Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe it has already been an entire year since we first set foot in this arena, where awkward similes collide with bad faith arguments and snarky rebuttal devastates poorly considered metaphor. Here at the IMDD it is our mission to counter the mendacious cartoons, the awful advice and the misleading memes that spread like a B-movie virus across our social media landscape. Some come from Crazy Uncle Liberty, who remembers when men were men and women were women and the Commie’s would play dominoes with Hitler if we ever forgot it. Some come from Terribly Concerned Aunt Fretful, who is convinced that Monsanto is going to give everyone terminal brain clouds with their GMO frankenfoods, so we should all pay $15 a pound for organic cruelty free apples. But the worst come from Fellow Parent Terrified that they are Doing Everything Wrong and therefore they cover their insecurities with authoritarian blather. Which is where we get today’s entry “My Promise to My Children”
“For as long as I live I will always be your parent first and your friend second.”
Ok, at face value this seems harmless. Of course you are a parent first when it comes to the child’s formative years. In fact it would be quite odd for one to be a friends with a toddler. So yes, the relationship between parent and child is not and should not be the same as a friendship., Parenthood is ideally an intimate relationship that involves day to day connections with a child quite different than they have with their friends. Parents also have legal responsibilities and liabilities that their children’s friends will never have to worry about. All that being said, our Meme at least admits that you can be friends with your kids, as long as that comes “second”. Fair enough, let’s see what comes next.
“I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare and hunt you down like a bloodhound when I have to, because I love you.”
So the reason you can’t be a parent and a friend to your children is that evidently being a parent involves behavior that would make you a HORRIBLE FRIEND. Pretty much everything on the list above would be considered poisonous behavior in any relationship other than that of parent and child. In adult life we get restraining orders against people who stalk us. If your significant other flips out on you regularly, if they are your “worst nightmare” then we would encourage you to dump them! As adults we are encouraged to distance ourselves from people who “drive us insane”. All of the above would be markers of an abusive relationship, but the really dangerous bit, the poisonous cherry on top of the shit sundae, is the caveat at the end, “because I love you.”
“Because I love you.” It’s the parents get out of jail free card for every incident of ill advised meddling, paranoid micromanaging and straight out authoritarian dictate handed down. It’s the velvet glove over the steel fist of “because I said so”. “Because I love you” is the common thread that connects “10 Rules for Dating my Daughter” and “An Application to Date My Son” to “My Parent’s Spanked Me as a Kid”. We excuse any number of appalling practices as long as the parent is doing it out of “love”, from corporal punishment, arranged marriages, internet shaming, and conversion therapy. Yes, Leelah Alcorn’s mother justified shipping her child off to a quack or a priest rather than a qualified therapist because she “loved” her child so much. Maybe if she had respected her child a little more she would still have the opportunity to love her today.
“When you understand that, I will know you have become a responsible adult.”
“When you have completely internalized the abusive, controlling nature of the parent child relationship through my example, I’ll be satisfied that you are capable of perpetuating the cycle on a new generation”
Seriously, I’m not in the mood today to give authoritarianism the benefit of the doubt. This view of parenting is one that will never respect the unique individual your child will grow up to be. It shows no respect for the child as anything other than an extension of the parent.
“You will never find someone who loves, prays, cares and worries about you more than I do.”
Especially not any of those friends and or spouses you might have developed over the years. Sure, you might get married and have your own kids someday, but don’t expect any of those relationships to be more important than ours. No one will love you more than me… put those words in the mouth of anyone but a parent and we would call them a obsessed creep! Those are the words of someone trying to emotionally manipulate someone under their power. It posits that a parent child relationship is NECESSARILY an abusive relationship. Think I’m joking?
“If you don’t mutter under your breath ‘I hate you’ at least once in your life, I am not doing my job properly. Share if you are a parent and agree.”
Once again, in any other relationship, “I hate you” is a sign that you have probably failed. Sure, there are going to be people out there who might hate you for irrational reasons or in situations where you are blameless. But this is not one of those situations. This meme posits that it is our job as parents to frustrate the desires and designs of our children. It is our job as parents to be hated by our children despite the fact that we do what we do… we stalk and lecture and flip out… and hit, out of love. What’s more, any negative reaction a child might have to our loving attention is inherently irrational. Because we have defined the parent child relationship as one where the parent, out of love of course, is always right and always justified, then any rebelliousness from the child, any deviation from the established script justifies further intervention. “I hate you” means you are doing things right and continuous “I hate yous” mean you need more of the same. It is as if we have decided that loving our children is completely separate and superior to respecting our children, instead of seeing those things as being inextricably linked. As we would in almost any other relationship if we arent an asshole.
Yes, I admit that I am looking at this meme in the worst light possible. The vast majority of people who share this sentiment aren’t abusive controlling tyrants. They are parents just like you and I, terrified to see their children hurt by a world we see as full of danger and disappointment. They are parents who deeply love their children and want desperately to do the right thing, to raise kids ready to face the world.
But there has to be a better way than this. Yes, be vigilant. Scan the horizon for threats to your offspring. Know who their friends are, what their interests are, what their troubles are. Correct them when necessary, but always be open to the idea that it’s you who may be wrong. Forgive them their mistakes as you expect them to forgive yours. In other words, while admitting that there are differences in power and responsibility, that there are times and places where you will have to act authoritatively and sometimes unilaterally, try and treat them like you would a friend. Let’s see how that works out, okay?
Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Selfie Image Credit, Leelah Alcorn, via WCPO Channel 9 in Cincinnati.