Parents, You Probably Don’t Know How Good (Or Bad) Your Kids Are

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 0.603% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Over on FetLife, there was a brief essay-scuffle on “How to raise well-behaved boys who won’t do bad things to women,” which is always a good topic as far as I’m concerned.

The problem is, there were a bunch of early forties moms going at each other, each convinced their kids’ beautiful behavior was proof – proof! – that their parenting style created compassionate, loving boys, and that all the other women were probably raising, I dunno, the next Harvey Weinstein.

Here’s my unpopular take:

You don’t know how your kids have actually turned out until they’re thirty.

And even then you probably don’t know for sure.

See, for me, I’ve watched too many parents of toddlers going, “Look! They’re well-behaved! That’s proof that my parenting techniques are wonderful!” And then these kids go to school and become screaming monsters, and it turns out that all this goodness was just a phase they were going through.

Or the parents of high school kids preen, “My child gets good grades and has no behavioral issues, so clearly I’m doing parenting right!” – and then the kid goes to college and bombs out hard, because it turns out that they’re incapable of functioning without a guardian eternally breathing down their neck.

Or the parents of college grads brag, “My kid’s on a great career path! I’ve taught them right!” and then they wind up with a disastrous divorce at 27 and it turns out they’re kiiiind of a deadbeat parent.

For me, I say that thirtyish is when you finally get to say whether your parenting techniques worked out well, for whatever version of “well” you’re aiming for. Thirtyish is when they’ve been bobbling along on their own for long enough that all their mistakes have had time to catch up to them.

Thirtyish is when you see whether they’ve learned from their mistakes.

And every time I see a parent going, “Well, my kid is fourteen and their current behavior is proof that I’ve raised them right,” I cringe and think, You realize that most people evolve from fourteen, right? That kid’s a moving target. I hope their trajectory’s putting them on the line to “good people,” and I’m not saying not to be proud of them now – but being so certain that they’ve turned out well that you’re telling the world, “MY PARENTING STYLE SHOULD BE APED BECAUSE OF HOW THIS CHILD WHO HAS YET TO DRIVE A CAR ACTS”?*

That’s a little premature, isn’t it?

Plus, you know, kids usually have an incentive or two to hide their bad behavior from their parents. They clean up the apartment before you come over, tend not to mention the unsafe sex they had the other day with that stranger at the bar.

To be honest, how boys act when they’re trying to get a girl to bed them is not how they act in front of you, the parent. They certainly know how you want them to act, may even understand that you want honesty, but there’s certain aspects of a kid’s life that they often won’t share with you even though you’re totally open about it.

(Fun fact: My mom once trusted me enough to ask me to come home stoned, so she could see how a stoned person looked, because she wanted to be able to tell if my sibling was smoking. I did not take her up on this, because I could do many things for my sainted Mom, but that was a LIMIT.)

If you’ve spent your days telling them to respect women, chances are good they’re not going to mention the times when they went against your long lectures because their friends told them this would work.

Which is not a ding on your parenting style personally. I just know a lot of fundamentalist parents who are convinced their kids are straight-laced conservatives like them, and they’re actually cheerful poly freaks – and I know a lot of liberals who are all like, “My daughter tells me everything,” when in fact their daughter tells them like 80% of it.

You don’t know that 20%. You probably don’t even know what the percentage they’re hiding from you is.

My point is, yeah, as an older guy who was raised in a pretty toxic stew of bad consent messages that I’m still trying to untangle some days, we should absolutely have a healthy discussion of how to raise men who treat women respectfully. And pointing to your adult kids as examples of what you did right is a useful addition, so long as you recognize that almost no parent knows their kids as well as they think they do.

And if you’re talking about your fifteen-year-old kid, well, as I said, that kid’s in flux. I hope that trajectory works out for you. I want that kid to be as good as you think they are.

I’m just saying, they’ve still got the training wheels on. And you’ve gotta give ’em time to ride through the streets on their own before you know whether they’re a good bike rider.

4 Comments

  1. Laura
    Aug 23, 2018

    This. All of this. Gotta love it when I stumble across a post that delivers a dose of real along with laughter. (Holy cow, your mom asked you to come home STONED?? I love it!)

  2. Anonymous Alex
    Aug 23, 2018

    I’m tempted to point out the implicit hypocrisy that the parents you describe are exhibiting, but I suppose it’s a futile gesture.

    You’re quite right, of course.

    -Alex

  3. Anonymous Alex
    Aug 25, 2018

    Well said. I’m sorely tempted to point out the hypocrisy that these parents are also displaying, but I suppose that’s too many degrees away to have an effect.

    -Alex

  4. Toby Lightheart
    Aug 28, 2018

    I agree. My impression is that children learn pretty early what to hide from their parents. In the long run, children may adopt attitudes and behaviors more from their friends and schoolmates than their parents. Parents rarely have much control over who their children befriend. Whether their children fall into a good group of friends might be luck more than anything.

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