Last week, when I asked my Facebook followers for topic ideas, someone suggested I tackle the mixed feelings parents have when their kids misbehave. Which almost sounds crazy. Why would anyone have anything but bad feelings when their kids misbehave?
Then, earlier this week, I got yelled at by a bunch of people who got angry that I let my son run rampant on airplanes. Never mind that I don’t do that, and that my son has (thus far) been very well-behaved on airplanes; these people said HURTFUL things that MADE ME CRY.
And it got me reconsidering that reader’s request, especially since I suddenly and strongly want my kid to misbehave on our next flight, just out of spite.
Detective Munch doesn’t misbehave all that often, at least not on planes, or in restaurants, or at school. I mean, he’s a terrible, unbearable threenager a lot of the time, but that’s mostly at home (hooray!). But Mom and Buried and I get it. Like most parents we understand that when a three-year-old misbehaves, he’s mostly experimenting. Testing his limits and yours and trying to get a handle on the world. It’s when he’s 20 and dealing drugs that you may have a problem.
As a toddler? And a tween? And even a young teen? Sometimes it’s okay for your kid to misbehave. It’s what being young is for! If we’re being honest, not a parent among us is able to pretend like we didn’t pull some bullshit when we were young. But we can’t let our kids know that; if they catch on that this whole parenting thing is just one big hoax, it’s OVER for us. So we have to come down on them like the hand of God so they know we won’t tolerate those shenanigans, and pray that this early discipline establishes limits so that even when your kid does cross some lines later, he won’t go too far out-of-bounds.
And then you have to hope like hell that when they find out you’ve been being a hypocrite for their entire youth, they’re old enough to understand instead of going Sally Draper on you.
The other problem is that there’s a fine line between feeling some pride when your kid pulls some clever, “breaking the law (not the actual law)” shit and feeling embarrassment when your kid pulls some sketchy, “Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son” shit that even scares the adults in the vicinity. But there are definitely some instances when “my son’s kind of a bad-ass” trumps “my son’s kind of an asshole,” and I feel like dads are more likely to land on the side of the former.
One of the things for which dads sometimes get a bad rap is our so-called irresponsibility and permissiveness; e.g., a friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about high-fiving his son after the boy had farted on his little brother’s head, all while his wife looked on in disgust. I know I’m guilty of chuckling when my son repeats a bad word, and I’m sure to be more impressed than mortified when he suddenly decides to pee in the bushes rather than take the time to run inside.
Boys will be boys, right? (Which isn’t to say that girls won’t be girls, sometimes; they have their own styles of misbehavior, about which I shall remain quiet in order to protect myself). And it’s surely not only dads who occasionally encourage, or at least shrug off, some misbehaving from time to time. Because even moms can understand that sometimes a little bad behavior isn’t always a bad thing. It’s healthy for kids to sow their wild oats a bit, to let off some steam. But just as the kids need to learn where the line is, so do the parents. Again, it’s about knowing the difference between playful rule-flouting and general boorishness and potentially dangerous and harmful behavior.
But that’s okay. As long as you’re attentive and involved and you know your kids, you’ll be able to tell the difference between him or her testing the waters and just outright peeing in them. And you’ll know when to step in before that little bit of permissive parenting breeds a whole lot of terrible behavior. Which will, of course, result in you being branded a terrible parent who lets his kid wreak havoc, and no one wants to be that guy. Nobody has mixed feelings about oblivious parents.
Of course, every parent has different boundaries, so if your neighbor isn’t a fan of seeing your son make the devil sign just before dropping an elbow on his son, maybe reel back your cheers a bit. Unless you’re on a plane with some of the people who misread my “fake goody bags” article and emailed to call me a dick this week. I can’t wait to take my son on a plane ride with them.
Mixed feelings my ass. Here’s some Pixy Sticks and a boombox. Let ‘er rip, junior.