Can anyone say their parents were perfect? OK, those of you who raised your hands may now Google the word "denial."
For the rest of us, of course our parents made mistakes. It's as normal as... as not being there when I came home from my first two-week, sleep-away camp and I thought you'd moved away and left me alone because my ant collection escaped from the jar and started a colony in the kitchen wall where they're swarming right now, watching me, hungry, waiting to attack like in that horror movie on Chiller Theatre... I digress.
To err is parenting. Kids don't come home from the birthing suite with instruction manuals. Much of parenting remains a learning on the job, shoot from the hip, intuitive, just-try-to-do-what's-right exercise no matter the number the books read, degrees earned, blogs written, and years spent bent cleaning up puke.
I love my parents, and they did much more right than wrong. But as I trek parenthood's path, a few of their gaping potholes stand out. The trick, as I see it, is to avoid reprising my parents' missteps as I struggle to raise my own pre-teen son and daughter.
Here are five mistakes my parents made that I'm consciously trying not to repeat.
No Hugs and Kisses from Dad
Although my mom was warmly affectionate, I can't remember one time my dad hugged me. He was not a cold man. He demonstrated his love through good humor, solid support, attention, concern, and shared activities. But nowhere in my recollection did he just give me a hug, let alone a kiss on the forehead. The Italian father of a close childhood buddy used to embarrass him with hugs and kisses, while I frowned and acted repulsed. But secretly I wished my dad showed me that kind of affection. I hug and kiss my kids every chance I get.
Holiday Gifts Deficit
My parents were frugal. And that life style extended right through the year, including Christmas. I guess every kid wants more holiday gifts, but in our house, Santa's bounty seemed so paltry that we actually had a good argument. I lavish gifts on my kids. This may not be right. I may be pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction, creating a new mistake. But I'll let my kids blog about that. I'm happy giving.
I experienced formal spankings two or three times that I remember. Everyone I knew growing up was spanked. It was not sadistic nor performed wild-eyed with a wire coat hanger. It was a common disciplinary practice in the day. Frankly, I have no idea if it did me any real harm. But we do not spank our children. Spanking is emotionally harmful, justifies violence, breaks trust, halts communication, instills a sense of powerlessness, and in my opinion, is a lazy, non-creative, Neanderthal assault on defenseless human beings.
Laissez-Faire Personal Hygiene
Both my parents worked out of the home, and they had four kids to raise. They did not have the time or energy to remind us every day and night to brush our teeth, shampoo our hair, clip our nails, and wear clean clothes. As a result, I often shirked my duties. I avoided brushing my teeth whenever I could... thinking I was getting away with something, fighting tyrannical rule ("rebel without a floss"). As a result, I got way too many cavities as a kid. Today, I beseech my children almost every night to brush their teeth. If I don't, they often neglect the Crest. I figure if I hound them enough... sometimes even waking them up from early REM to do their duty... they'll eventually develop a healthy habitual routine.
Scare Tactic Sex Education
As described in my previous post, Sweating a Sex Education Class for Fathers and Sons , my dad's discussion of the birds and the bees was all sting and no sing. He showed me a box of condoms, hidden under his handkerchiefs, and warned me not to come home if I ever got a girl pregnant. And he was a university professor! That's the way it was back then. Sex was secret, taboo, and not talked about... except via the playground grapevine. My son and I attended a two-session sex education class at our local hospital. It was informative, fun, freeing, and bonding. And we learned that most of the dads in the audience were subjected to the same kind of perfunctory sex ed talk, if any at all, by their dads. Glad I broke that silly cycle with my son.
Did your folks make any mistakes that you're trying to avoid as a parent? I hope you'll take a moment to share them with me and other Huffington Post readers in the comment section below. Happy trails, parents and readers.