Parents Shalt Not…

[QUICK PROGRAMMING NOTE: If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been writing frequently – I have been, just not on this site.  I’m working with some other folks on a new site that should be going live in the next few weeks.  I’ll let you know when its up so you can read what I’ve been working on over there.]

We were so idealistic.  My wife and I, before we had our kids.  She’d done her homework, reading books by the dozen.  I read books, but not about parenting – about quantum physics – but I’d like to think I absorbed some of the knowledge she gained by osmosis.  That’s a thing, right?

We agreed, in any case, on the things that mattered to us.  The things we would do.  The things we would never do.

We will not be the kind of parents who love our dogs less.

“It won’t change how we feel about you,” I said, or thought about saying, to our dogs.  Because when you bring animals into your home you have a duty to be loving and patient with them.  It wasn’t that I assumed I’d love Kito and Sake as much as I love my own children – but that I’d always have in my mind that abstract idea of different kinds of love – and who is to say one kind of love is better than another?   There are no hierarchies in love, right?

Well, it turns out that love is not actually an open-office plan where everyone’s concerns are equally heard.  No, love is not Google.  It’s G.E.  Where the kids get corner offices with giant panoramic views, a personal assistant and an iPad, while the dogs are left to make due with one of those ‘interior’ offices without any windows.  Other things you used to ‘love’ that get interior offices, or worse, offices down in the basement, include: showers, silence, a good night’s sleep, a clutter free home and the illusion that your life is about more than just creating new life and taking care of said life long enough for it to go on to do the same.

We will not be the kind of parents who feed our kids macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets all the time.

On this account, we were partially correct – but mostly because of a technicality.  We do not let our kids eat chicken nuggets.  But they do eat chick’n nuggets – those fleshy wheat concoctions that are battered and deep fried to appear, much like a McNugget, as though they are the real McCoy.  Mac’n’Cheese on the other hand does not have any meat in it so you can be damn sure there’s always plenty of that on offer.  At any given time, we always have at least three kinds of Mac’n’Cheese available: the bright yellow kind, the white kind and the orange kind.  It’s ok, though, because it is organic.  Annie’s.  She cares about our kids health, so relax.

Not a fan of chick’n nuggets or Mac’n’Cheese?  No problem, we also have perogies and raviolis in stock.  Before you judge us though you should know we also eat a lot of fruit.  We eat an unseemly number of bananas.  Like enough to affect Dole’s stock price.  And apples, and peaches and grapes and blueberries.  We are working on eating more vegetables.  But we aren’t there just yet.

Are we happy about the amount of frozen and freeze-dried foods our kids consume day in and day out?  No, of course not.  We ourselves eat things like BBQ quinoa salad for dinner.  But when your son is in the 5th percentile for weight and the only thing you really care about at the end of the day is making sure he sleeps, goes potty, doesn’t pull a dresser over onto himself like those kids you’ve read about online, and eats something, dear god please eat anything with actual calories, then the difference between the split-pea soup prepared for yourselves and the dayglow orange noodles heaped on their little plates seems trivial.  Yes, one day, hopefully soon, our kids will be eating mostly what we eat at the dinner table, but until then, I’m happy to feed my son butter by the brick if it will keep him from falling off the growth charts and make for one less thing to battle over each day.

We will not be the kind of parents who indiscriminately let their kids play with toy guns.   

When I was growing up my parents had very firm beliefs about my brother and I not playing with guns when we were younger.  At some point we eventually got water guns and I think I did get a rubber band gun once.  But we didn’t have nerf guns.  A BB gun was out of the question.  Honestly, if I chose to go to Walmart and buy myself a BB gun now as a 37 year old, I’m pretty sure my father would be shaking his head from 1,000 miles away.  I was ok with it as a child, though, because MacGuyver didn’t like guns either and he could make explosives out of heart medication.

