Bad Parents

The meeting started a few minutes late. We were hoping one or two more members would show up because of the whole 'decently and in order' thing. Two additional members arrived about five minutes late so we had our quorum. If they had not shown up we would have canceled the meeting. Rules can be pesky like that.

Just as the previous meeting minutes were approved there was a knock at the outside door and immediately a curious "Hello?" coming from the hallway outside the office. Apparently the outside door was unlocked. Never one to miss an opportunity to sneak out of a meeting, I volunteered to investigate.

In the hallway was a stubby, forty-ish woman, somewhat disheveled, sweaty but not stinky, who, upon seeing me, immediately launched a breathless story about running out of gas and eviction notices and feeding kids and the bad economy. She waved her hands broadly, her head bobbing up and down and side to side, attempting to pin my eyes with hers, just outside the closed office door.

The hallway connects the office with Sunday school classrooms, the nursery and the fellowship hall. It's empty, except for me and this woman. The meeting was after hours. The scene triggered a memory of a young man about 6 years old standing in the same hallway and gesturing in the same way as the unexpected visitor. He was attempting to explain to me why it had been necessary for him to get a bucket of ice cubes from the kitchen, carry it to the top of the spiral slide on the playground and dump it down the slide while a group of little girls was attempting to climb up the slide. Upon removal from the playground by the nearest enforcer (aka "parent"), which happened to be me, he was pleading his case in hopes of preventing being ratted out to his parents.

The temptation to fire up the public safety and courtesy lecture was strong. Somehow, I resisted. I simply told him, "I will be speaking to your Dad about this", and I did. Later the boy remarked to my son, "You sure have a mean Dad" which is, of course, one of the great aspirations of my life ... to be "the mean Dad."

The delivery of the woman's "out of gas" story was flawless, and obviously well rehearsed. She attempted to herd me into a corner by circling around and standing uncomfortably close. I stood my ground and, having made the mental connection to the guilty six year old, easily adopted the role of parental observer. Her tone changed from subtly demanding to practiced pleading.

She dug in her purse saying, "I can show you the gas gauge on the car it's right out here in the parking lot and I've got the eviction notice right here. I need to get to daycare to get my kids soon or they'll charge me extra for being late. I've been looking for work all day and lost track of time. I only need twenty ... or ten or whatever you or your friends can spare." The last was said just quickly enough so it was clear the retail price was twenty dollars. I didn't say anything and instead just walked to the outside door and opened it. She stayed inside. I reached for my wallet. She stepped outside. I handed her ten dollars and said, "Don't come back." She left, without saying thanks of course, feeling, no doubt, that she had won.

She drove out of the parking lot in her older, but clean, Lexus sedan. The back plate was in a green and white 'DriveTime' license plate holder. There was a man in the passenger seat. I didn't care where they were going.

Once, a few years ago, our friend's fourth grade daughter opined, "Even third graders have cell phones now, Dad!" to which her father replied, "They must have bad parents." She didn't get the cell phone, and probably felt she had lost the argument without realizing the lesson. She probably will, someday.

After the meeting someone asked "Who was that at the door?" I told the story, briefly, and someone commented, "That was very Christian of you." I knew what they meant. And I knew they were wrong. Being a good Christian does not usually involve handing out money in inconsequential denominations. It was just bad parenting.

The money was a pay off, pure and simple. It wasn't given with a charitable heart and it really meant nothing to either of us. She gained ten dollars, hush money. Ten bucks for 5 minutes work. Maybe she earned it, the way that whiny kids throwing a tantrum earn the candy or toy that keeps them quiet. When you see that little drama between a parent and child play out in a store somewhere, do you ask yourself, "Who's the parent?" If the child gets the toy, you immediately know, at least at that particular moment in time. Is it fair to the child to put them in charge? What do they learn, the powerful strategy of whining?

Good parents say no ... a lot. They know if they don't the kids won't be able to handle failure and they will spend all their time pouting and moaning and crying and saying "But that's not FAIR!"

Which we all know comes once a year, usually in October.


  1. My aspiration is the be the "Cool/Embarrassing Mom".

    As in, when I pull up to my kid's school blaring 80s Glam Rock and headbanging, his friends will say, "Your mom is so cool!"

    And then I will wave and shout across the parking lot, "Hi, Richard! Is that your girlfriend?!"

    And Richard will say, "My mom is SO EMBARRASSING!!"

  2. I would just like to say that I hold the title of "Meanest Mom" (I think you actually gave it to me) with my favorite word being No, followed closely by the phrase, "Hell no!" And, yet, I find myself with three (not so "teen") teenagers who pout, whine, cry, and bemoan "But that's not FAIR!" Ultimately, I believe that we, as parents, are screwed no matter what we do because children are born with a manipulation Super Child that is intuitive...the answer to this could be that all children need to be kept in a dark, dank dungeon.

  3. correction: Super Chip (sorry - low on coffee this morning)

  4. My son, having just gotten a Nintendo DS for his birthday, wanted to bring it to school. I told him "No, we don't bring video games to school." He asked why, saying "Kevin and Ethan bring their DS's to school." I told him, "Well, your parents are meaner than Kevin and Ethan's."

    And he couldn't argue with that.

  5. Hey Dexter....trust me, you are sooo doing the right thing to be the meanest Dad!!! That's because I know how loving you really are. As an elementary principal (I Know, the mind reels) I see children daily who have NEVER been told "no". It's tantamount to child abuse, really. Thanks for putting in a good word for parents who are really parents and not friends....remember, your kids will have lots of friends, but you're the only Dad they'll have. BTW....I'm the newest fan of your writing style...good job!! Beverly Owen