okay to secretly film a roommate having gay sex and then post it on the Internet. Their perfection and egoism are boundless because their “loving” parents never told them to sit down and shut up.
So my boys didn’t aspire to Harvard and we don’t spend a lot of time talking about achievements and portfolios but dang they are among the funniest, most decent big-hearted people I know. Not one of them was ever subjected to a Baby Mozart video and though I didn’t hit them I was known to throw objects in the vicinity of their persons from time to time during teenage turmoil (I’ve throw a bike into a garage wall, a water bottle through a window, a shoe across the living room, and a very expensive bong into the street). They sure knew they weren’t perfect, and they sure knew I wasn’t either.
I never read Dr. Spock. Rather, I fashioned my parenting methods via George Carlin (http://harmful.cat-v.org/society/children/fuck_the_children) who gave me perhaps the best parenting advice I have ever heard:
“Turn off the internet, the CD-ROMS, and the computer games and let them stare at a tree for a couple of hours. Every now and then they actually comeup with one of their own ideas. You want to know how to help your kids?Leave them the f*** alone.”