Fast forward to a few months ago as my wife tried to have a ‘gun safety’ discussion with my 2 year old – something about not picking up a gun if he should stumble across it in his daily 2 year old routine – I guess in one of the back alleys our nanny is constantly taking him through, or that park he plays at that is chock-full of meth addicts.  In any case, early on in this conversation it became very, very clear that the whole thing had backfired.  He was not hearing any of this “don’t ever pick up guns.”  He, without ever watching a single show or reading a single book with guns of any kind, was adamant that yes he was absolutely going to pick up the next gun he saw and not only that, he was going to shoot it.  Real guns mommy, I want to play with real guns.  What followed was an hour long conversation, during which time he refused to acknowledge the sanctity of human life, and only at the end did it finally come out that for him a ‘real gun’ was the kind found in the toy aisle at target.  A Nerf gun.  And what do you do when your son makes it clear that most if not all of his future happiness as a child rests on getting his tiny little hands on an Elite Strongarm Firestrike Blaster?  I’ll tell you what you do, what we did, you buy him a frickin’ Nerf gun.  Because there are no MacGuyver’s around to serve as role models for him.  Because “Did he own Nerf guns growing up?” is not actually a question that police ask the suspect’s parents following a shooting incident.

We will not be the kind of parents who encourage our daughters to participate in the princess culture.  

To be fair, we thought this before Frozen had happened.  How could we have known?  And once you align yourself with Anna, Elsa, Belle, Cinderella and Rapunzel, why not just make it absolutely clear to everyone where you stand on this issue of sovereign indoctrination and send your oldest daughter to princess camp.  She will thank you, even if feminism won’t.

Look, I don’t mean to make it sound like we are bad parents.  On the whole, I think we are actually pretty good parents.  There are many “rules” that we made early on and have actually followed through on.  But nobody can be perfect parents.  There is only so much energy you can spend in one day.  Especially on days when you’ve already expended a great amount cleaning up poop off surfaces not remotely located near an actual toilet and dealing with multiple five alarm tantrums (which are apparently one of the side-effects of ‘complete sentience’) and carrying two bikes plus a two-year old the last few blocks home on your dog walk.  Self-driving cars will be nice when they come, but whoever invents the first toddler bike that will drive itself home after your child inevitably quits pedaling half-way through the walk – that person will be my personal hero.

My advice to future parents would be just this – forget the list of We Will Not‘s.  If you absolutely have to nail down your parenting strategy with the baby still in utero, maybe just go with a list like “We Would Absolutely Love to Try and Do Our Best to ______.”

Where the “blank” is a stand-in for the absurdly unrealistic goal you just plucked from some book or from your own mind as a rebellion against what you deem as crimes against your own childhood perpetrated by parents you believe loved you but were misguided and ignorant on issues that you are in a better position to understand, because your judgment hasn’t been corrupted by the experience of actually having kids yet.

Or, more succinctly, never say never.  Because at some point, you probably will.


  1. LOVE this, it’s all the things I said too! I agree- the one thing I will tell new parents (only if they ask for advice) is “never say never- you will do the thing you never though you’d do.” Mac and cheese forever!

  2. That was a fun read! Nothing like kids to help you find the edge between idealism and expedience!- Uday

  3. The added benefit of allowing children to indiscriminately play with toy guns is that it rekindles joy in 30-year olds. The experience of mowing down some paper cups in a basement isn’t quite nirvana, but it’s pretty dang close. -Andy

    • Yeah, I admit it’s probably resulted in me being way more entertained by a plastic gun that shoots foam darts than I probably should be at 37.

  4. Fantastic Jesse. I always enjoy those serious conversations with my kids that backfire. It’s just a eye opening moment.

  5. Yes. Rules are inherently rigid and judgmental. They are not the stable moral/healthy ground they promise because their taxonomic boundaries are fractal at all scales, in which conceptual mazes we get lost farther and farther away from actuality. Compliance is a stifling illusion. I once had a long list of “Gary’s Rules of Life”, which fortunately i lost, but not before foisting many of them on our children. Linda’s was no playing with toy guns. Mine was no watching professional wrestling (because it is mean-spirited, albeit stupidly funny). So i eschew rules and take refuge only in Love, for myself and all others – especially one’s children. I could elaborate, but examples risk ossifying into rules.

  6. Really entertaining and spot on, but those last few paragraphs nailed it in so many ways. Parenting is oddly both simpler and more complicated than I ever imagined

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