Are You a Bad Parent — Or Is That the Wrong Question?

Young, smiling boy covered in baking flour as he and his dad have fun making a mess while preparing something to bake
Are you a bad parent? Tim Hawkins weighs in and humorously dances around that question until he comes to a realization about parenting.

Am I a bad parent? I don’t know. Are you? We all wonder. Some obsess about it. Just check Facebook. There are probably more people than you think currently obsessing over your overall parenting performance. Maybe they should log out of Facebook and put their face in a book.

Or maybe they have a point. Odds are you are holed up in your favorite safe space — e.g., bathroom — reading this. You’re well aware you’re needed in the next room to break up a family quarrel, and that reading in the bathroom could understandably be perceived as avoidance. But this is your time. It is a sacred relic. You’re enjoying your own little spa moment, even if it’s just you sitting in an empty bathtub, one hand holding your phone, the other buried in the 1-pound bag of M&M’s that no one else in the house knows about.

But this isn’t what you would call “wasting time.” Parents don’t waste time anymore. We’ve renamed it. We call it “recharging,” “resetting” or “decompressing.” Whatever it is, you won’t beat yourself up about it. You’ve earned a few minutes of alone time — just enough time to scan the rest of this article and one quick YouTube clip of donkeys fighting, before you check to see if the children are still alive.

What was the question? Ah, yes …

Am I a bad parent?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I admit I’ve done some things that put me in the category of being a subpar progenitor. I have threatened one of my children with a missions trip: One more dish left under the couch, and it’s off to Honduras to serve the Lord for you, buddy.

And I’m not always the best role model. One time I told my son to behave like a man, so he took a nap on the couch. I’m not proud of that. Does that make me a bad parent? I don’t know.

But am I a good parent? What is good? Is it good that my kids have most of their teeth? Is it good that they have never, to my knowledge, shown up at school in their underwear? OK, maybe that one time. (But they were home-schooled, so no real harm done.)

I do remember doing a comedy show for 2,000 people. It was hugely successful, the night ending with a deafening standing ovation. Nine hours later, I was elbow deep in our hall bathroom toilet in an attempt to extract a bar of soap that one of my children had jammed into it. I don’t know if that makes me a good parent, but I fixed the toilet. Order was restored. I even felt kind of heroic. Didn’t know if I needed to even wash my hands. But did anyway. (Bravo! Bravo!)

The kids are older now. The challenges are different. We used to do everything together, and now we find ourselves shooting off in different directions. The lines of communication are threatened. Smart devices to the rescue, right? Easier said than done in a world where one man’s hashtag is another man’s tic-tac-toe game.

Abbreviations are confusing. I don’t know what emojis to use. And now I worry about punctuation when texting my kids. Once my daughter thought I was angry with her because of a text I’d sent. I had no idea why. So I showed my wife and asked her to explain.

She said, “Oh, it’s because you put a period at the end of it.” Thankfully I didn’t use a semicolon. Which leads to another thing: I don’t even know when to use a semicolon. I should know that; right?

A better question

When did parents start caring about being good parents anyway? It used to be that kids were more worried about being good kids. The web of authority was omnipresent back in the day. It was inescapable. Watertight. Kids used to feel the eyes of their elders peering through kitchen windows, front doors and decorative shrubs.

Other people weren’t just other people. They were potential witnesses. Informants. Crossing guards, shopkeepers and teachers. Adults may not have liked one another, but they did support each other when it came to handling kids. You knew if you got spanked at school, you’d get another one when you got home. You knew to watch your language walking home from school because if the neighbor lady heard anything saucy, your family phone would be ringing by the time you got home. Neighborhood Watch, when I was growing up, wasn’t about the neighbors watching out for burglars. We were the shady characters the neighbors were watching out for!

It’s not that parents were seen as villains in the past, just as much as they were never really the heroes. Just as we’re doing our best, they did theirs. There’s nothing new under the sun. I’m sure our parents asked the same questions we do about overall job performance. And they had similar concerns and uncertainties that stressed them out. They dealt with those stresses in whatever ways they dealt with things back then, probably similar to now — golf, a phone conversation with a friend or perhaps just good old-fashioned denial.

How did previous generations deal with the pressures of parenthood? Exercise? I asked my grandpa one time if he ever worked out when he was younger. He said, “Didn’t have time. I was out working.”

Parents have always had their way of checking out, about needing to get some “fresh air.” That might mean a walk around the block, or a drive to town and back. Maybe up to the bowling alley for a quick game. There’s nothing villainous about a parent needing to get away. The heroic thing is that you keep returning.

Parenting isn’t about greatness. It’s about faithfulness. Half the battle is just showing up.

My friend John Branyan told me a cool story about another friend who said that one of his favorite memories as a child was when all the kids would run around the yard on summer nights catching fireflies. He explained how his father would stand on the porch with a mason jar. As kids caught a firefly, they would run over to him, and he would open the jar. They would put the firefly in, and he would close the jar. And it was off again for more fireflies. His father said nothing. But when a firefly was nabbed, he was there. Simple. Present. Heroic. There were other times when they caught fireflies when his dad wasn’t there. It was fun, but it wasn’t the same. It simply didn’t compare to the times with his father there on the porch, jar in hand. Keeper of the fireflies.

It’s been said that the best present you can give your kids is your presence. And sure, most of the time they don’t acknowledge that presence. But trust me, they’d feel it big time if you weren’t there. So keep being present. Engage. Fail. Retreat. Recharge. Return. Engage again. That’s pretty cool.

No, not us. We’re parents. Being a parent isn’t cool. It’s not supposed to be. So what? We have the money. Our music is better. And we know where the M&M’s are.

Copyright © 2019 by Tim Hawkins. Used by permission.

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