Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Question & Answer With Psycho Toddler - Time Machine

A Simple Jew asks:

If you had a time machine and you could travel back to the time when your first child was born, how do you think your parenting style would be different? If you knew then what you know now after raising six children, do you think the difference would be drastic?

Psycho Toddler answers:

That’s a loaded question. The presumption is that I’m not happy with how my children turned out. Well, even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I’m not sure I’d have done much differently. The truth is, I like all of my kids. From the oldest, Fudge, on down to the eponymous Psychotoddler, they are all great, great kids. There are little things that could be improved on each of them, of course. Can’t you say that about everyone? This one is too sloppy. This one has a temper. This one eats all day. I doubt there was much I could have done over the course of the past 17 years to affect much of that. These are character traits. And for each kid, I can certainly see where they come from. Each is a unique combination of factors derived either from my wife or me. One has a little more of her, the other more of me.

When I see something positive, I of course kvell and try to take credit. Look at Fudge! Look at her writing! Look how she’s bloomed in New York! Isn’t it obvious that she’s inherited her creativity, her talent, her good nature from her father? Wasn’t it clear that, the first week of college, when her roommates went off to party in clubs, but she decided to join the Chesed Committee and visit a Nursing Home, that she got this from her mother, who took her to see her Great-Grandparents week after week?

Unfortunately, when I see something negative, I am also honest enough to recognize where it comes from. I see laziness, I see slovenliness, I see a certain disregard for authority, and I think, this is my fault, for not being neater myself, or for talking about the black-hatters at the Shabbos table.

So if I would change anything, I don’t think it would be how I brought up my kids. I am happy with the lot of them. I listen to my patients, my neighbors, and my co-workers who have children the same ages, and I cringe. I am glad that I live in a relatively insular community, and that I sent them to Yeshivas and not public schools. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with issues related to teen sex, crime, drugs, etc, like my peers do. When they tell me about how their teenage kids have their boyfriends overnight, or that their sons “disappeared” for days at a time, or that their grandson was arrested, I sympathize, and I think, “Thank G-d I don’t have to deal with this.”

Sure, I get a little chutzpadik talk every so often from the teenagers. They wouldn’t be teenagers otherwise. But that’s because I’ve always been self-deprecating and we have a relaxed environment at home. The kids know, however, that if their parents say something, that’s the way it’s going to be. Period. We have teenagers, but not TEENAGERS.

So if I would change anything, it would be me. I think that I’ve done well trying to tell them what to do, but I haven’t always done well leading by example. Over the years, I’ve had a bad attitude about certain things. Computer games would be one. I invested way too much time in them in the past, and while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them per se, the very nature of gaming is that it’s addictive and draws you in, and it’s very easy to spend too much time on it. I was very involved in gaming when my kids were young, and I haven’t done such a good job of restricting them in this.

I’ve had a bad attitude towards shul in the past. I would try to go as late as possible and leave early whenever I could. I never went to morning minyan. My kids saw this as they were growing up. I had excuses. I had to get to the hospital. I was on call. The bottom line is that excuses don’t matter. What you do is what matters. And what I did was blow off shul. In more recent years, I’ve tried to correct this by showing up for minyan more often, and getting there earlier. Since my father died, I haven’t missed more than a handful of minyanim, and I’m always the first one there. But I think the kids look at this and say, “What’s up with him? When did HE get to be so frum? Maybe it’s a phase.” They don’t take it seriously now, and I think they resent it now that I’m suddenly rousing them early in the morning or pulling them off the computer to get to mincha.

I have personally tried to be good about lashon hora. But that hasn’t always stopped me from whining about right-wing Judaism and being critical of rabonim when they say things that I don’t personally agree with. I think that during the past 17 years I have still been too much of an immature teenager myself to control what I say around the Shabbos table, and I now regret that. My kids still have a far better attitude than I would expect, but I’ve found that you can’t be critical of authority in general and expect your kids to respect your authority specifically.

I guess what I’m saying is that I think, overall, my kids have turned out to be better people than their old man, certainly better than what I deserve given how I’ve acted. I have to give a huge share of credit to my wife for making this outcome occur. She has always been the disciplinarian. The bad cop to my good. She’s taken a lot of heat. But she’s raised some darn fine human beings in the process.


At September 19, 2006 at 2:30:00 PM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post and very practical.
"The bottom line is that excuses don’t matter. What you do is what matters."- so true. Thanks!

At September 20, 2006 at 6:48:00 PM EDT, Blogger Shifra said...

Wonderfully sincere.
Thank you for sharing - there is a lot to learn from this post.

At September 29, 2006 at 12:28:00 AM EDT, Blogger MC Aryeh said...

Very introspective and honest response, PT. And a lovely tribute to Mrs. Balabusta...


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