On Becoming a Bad Parent

by Site Author

I took my three-year-old daughter over to a friend’s apartment the other day. While the kids played, I chatted with the other father. We stood in the middle of their living room, a room filled to capacity with dolls, stuffed animals, lego bricks, arts-and-crafts kits, markers, crayons, and a miniature teepee. The father turned to me and asked, “so, have you read any books about parenting lately?”

It was then that I decided to become a bad parent.

OK, not exactly a bad parent, but a parent who no longer reads books about parenting. And, for that matter, a parent whose children, both metaphorically and literally, do not fill every bit of space the way an expanding gas fills its container.

I decided to stop reading books about parenting, because the time to read books about parenting has to come from somewhere: either from time for myself or time I would otherwise spend with my kids. And parenting is exhausting already without homework.

The thing is, parenting is a matter of balancing between two extremes. At one end, there is pure neglect—real bad parenting—in which kids are always in the back seat. At the other end lies over-parenting—“helicopter parenting”—in which parents work full time to shield their children from even a hint of frustration or discomfort.

I know that I’m not a neglectful parent. No matter how much I enjoy Louis CK’s jokes about parenting—on board games with toddlers: “sweetie, I’m more bored than I love you!”—I love my kids deeply.

But I also want to avoid that other extreme, over-parenting. That’s where my friend, who lost every inch of his living room, lives.