#2. Observing Normal People in the Wild
When I go to the grocery store, it's pretty much guaranteed I'll come across some woman at the end of her rope, arguing through gritted teeth with a hyperactive four year old on why he needs to stop running and grabbing shit off of the shelves.
This is a surprisingly informative learning opportunity, seeing how different parents handle the same situations. I don't make it obvious, but I hang around in their section for a bit longer than I need just to see how they deal it. Does this parent have an actual technique they're following? Are they just acting out of frustration? Are they thinking about the example they're setting for the annoying little bastard?
Now, you wear that and you think about what you did
Sorry, I shouldn't call their children little bastards. That's my dad talking there.
Speaking of which, when I was eight we all went grocery shopping together (me, Dad and my brother), and as the cashier was ringing up the last of our stuff, my brother (who was seven at the time) reminded dad that he had forgotten to put the bag of potatoes up there with the rest of the groceries so we could pay for them. They were still on the bottom of the cart. My dad thanked him, at the same time shooting him a look that made it clear he was only restraining himself due to the witnesses.
When we got back into the car, he lost it on my brother. Luckily, there was no physical violence in that one, but I'm not sure that made it any better. In a fit of screaming and cursing, he "explained" that if there's something left on the bottom of the cart, you shut your stupid fucking mouth because it's there on purpose. You know, where the cashier can't see it.
Yes, my dad was teaching my seven year old brother how to steal a two-dollar sack of potatoes. He later taught him (before price scanners were a thing) how to switch the price tags on items because cashiers rarely double-checked when ringing it up.
And that's how I got a TV for under a dollar!
This is the same brother who would later spend the vast majority of his life in prison for multiple thefts and burglaries.
#1. Asking Non-Crazy People for Parenting Tips
I eventually made it a point to start small talk with some of my coworkers, who I had previously avoided like the plague because I hate people who make golf jokes and speak in the artificially polite tone I like to call Office Voice. I could blame Dad for that but I think that one is just me.
But when I made myself man up and talk to people, I found that almost every mom and dad in existence will talk about parenting at even the slightest offhanded mention of the word. This annoys a lot of people, but as soon as I had kids I found myself slipping in some questions under the radar, trying to get advice from anyone who didn't show noticeable signs of a recent bar fight.
"Yes, our little Sarah is becoming quite the butcher."
I learned some of my most important lessons this way. "So when my kid gets old enough to draw on the walls with crayon, how do you handle that?" I didn't tell them that my dad would take care of it by throwing a half-full can of beer at us and screaming until our ears rang. I just masked a look of surprise and listened patiently as they unknowingly taught me about a child's "currency." That's to say finding out what they like to play with the most and taking that from them as punishment, carefully explaining to them why you're doing it. And if they repeat the bad action, doing it again until they break the habit.
So, wait... you're telling me that when my kid is throwing a fit because he wants his ball back, the best way to handle it isn't to down a bottle of vodka and fall asleep on the couch because he'll get over it? Holy shit. That was when I realized tha concepts like "grounding" a kid and actually discussing with them what they did wrong wasn't, as I had believed, just something they did on sitcoms because the script dictated it.
The infamous episode where Kimmy gets caught blowing a donkey.
As I've said, I knew to put on the brakes and not unleash a beatstorm on my kids just because they made a mess. But that fucked up sense of what's normal means you don't know how far to go in the other direction. I found myself in more than one full-fledged argument with a six year-old, debating him as if he were 20. The line of thinking was that since my parents treated me like shit, I should do the opposite and treat my own kids as equal adults.
But they're not. They're kids. Equal humans, absolutely. Equal adults? They have several more years of growing before they graduate into that. That's what you're there for. That's where talking to other parents helps -- knowing what's bad doesn't automatically tell you what's good.
And as for me, I can forgive my dad, but can never forget. And maybe my revenge is knowing that he's somewhere, watching me out-parenting him so hard that it makes his parenting skills look like a big pile of shit.
Be a good parent and buy your kid our book.