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Recently, I heard about a humorous book written by a young mother who tried to raise her boy free of the television addiction she’d acquired as a child.
Her plan was to limit his use of technology, yet expose him to just enough so he wouldn’t be the butt of teasing from other kids.
Her husband went along with the idea, but doubted they could keep a TV set in the house during the experiment because she’d set a bad example for Junior in her need to watch it. But both parents sought to promote deeper relationships in the family and, according to her, it worked.
Great idea, I thought. It reminded me of all the idealistic goals we set for our children way back when. Like all parents, we wanted them to be clean, reverent, smart—in fact, perfect. After all, we were intelligent, moral people who should be able to raise wonderful human beings. How could we fail?
Let me count the ways. Here’s one: Against current popular wisdom, we actually believed that spanking was necessary now and then. Not a beating, mind you, just a swat on the behind to get someone’s attention. Today, my kids love to point out the horror of such an attitude, but I write off their protests as revisionist history.
I also admit to plopping the kids in front of the television set to watch “Captain Kangaroo” or the “Mickey Mouse Club” fairly regularly. But it was always for a noble purpose: cleaning up the littered house, doing the laundry or putting dinner on the table. Not only that, but together we all watched “Daniel Boone” and “Ponderosa” and such, with at least one or two favorite shows per evening. Mea culpa.
Then there was church and its associated behaviors. We actually expected the children to be quiet during Mass and to maintain a reasonable quota of squirming and wriggling.
Admittedly, we needed to take Andy outside once in a while when he was hyper, but he had a good reason because he was mentally retarded. Without any excuses like his, the other kids usually responded quickly to “The Look” from Mom or Dad.
We thought automobile-riding behavior also demanded a certain amount of discipline. We had no seat belts or other legal safety requirements at the time, and we couldn’t give swats or dirty looks while driving, so we resorted to the “big family” solution employed by so many of our peers in those days. We simply had so many kids that there was no room to squirm.
While I’m confessing to parenting sins, I must include the fact that we didn’t allow our kids to consume many junk foods or soft drinks. The way we figured, we were paying good money to the dentist and pediatrician to ward off the very things such a diet could bring, namely rotten teeth, obesity and poor health.
I also triumphed in the Mean Mom department by giving the kids breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at an appointed time and expecting them to eat what was put on the table. John gagged on tuna fish every Friday for years, and Peter seemed to drop certain foods regularly for the dog to snarf under the table, but I persevered.
Somehow, despite all our failures as parents, our children have become normal, useful, good people. They’ll do just fine with their own kids.
(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †