A good deal of today’s Americans don’t know how to parent children. Though we do all we can—feed them and clothe them, put them to bed on time and buy them educational books, make them comfortable and select the best programming—we don’t have a clue what parenting actually looks like and even less of a clue how to go about doing it. There are dozens of books geared toward every stage of childhood that offer pyramids of advice from potty training to “first talks,” but not one offers a page on the fundamentals of actually raising children. They read more like playbooks, vague sketches for those on the team, sketches that work wonders if you know the rules of the game and everyone around you is playing.
I used to be a contender. Indeed, I was once running back for the All-American Mommies. The uniforms were cute, but the game was weird. My poor babies were linemen and football rolled into one (that image works, if you squint) and my job was the same every play: fumble the ball to the defense while looking confused and mumbling something like, “He never acts this way at home!”
You know the game. You’ve seen it played. For example:
Almanzo got up on his knees, and he saw Mother in the doorwayo f the house. She called, “Boys! Boys! Stop playing now. It’s time to come in and get warm.” from Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I’m guessing there are still many effective parents out there, going about their business, who can’t be bothered to put on seminars for gits like me. And odds are, we can’t all be parents all of the time . . . I’d just like to be a parent some of the time.
I try. I try harder. I’m no good. I spent too many years drawing down salary from the Mommies and people are still watching. So I sequester myself and my kids so as not to be lured into the game. Then I make up household rules. Nobody obeys them. I establish discipline. It provides no deterrence. I get up early, keep the house clean, make my own cheese . . . I’m still the same Sesame Street kid I’ve always been, not the pioneer woman I long to be. And try as I might my kids speak freely over their dinners about everything from puff balls to poverty. I sometimes like to develop conspiracy theories (my children were replaced by government spy look-alikes!) that shovel blame on anyone else. But I know that the problem is mine. All mine. All most grievously mine.
God have mercy. Maybe these babies will grow up decent in spite of it all. Maybe I will grow up with them and one day learn how to get out of the way and simply repeat the Words given me to say. Time will tell. And thanks be to God, our Mother the Church has got my back, and she will go right on feeding them lasting food until Time is replaced by Eternity.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some screaming upstairs. I think I know what to do this time. At the very least, I’ll give it the old American try. Now where did I put that woodshed?