My husband and I are experimenting with a radical new parenting technique, one that we call, “Keeping Our Mouths Shut.” I had heard of other parents attempting this terrifying feat. Frankly, I never thought we would get this desperate.
To non-parents, the idea of parenting simply by Keeping Our Mouths Shut may sound absurdly easy. Why, any higher primate could do that, you might conclude. But parents of real live kids (as opposed to parents of action figures or Yorkshire terriers) realize that this form of silent parenting is a fallback position, a sign that you have exhausted your parenting bag of tricks.
None of this would be necessary if children didn’t each come equipped with something called a “personality.” The “personality,” as we have experienced it, is guaranteed to be in mortal conflict with nearly every other personality in the family. To remedy these conflicts, we have bought thousands of advice books written by people who have never met our children but who presume to teach us how to rear them anyway. If all goes well, children will grow up to be loving, respectful, clear-thinking and moral individuals who will be a pride to their community. If things don’t go so well, the kids surprise Mom and Dad when they are fifteen by arriving home with nose rings that makes them look like bulls and announcing in front of Grandma that gender may be an accident of birth but is not at all an immutable fact.
Some of the wackier parenting tricks we’ve tried included everything from putting beans in jars for kids to earn treats (great for the budding actuary in the family) to the wimpy strategy of “reflecting kids’ feelings” back to them. (Serves me right for buying a book endorsed only by Phil Donahue.) Reflecting our kids’ feelings back to them only yielded the humiliating result of our kids cocking their heads to one side and asking, “Are you feeling all right?”
Eventually we devised a plan we thought was simply genius: We would talk to the kids as if they were intelligent, reasonable people who would respond to logic! We started with straightforward examples, such as, “You may be right that your math teacher has serious bad breath, but telling him may upset or embarrass him. He might even lower your grade on the test.” In this case, logic could not compete against the irresistible lure of sharing his observation with the teacher. The teacher got back at our kid by somehow making his breath even worse for the rest of the year.
By the time kids are teens, the parenting books have become large dust magnets, destined for Goodwill. This is when parents usually start to reminisce like soppy Hallmark greeting cards about the good old days when their tykes were small.
“Ah, remember when Molly walked into the living room with Great-Uncle Morris’s dentures in her mouth? Or when Brandon nearly short-circuited the neighborhood with those pliers?” The operative word in these misty-eyed stories is “nearly,” since mischievous little ones are forever on the brink of destruction and mayhem. But young children endearingly still believe that their parents know more than they do – a condition they will outgrow as soon as the braces are bonded onto their teeth. Parents of little kids don’t appreciate the beauty of moments when they say, “Take the screwdriver out of the socket and give it back to Mommy, Timmy, and you’ll get another cookie,” and – get this– Timmy actually hands the screwdriver over to Mommy!
Perversely, kids stop listening to parents right smack at the time when they are old enough to commit heart-stoppingly dangerous antics, such as driving, dating, and starring in homemade, embarrassing movies about themselves that they upload onto the Internet. This is when parents begin to appreciate the concept of military boot camps, even for girls.
This all brings us to our latest parenting ploy of Keeping Our Mouths Shut. Frankly, after issuing billions of words to our kids to help guide them and finding they were about as effective as trying to get the dog to stop barking maniacally at the mailman, it was our Hail Mary move.
We have discovered that Keeping Our Mouths Shut requires teamwork, and perhaps a crisis hot line as well. For example, I was on the verge of telling one kid, “If you go for a job interview with your hair spiked like that, you may not get the job.” I had to report this urge to my husband, who restrained me from offering any such useless advice, on pain of canceling my favorite credit card.
Likewise, I must intercept his attempts at parenting. The other day, after listening to a doomed attempt by one child trying to organize a garage sale with his friends, my husband said, “I can’t take it anymore! I could tell him how to salvage this mess in two minutes.” This was my cue to grab my husband’s arm and tie him to the recliner until the temptation had passed.
“What good is all our life experience if we can’t teach it to our kids?” he asked plaintively.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe we should write a parenting book.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.