How Do I Handle Terrible Parenting?

Last week someone brought their twins into the office. They are, I dunno, less than a year old? The boy is starting to walk, the girl hasn’t yet, so however old that would make them.

And the boy was crying.

And the mom commented that when the boy cries, the dad says, in a sing-songy voice, “We’re not raising a wussy!”

I don’t even know these people (I’ve only been at this job for about 2 months). Do I point out how fucked up that is? What’s the protocol in a situation like this?

– Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

Dear Someone Who’s Thinking of the Children,

A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook asking about why no one wants to hear advice or opinions from people who don’t have kids when it comes to child-rearing, and I wrote something snotty about how if you ever have opinions about how someone else is raising their kids, you have to keep them to yourself.

Raising kids is hard; judgments are easy blah blah blah fickety blah.

Then I get your letter.

And I honestly think this woman was hoping you would say something.

Because as you wrote, that is some fucked-up shit.

Now, if someone is reading this and thinking: “What’s the big deal? Who wants to raise a wussy?” I suggest you consider that ‘wussy’ is just a sneaky way of saying ‘pussy,’ and I further suggest that you google ‘toxic masculinity.’

Children who cry are not ‘wussies.’ They are ‘kids.’

Kids show pain, discomfort, anger, sadness, or just plain being overwhelmed by crying. It’s what they do.

Parents need to be strong enough to handle their kid’s emotions. They need to create safe spaces for their kids to experience sometimes overwhelming and scary feelings. They need to be compassionate enough to allow and encourage their children to express those feelings — and crying is how they express them at that age. Convincing a kid of any gender that crying makes you a ‘wussy,’ is telling that child: who you are is a weakling. There is something wrong with you just for being a kid. Stuff it down. Wall it off. I don’t love you for who you are.

The fact that the husband only does this when the boy cries is a whole other layer of shit. Teaching boys that it’s not manly to cry can cause genuine, lasting damage to their health and happiness.

A recent Rutger’s University study showed that

. . .men who held traditional beliefs about masculinity – that men should be tough, brave, self-reliant and restrained in their expression of emotion – were more likely to ignore medical problems, or at least put off dealing with them, than women or than men with less traditional beliefs.

Ignoring medical problems and putting them off can result in shorter lifespans– which men have, when compared to women.

Oh hai.

So this guy is contributing to his kids’ eventual early death. No, seriously. He is. Not to mention damaging his ability to genuinely connect with others, form lasting friendships, and be a good life partner.

Now. What do you say?

While, as I said, I HATE unsolicited parenting advice, natural reactions to horrible shit seem like the way to go. Especially since the mom told you. I think she wanted to see your reaction.

I wish I knew what sort of tone she used. Was she laughing nervously? Saying it flatly? Saying it as if she disagreed with it?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. The way we set expectations in society is by reacting to things that we wish to censure in a censorious manner.

Gasping in horror and saying: “That’s awful!” seems like a reasonable thing to do — and if she already thought it was awful, you’re backing her up. Alternatively, you could say: “Really? How do you feel about that?” and have a conversation with the mom.

Talking about these issues is a great way to help people think about them, and a great way to possibly reflect what the mom was already thinking.

In any case? FUCK that dad, seriously.

This letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on April 14, 2016.

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