Almost nobody has a plan for how they're going to raise their kids. What they have, instead, is a series of promises about how they won't raise them. We see shrieking kids running around a restaurant or throwing shit-covered cats off of the neighbor's roof while Mom talks on her cell phone, and we promise ourselves we won't be that parent.
But when you actually become a parent, you realize that you were imagining a theoretical perfect child that you can grow like a plant -- just dump the right amount of water and shit on it and he'll be fine. In reality, kids have a way of making you look like an asshole. And all of those bold declarations will turn into a series of complicated compromises. Like ...
#5. "I'd never let my kid out of the house, dressed like that!"
You're driving through town on a summer day, when some chick catches your eye, wearing an outfit you once saw on a backup dancer in a 90s rap video. As you pass, you get a better look and realize, "Holy shit, she can't be 14 years old!" Then you go home and wash your eyes with acid and attend confession even though you aren't Catholic. Just in case.
Then when you get to be a little bit older, that reaction will be amended with, "Damn, she's only a year older than my kid!" followed by the declaration, "With God as my witness, my child will never leave the house looking like that! She's not wearing makeup until she's 18, low-cut tops will be strictly forbidden and if she wants a skirt, she can buy the kind that goes past her ankles from the quiet Mormon couple down the street."
There we go. Guys love this look!
But Here's the Thing ...
I asked 10 women at random what age they started wearing makeup, and the average answer was sixth grade (about age 11). None of them grew up to be skanks, and none of the mothers who raised them were skanks (though I admit this is a difficult question to get an accurate answer to).
My point is, as a male whose mind is almost entirely filth, it's easy to see a certain type of clothing (when worn on an adult) as an invitation to sex, and to get repulsed when I see those clothes on a kid.
But think about that. At that age, do you honestly think that when they're putting on eyeshadow and picking out jeans, that they're thinking of enticing a fellow sixth grader into bed? Hell no. They want to feel grown up, so they dress like the grownups. The overwhelming majority of women I've asked about this told me the same thing: "We didn't wear makeup back then to attract boys. We wore it to fit in with other girls."
"Am I doing it right? Am I pretty yet?"
And your kid is going to want to fit in.
I haven't had that argument with my daughter yet (she's only 6) but I've gotten a preview with my sons, who are on the verge of being teenagers. At some point, it's no longer like sticking a sweater on a dog -- kids are eventually going to want to dress themselves. They'll settle in with a social circle, and every circle wants to define themselves by what they wear. If I'm reading the fashion trends right, three years from now my son's friends will probably be dressing like a 1984 era David Lee Roth, and they'll want to do the same. The argument we have isn't going to be between making them dress in sensible sweaters versus spandex, but between making sure they go with the tasteful black spandex instead of the flamboyant leopard skin.
You have to have a little class, is what I'm saying.
Just to be clear, it's not about just giving in, and it's not that I'm going to be OK with letting my daughter dress like a whore. It's that my opinion of what clothes are whorish will be completely different from what teenagers think whores dress like, and that's going to be even more true in 2017. It's idiotic for me to tell my girl that dressing that way "sends the wrong signals" when, in reality, the signals are completely different than they were when I was in high school. Hell, clothes that would have gotten you called a whore in 1920 can be worn to a job interview now.
So, I'll compromise. And I'll hate every second of it.
#4. "I'll never let my kid hang around that crowd!"
Every parent of every fuckup kid says the same thing when the cops call. "I don't know what my little Johnny was doing in the car with those dopehead kids! I told him not to run with that crowd!"
We can't imagine that our kids make their own choices; we imagine that as soon as our kid is out of our sight, they're at a party surrounded by shady characters, probably in tiny leather jackets, saying, "You know what all us cool kids are doing? Injecting heroin directly into our brains. Here, you'll need a drill."
So clearly saving your kids' life means keeping them away from the shitheads.
Especially gigantic ones who like to chop down houses.
But Here's the Thing ...
First, don't let me dismiss the effect peers have on a kid. When we're teenagers, we like to think of ourselves as individuals with the mental power to resist peer pressure. We're not sheep. It's not until you're an adult that you can look back and fully realize how perfectly you conformed to your group (and now some experts say peers actually matter more than parents in a kid's development). So, keeping your kid away from the bad apple is non-negotiable, right?
Well, my boys had a friend who for the sake of privacy we'll call "Clusterfuck Condombreak." Clusterfuck was constantly in trouble at school, spending as much time in detention as he did in the classroom. Outside of school, he'd been busted several times for shoplifting. He was temperamental and prone to breaking into fight mode if he didn't get his way. My ex wife and I banned him from the house, and told our kids that they were not to be around him anymore.
But that's when you realize it's like trying to avoid the annoying co-worker who shares the same cubicle as you. These kids go to the same small-town school, they share classes, they all have recess together, they ride the same bus.
