Bad parenting and baloney sandwiches

Baloney sandwiches.

It’s an unexpected price to pay for bad parenting, but it’s a reality for a friend I’ve known for years.

I remember sitting at a dinner table with him and his wife about eight years ago. Their newborn son was sleeping nearby and the beaming new parents were talking about techniques they were going to use to encourage their child to walk, talk, and use the toilet.

Then they discussed discipline. Oh gosh no, they certainly weren’t going to spank their child. They laughed off the mere suggestion, stating they were more “civilized” than that while babbling something about an “advanced” and “developed” civilization.

Whatever. At this point, they were both starting to sound like the teacher on Charlie Brown shows who you could hear speaking, but not understand what she was saying.

But my attention was piqued when the mother (who clearly was dictating terms of their “shared” parental philosophy) stated in so many words “we don’t believe in telling him no either. It stunts his creativity. So instead, we firmly suggest other options to the one we find objectionable.”

Oh really, I thought. You aren’t going to tell your child no? You’re going to try to reason with someone who doesn’t know how to use a toilet? Sounds like a recipe for success to me.

Now, one of the unwritten rules of society is if you don’t have children, you are too stupid to comment on anyone else’s parenting techniques, no matter how crazy they may sound. So, as I listened to this approach with my wife, who was then pregnant with our firstborn, I simply nodded as if what I had just heard made any sense whatsoever.

It didn’t.

I remember telling my wife later in the evening something to the effect of “yeah, that kid has prison in his future.”

Fast forward to earlier this week. I called this friend to wish him happy birthday, and the conversation went like this:

“Happy birthday man. Did your wife make you something fancy for dinner?”

“Nah. We had baloney sandwiches.”

Now, I’m a fan of the processed meats. Baloney, braunschwieger, hot dogs, even Spam, we are good friends. But for dinner? And your birthday dinner no less?

“Are you kidding,” I responded. “Baloney sandwiches? For your birthday dinner? What did you do to make your wife THAT mad at you?”

“Nothing,” he responded curtly. “But my wife asked my son what we should have for daddy’s birthday dinner and he says baloney sandwiches and since we can’t say no to him without him having a meltdown, we had baloney sandwiches for dinner.”

It was his birthday, my wife was in the room, and I didn’t want to embarrass my friend so it took a lot of restraint for me not to yell in the phone “Good grief man! Don’t you see what’s happening here?”

You see, as a parent of three, I’m now qualified to say that.

After nine years of never being told no, his poor child doesn’t know how to cope with reality where you are told no in life … all … the … time.

And we see examples every day of adults who simply don’t know how to deal with no.

Obviously, our prisons are filled with people who wouldn’t accept no for answer. But there are even more less obvious examples that involve different consequences.

Sexual harassment, bullying, suicide, even racism and sexism involve at some level someone being told no and reacting in a less than acceptable manner.

Being a parent is hard. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult job a person can undertake, and appropriately, one that has the most consequences and responsibilities.

And arguably, the hardest part of the job, but the most important, is saying no and teaching your child to accept that answer.

No, you can’t watch TV.

No, you can’t go without a bath for a fourth consecutive day.

No, you can’t watch TV.

No, you can’t wear your Halloween costume to the store.

No, you can’t watch TV.

No, you can’t pour syrup on your carrots.

No, you can’t watch TV.

No, you can’t have the saw to practice a magic trick with your sister.

Learning to accept no for an answer is, well, important. If not, my kids would be sitting on the couch in some state of dismemberment watching TV 24 hours a day, eating syrupy carrots, wearing a pirate’s costume and smelling like a dead raccoon.

And I would be eating baloney sandwiches for my birthday dinner.