Five things dysfunctional parents teach their kids (by omission)
February 11, 2017
I come from a hugely dysfunctional family, who will probably stop speaking to me after reading this, but instead of being a mess, I am organized, flexible, and capable. So don’t tell me dysfunction breeds incompetence.
When I was just ten years old, I babysat kids all the time and no one thought I was too young. I got those kids to bed on time and cleaned up the kitchen before the parents came home. When was the last time your babysitter did that? As a mother of two and a teacher, I've been seeing a disturbing quality in kids – they can't manage their own lives. We could blame the usual suspects, screen time or helicopter parenting, but I think we should consider being a bit more selfish as parents. As an old therapist of mine once said, “Let’s blame this all on your parents and try to figure out what you’re going to do now.” I’d like to share the five things I had to learn on my own because my parents weren't able to help me.
It’s your homework
My parents never asked me if my homework was done. I don’t think it even occurred to them. It was my job. They had enough to do managing the liquor supply, fighting with each other, and getting ready to go out. So, I did my homework and got it in on time. I re-did my homework if I needed to. I didn’t tell my parents how it was going. It was my business. We may have talked about current events and reading books during dinner, but we didn’t rehash my homework. They just didn’t care about it.
I can’t think of a single time my parents played a game with me. They were grown-ups and we were children. We met around the dinner table and occasionally for an outing. We played Monopoly with our siblings and our friends. No adult intervened if one of us got angry and threw the game across the room when he lost. When boredom really kicked in, we read. There was no shortage of books in our house and no one cared which ones we read. I read incredibly inappropriate books like "Fear of Flying" and "Lady Chatterley’s Lover" when I was just eleven, We called that, “Education.”
Save your money
If my parents remembered to give us an allowance, we were psyched. We raced out to Woolworth’s and agonized over the perfect thing to buy. Usually, it was something we could lord over our siblings. My parents had lots of money, they just didn’t dole it out for everything we wanted. I think this was less a result of good parenting and more because they didn’t feel like paying for my stuff, but it worked. When I wanted a car, my dad made me pay for half. He also made me pay for my driver’s ed. and insurance. Every kid I know gets a car when they get their driver’s license. I can’t help but wonder if they are missing out on the feeling of pride after hours of mowing lawns or babysitting kids to have earned the money themselves.
Do the dishes
After dinner each night, my parents refilled their scotch and sodas before heading into the library to watch TV. They didn’t even clear their own plates, that was our job and, though we fought about it incessantly, it got done. We had three interchangeable jobs: setting the table, clearing and loading the dishwasher, and hand washing the pots, pans, and knives. We threw food out the window of our NYC apartment. We sprayed each other with the kitchen faucet sprayer. We kicked each other and yelled. My parents watched TV and drank their drinks. Not an ideal situation, but my kitchen is generally spotless now.
Manage your time
When all is said and done, having narcissistic parents means you have to pay attention to where you need to be and what you need to be doing. Nobody is waking you up on time. My mother did make us breakfast every single morning, but she did not notice what time it was. She was not saying, “go get your stuff, it’s time for school.” So I watch the clock and I’m on time. In fact, I’m often early. I think it’s a residual effect of having to pay close attention when I was younger.You don't need to get your kid’s stuff accomplished and in on time. They aren’t learning anything if you do. Should you just pour yourself a drink and hope no one hits each other, or just grab that clicker and watch Jeopardy while your kids are doing the dishes? Well...
The five characteristics above are necessary for a person’s success and they are not learned by forcing a young person to obey. You can't do it for them, parents. Let it go.