I have some more thoughts that have been percolating in my head over our little social media scandal. The boy’s mom posted something on Facebook about the permanence of stuff on the internet and in the course of the ensuing discussion, remarked that she and her husband had failed as parents somewhere along the way.
I don’t think so. How did they fail? Did they fail because they hadn’t talked to their children about not posting mean pictures about other kids online? How many other things that might be good to talk about have they not talked about? Do those things make them failures too? Do they make them failures even if the kid never stumbles over the non-knowledge?
How many things do we assume our children understand? It never occurred to me that Jane needed to be told not to microwave her jacket. How could I know I needed to talk about that? “Well,” you might say, “there’s a big difference between microwaving a jacket and cyber-bullying.”
Of course there is. But if you never imagine your child doing something – if it never even occurs to you, is it really so different in practice? As parents, what exactly are we expected to teach our children over the course of their lives? Does anyone have a checklist?
Don’t throw your food.
Eat your vegetables.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, put yourself back to sleep.
Pee in the toilet.
Clean up the surrounding area if you miss.
Wipe your bottom.
Wash your hands after you use the bathroom.
Brush your teeth at least twice a day.
Use soap when you bathe.
Share your toys.
Don’t steal other children’s toys.
Apologize if you do bite. Or steal a toy. Or fail to share.
Tie your shoes. Like this.
Dress yourself. And promptly so we won’t be late.
Say thank you.
Keep your room clean.
Don’t pull the dog’s tail. Or ears. Or leg.
Don’t touch a hot stove.
Check both ways before you cross the street.
Don’t rest your elbows on the table.
Chew with your mouth closed.
Wait until you’ve swallowed your food before speaking.
Control your volume.
Get someone’s attention before you speak to them.
If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.
Pay attention in class.
Always do your homework.
Give us any papers your teacher sends home from school.
Don’t try to hide things from us.
Come to us if you are having a problem.
Participate fully in any activity you sign up for.
Follow through on your commitments.
Speak and write correctly. Here’s how.
Don’t put non-food stuff in the microwave.
Don’t put the cat in the dryer.
Don’t stick a fork in any outlets.
Don’t put small objects in your mouth.
Horseplay can be dangerous.
Keep your hands clear of closing doors.
Don’t climb up on the roof.
Respect your teachers. And your coaches. And all adults.
Except the bad ones. Run away from them.
Don’t let anyone touch you inappropriately.
Tell us if anyone tries to. Even if they tell you not to.
Don’t talk to strangers.
Unless you have an emergency. And then pick an officer. Or a woman. Or…
Here’s how to dial 911.
Never dial 911 unless it’s a true emergency.
Your parents not letting you have your way is not a 911 emergency.
Always, always wear your seatbelt.
Do not wear any inappropriate clothing. Like that. That is inappropriate.
Don’t listen to music too loud, especially when using earbuds.
Stand up for yourself.
But don’t be a bully.
Participate in conversations but don’t dominate.
Find what you are good at. What you love. Let us help.
Just because other parents allow it doesn’t mean we will.
Be a good friend if you want to have good friends.
Don’t make anyone feel excluded. Ever.
If you see something seriously wrong, tell someone.
Don’t cheat. On schoolwork. Or anything.
Don’t steal from anyone. For any reason.
Don’t vandalize property.
Even more than that, respect other people’s property.
Make church an important part of your life.
But think for yourself. Don’t just follow the crowd.
This is what will happen when you go through puberty.
This is what sex is all about.
And this is why you should wait.
And please don’t let anyone pressure you into it.
Or pressure you into anything you aren’t ready for.
And you aren’t ready for that.
Don’t break up with anyone via text message.
In fact, don’t have any serious conversations via text. Pick up the phone.
Call your grandparents.
Write thank you notes.
Take care of your chores before leisure time.
Don’t talk back to your parents.
When you grow up, don’t talk back to the boss.
Don’t do drugs.
Don’t drink alcohol. Unless you are with us.
But if you do, call us. Please don’t drive drunk.
Please, please don’t text and drive.
Don’t even answer the phone while driving.
Pull over instead.
Yes, I know you’ve seen me do it. I’m working on that.
Be home by midnight.
Participate in the community.
Help those less fortunate than you.
Let me show you how to cook.
Let me show you how to clean.
Let me show you how to set a table.
How to ride a bike.
How to roller skate.
How to fish.
How to swim.
How to make your bed.
How to mend your clothes.
How to iron.
How to style your hair.
How to apply make-up.
How to shave.
How to change a tire.
How to drive.
How to shop.
How to write a check.
How to talk on the phone.
Wear deodorant. Trust me – you stink.
Set aside some money for savings and tithe. Just get in the habit now.
Don’t allow yourself to go into credit card debt.
Keep a budget.
Here’s how you balance a checkbook.
Learn to do math in your head.
Don’t watch too much TV.
Don’t believe everything you see or hear.
Think before you speak.
Don’t post anything negative on social media.
Remember, once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.
Please remember the golden rule.
Don’t stay in an abusive relationship.
Remember – we are always here for you.
Remember – we are always here for you.
Please. Remember. We are always here for you.
Is it any wonder that with a never-ending exhausting list, we sometimes find ourselves in a situation where we feel we have failed to teach our children something important?
We are going to fail.
We can’t possibly teach them everything they need to know before they need to know it. We can’t guarantee that they will absorb the lessons that we attempt to impart. All we can do is try. And try a little harder the next day. And pick ourselves back up and try again when we stumble. Or when they stumble.
No, our children’s one-off actions are not nearly as indicative of our parenting quality as is our response to those actions.