R Scott Okamoto
Parents: A Brief History of Failure-Part Two
Several people told me my “overgeneralized” history of generations didn’t represent their own family experience. It doesn’t even represent my own family. I was talking about general trends, of course. My own parents were in their 20’s during the 60’s, and they weren’t a part of that generation at all. Incarceration Camps during WW2 pretty much killed any chances of my family being a part of popular culture. And yet, we are always connected to our generations, even if we don’t fit the popular characteristics. So many of our friends who are in their 20’s say they hate their own generation or don’t feel they are a part of it. But it’s still their generation. They know it even if they don’t completely identify with it. And they are either shaped by it, or by their resistance to it.
Parenting presents its own special set of identity problems. A person who grew up in a bygone era tries to raise a child in the current era with varying degrees of understanding of the current era. This has been a challenge since youth culture exploded in the 1950’s. My own parents tried so hard to raise my brother and I with good, American values from the 1950’s. By the time we were in Jr. High, my brother and I understood that this wasn’t going to work.
I fully admit that observing many parents today frustrates me. Whether it’s the “child-centered” “positive reinforcement only” parents who refuse to say, “no” to their kids or the ones who brag about their little geniuses all while doing everything for their kids, I feel frustrated and judgmental. I’m not proud of this. I can’t help it. I just don’t think that shit is helpful to kids.
We're all trying to do what's best, and kids generally turn out the same, regardless of how they were brought up. The world doesn't grind to a halt, one generation replaces the other, and somehow the human race survives.
But it's fascinating to look at parental trends. Today's parents might be more diverse in their approaches to parenting than ever before. Each generation tries to reinvent parenting, knowingly or unwittingly, but to what effect?
It’s often said that violence against children in the form of beatings or spankings begets violence, and there is research to support this idea. And yet, this generation of parents is the least likely to physically punish their kids, but kids are still violent. Date rape is, at the very least, staying consistent. I often wonder what kinds of parents those frat boy-type assholes had. I’m not advocating physical punishments for all children, but I also don’t think today’s parents have done much to solve the issue of violence in society.
While watching Ethan as a toddler playing with some other kids on a “play date,” I watched one of the kids walk over to him, rip the truck out of his hands, whack him over the head with it, and walk away. Ethan was screaming, holding his head, and I wanted to beat the shit out of the little monster who assaulted him. The “never say no” and “my child is a genius” mom calmly walked over to her little shitty kid and said with the sweetest voice, “Can you use your words next time?” She then went back to talking to the other parents.
Use your words? Exactly what words would express what had just happened? “I’m taking your truck and fuck you?” And why would those words necessarily be better than the actions? To a rational person, neither words nor deeds would be acceptable. If Ethan had done something like that, I would have told him sternly…ok I’d probably have yelled… “You don’t fucking do that. Ever.” There is no acceptable social situation I can think of to justify robbery, assault, and a complete lack of humanity.
I hate hearing adults talk about how children are “innocent.” I agree that they are innocent of the sins of the adults who rule the world. I agree that they should be protected from most of the evils of the world until they are ready. But don’t tell me they are innocent of their own fucked up evil. Children are naturally selfish. They don’t need to be taught to lie. They figure that out all on their own. They do need to be taught to tell the truth. Children need to be taught to not suck as human beings. And it’s probably the most difficult thing a parent has to do.
All of this is news to a lot of parents today. Their innocent geniuses are terrorizing playgrounds, classrooms, and public spaces. The fact that one little toddler can draw beautifully tends to be way more important than another toddler who graciously shares a snack or toy with another kid. You rarely hear parents brag about how caring their kids are in those little parent klatches or circle jerks. It’s always about how much the parent is doing to keep the kid safe and how accomplished the kid is scholastically or artistically. I’m all for giving kids opportunities to learn and be creative, but if your kid is a little shit, I don’t give one…a shit, that is. Art without a soul does not interest me. When your kid becomes the next Picasso or Miles Davis, I’ll overlook the fact that he or she is a total asshole. We'll tackle throw-back sports parents in another post.
Why are so many parents focused on their child’s performance over their child’s goodness? Obviously there is a tendency for parents to live vicariously through their kids or to want their kids to represent themselves. If their kid is a brilliant pianist (and he or she likely isn’t), it means the parents are also brilliant. Let’s go back to my over-generalized history of generations. Today’s parents were raised by Boomers and early Gen-Xers. We grew up in the 80’s. Remember all those movies and music videos? The parents were always the stressed out, clueless, out of touch stiffs who just didn’t get it. They were hard on kids they didn’t really understand. Many of those kids swore they’d never be like that when they had kids of their own. So they became one or more of the following, which I will write about in future posts:
Parents who give their kids too much choice and no boundaries.
Parents who teach their kids to be competitive and “get theirs.”
The ones I’ve mentioned already. I’m not done with them, yet.
What am I? I have no idea. We're just trying to teach our kids that there is an adult world they are quickly growing into. No illusions of happy, positive, nurturing forces awaiting them. No. The world fucking sucks. They are really lucky little shits to be born into the family that they are born into, in the state of California, and in America in the beginning of the 21st Century. We make sure they understand this.
We also try to make sure they have a good sense of self and a sharp sense of humor. Several parents were horrified at me several years ago when Ethan and Audrey were in 4th and 5th grade. We parents were told to send encouraging notes to be opened before the kids took the all-important standardized tests. The kids were kind of freaked out by the principal and teachers telling them they had to do well. I figured I’d help them relax with my “inspirational” note. I also told them to do their best, but it really didn't matter to them how they did. This was for the school and all the stressed out parents who think test scores are important.
To Ethan, I wrote something to the effect of: “Dear Ethan. Try not to screw up or else you’ll have to find another family. Love, Dad.” And to Audrey: “Dear Audrey. You better not get any questions wrong or so help me… Love, Dad.” Both kids said they laughed out loud before they took their stupid tests. And they both scored in the high 90th percentiles. They got their mom’s smarts. But they also got a good dose of ADD from both sides of the family tree, so I ain't bragging about them.
There are two kinds of parents. One kind thinks my notes were funny and clever, revealing a deep, close relationship. The other kind thinks I’m a horrible person. If you fall into the first category, you might keep reading my thoughts on parenting.