Commit arson together.
So, when Clusterfuck approaches them, what are they supposed to do? It's really goddamned easy for me to tell my kids, "Just say that you don't want to be friends any more." Sure. Have you ever done that? Looked somebody right in the eyes and said, "I can't talk to you because a third party has determined that you're a bad person."
Okay, now imagine being a ten year old boy and not only having to say that, but also having to explain to your group of mutual friends that either Clusterfuck goes, or he goes.
It's so easy to over-simplify those social situations when it's children involved. "Oh, sure, we have social drama and office politics and cliques and alliances, but these are just kids." Trust me, if you think that, you apparently don't retain any memories of your childhood. That shit gets messy. It isn't helping the kid to pretend it's not.
"Hey, do you guys want to meet up later and ignore Melanie in front of her own house?"
So, no, you don't get to cherry-pick your kids' friends the way you can decide what haircut they get. The only thing you can do is try your best to teach them right from wrong and hope they make the right decisions. You try to give them the tools to see why Clusterfuck is going down a bad road, and hope that they arrive at that decision for themselves.
But here's the scary part: They're not always going to. Especially if part of Clusterfuck's appeal is that he's a badass who shuns authority -- an authority figure telling them not to hang out with him is basically an endorsement. So all you can do is hope that if it all goes wrong, you can be there after the fact to make sure they understand it, and that it goes wrong on a level of setting off some illegal fireworks and not, say, hijacking an armored car.
#3. "I'll never let my kids around booze or drugs!"
End of discussion.
I'll be damned if I let them get drunk and buy 1970s phones.
But Here's the Thing ...
They'll actually be happy to end the discussion, because that will give them more time to go out and sneak beers with their friends.
By around age 13 about 40 percent of kids will admit to pollsters that they've tried alcohol. Who knows what the real number is. That jumps to 66 percent by age 15. For boys, the average age when they first try alcohol is 11.
About 40 percent% of high school kids will admit to having tried marijuana, and if you expand that to any illicit drug, that number climbs to half. I'm going to go way out on a limb and say the percentage of them who are lying to this pollster is even higher than the booze one, since the law and social stigma are both harder on drugs than beer. Put it all together, and by the time your kid moves out, the odds are overwhelming they've tried at least one addictive substance. If not, don't worry -- they'll have plenty more chances in college.
These men are 47 years old.
And there isn't a goddamn thing we can do to stop them, short of chaining them to their bed and eliminating all of the social interaction that's going to help them develop into a non-asshole adult. They're going to attend parties where people are drinking and smoking. They are going to be offered that shit.
All you can do, is educate them. But here's the thing -- you can't just make shit up to scare them off of it.
They tried that with me in the 1980s, the whole "Just Say No" thing that spammed our TV shows and health classes with blatantly exaggerated and sometimes outright false information. They said that marijuana would turn you into a mindless zombie, unable to function in the real world. Drinkers were depicted as wife-beating, unemployable disasters who eventually die in a pool of their own vomit. They taught us that one hit off of a crack pipe would get you addicted.
Don't get me wrong -- crack is awful, but the sheer, honest numbers are that only 7 percent of people who try it become regular users. So what happens when a kid sees that some people try the worst of the worst drugs and come out unscathed? What happens when they see the laughable difference between the stoner at school and the ruined marijuana addict depicted in the health class videos?
All drug users live in the sewer, right?
Their trust is gone, that's what happens. "Wait, if they've been lying to us about this, what other bullshit have they been shoveling?"
Hell, in many cases, a lot of us tried those things because it was taboo. "I know it's dangerous. That's just the kind of guy I am. Fuck authority, man." Then we'd put on some Rage Against the Machine and talk about how much the cops were holding us down. So why do I think that the same shit that didn't work on me is suddenly going to work with my kids?
No, the only thing we can do is educate our kids on what substance abuse really is. And that means letting them know honestly that there's a huge difference between recreational use and chemical dependence. No, smoking a bowl with some friends isn't going to turn you into a drooling social outcast. But keeping yourself in a perpetual buzz day-in and day-out will not only cost you a fuckload of money, but if you get caught doing it, your ass will go to jail. And no, despite what the stoners tell you, that shit isn't as harmless as candy. Drinking a few beers with friends isn't going to make you beat your wife and kids. But drinking in the wrong situations is a good way to wind up becoming a parent, yourself and drinking and driving is a good way to wind up fucking dead.
If the ensuing wreck doesn't kill you, I fucking will.
In a perfect world, our kids' first introduction to alcohol would be in a controlled environment, chaperoned by responsible adults who could provide transportation home and a safe atmosphere. But the truth is, most of them will find out exactly like we did. In a friend's basement, yelling over loud music, through a thick layer of smoke.