When Parents Fail

by Bill Brenner on July 19, 2010

Sometimes, a child’s worst enemy is his/her parents.

Mood music: “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies (The Pepsi Song):

[spotify:track:1KpRBS8dbDw7LxMhuK7Bso]

If I’ve learned anything on my long journey to recovery, it’s that addicts can almost always trace their behavior back to their parents. That’s certainly the case for me. My mother was always pushing food on me. She did it out of love and meant no harm, but that and the Crohn’s Disease battle certainly tilted my addictive behavior toward the compulsive binge eating.

If a parent drinks or drugs to excess, there’s a better-than-average chance their kids are going to do the same thing in adulthood.

Recovering addicts have noted this thread in their own lives time and again at the 12-Step meetings I go to.

Chris Hoff, a good friend of mine from the Internet security industry and perhaps one of the most prolific presences on Twitter, saw a good example of this brand of parental failure in a coffee shop yesterday morning. I’ll share his tweets on the subject, since his content is all public record at this point:

Noticing a fat guy feeding his obese son three doughnuts and yelling at the poor kid for being too slow, Hoff (Twitter handle is @Beaker) wrote:

Hint: If your 4-foot-something 8-year-old weighs more than me, you’re doing it wrong. Makes me want to cry. F’ing up your life is one thing, but his? πŸ™Β It’s not that I’m insensitive to his plight; been there. However he’s helping end his kid’s life early by poisoning him with junk and mean words.

He noted, correctly I think, that kids inherently know what’s healthy but they still fall into bad behavior that parents either can’t or won’t stop. Often, they enable it.

I’m no saint when it comes to parenting. I’ve tried to curb my use of profanity but sometimes it just comes out in hearing distance of my kids. And I credit Erin for their healthy diets because she has always been relentless about giving the kids balanced, low-fat meals. They’ve eaten at McDonald’s maybe once or twice. That place was often ground zero for my binges, so I NEVER take them there.

But, like I said, no parent is perfect.

Nevertheless, I still go into a rage when I hear about the kind of situations Hoff was talking about. I don’t know that guy’s story, and maybe I’d be more sympathetic if I did. But letting his kid grow morbidly obese and enabling it by feeding him three doughnuts makes him an asshole in my mind. Maybe that’s hypocritical of me, but there it is.

One of my friends has a cousin who lets her son eat nothing but junk. The kid weights twice as much as both my kids put together. She feeds them the stuff because it’s easier than cooking something better. I think she’s an asshole, too. Sorry, but I do.

When you’re an addict, it’s exceptionally hard not to pass the behavior down to your children. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to make them better than we are.

The shit-for-brains dad in the coffee shop either doesn’t understand that or doesn’t care.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Christopher Burgess July 19, 2010 at 2:46 am

I saw the tweetstream from Chris yesterday as well and had very much the same reaction as you did – your articulation is spot-on.

tottenkoph June 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more on this, it really does break my heart. This is just as bad as an over-bearing parent harping on a kid about being fat when they are at a normal weight, but doesn’t get as much attention as it should. It’s a shame that people aren’t aware of what they’re doing to their kids with just a few words. πŸ™

nanjcsy January 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm

I will readily admit that I fight the battle at my own home. Bill though you have always been kind and supportive to us, I know you see it. Mark has lost a good amount of weight, we have arranged through many supports for him to receive physical therapy, exercise,etc…changing his medications helped too. Yet I still fight the battle as he wants his french fries and chicken nuggets. Dieticians find themselves stumped when dealing with him so as his parent it falls to me. How do you correct an autistic symptom? You cannot, you just find crazy ways to get around it, over it and through it.
As a parent who is an alcoholic and addict, I have a lot of guilt and it does manifest in many ways. I do want to give in to the bad behaviors sometimes through my own shame of not always having been a good stable parent.
I have to drill into my head that a good parent does say no, set limits and does not allow guilt to dictate actions. When I give in to the demands, I am sort of still giving in to my own addictions. Does this make any sense to anyone? Or am I just crazier than usual today?

Laura Coy February 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

Hey, Bill!! One of the defining things in my life was the amount of guilt I carried as a child and young adult. I still battle that guilt, but its not as bad as it used to be. As a child, my mother was brutally abused, along with her 7 other siblings. All except one turned out to be drug addicted/alcoholic. Sometimes we say: “Everyone has a choice, and they could of stopped themselves.” In this case, I believe my mother is an exception, but to a point. There were times as a child that I could look into my mother’s eyes, and realize she was enjoying scaring or hurting me. My mother, being the sick person she was, shared with me what her childhood was like, and I carried the burden of that horrible childhood on top of my own shitty childhood. I became the defender and caretaker of my mother, and finally walked away when I was around 28. I knew eventually I would be destroyed by the relationship, but that she would be fine without me. My mother actually got sober, but I can never have a relationship with her because when I am around her, I am not a nice person. In fact, in general, I can be a total asshole, but I work on it. I have PTSD, depression, and anxiety. I tried very hard to be a good parent to my children, but honestly I can say I missed the mark on quite a few occasions. My children were always loved, clean, dressed well, hugged and kissed, fed well (and once I learned about nutrition, because I had to do that, they were encouraged to eat better….they still eat macaroni and cheese like its a food group!) Every holiday was a celebration with gifts and a big dinner. Christmas and birthday parties were always over the top, and they got everything I could give them. I expressed love to them every day, but I also had a temper, and I could yell when I really got upset. I spanked them for a short period of time when they were young, and then said : “What the fuck am I doing???” I stopped, and never spanked them again. I never drank in front of my children, I didn’t even allow alcohol in the house. I left a full-time job to work at home so I could be with them, and this became the theme of my life….working over-night, and staying up in the day with them all through the summer so they could still go to swimming lessons, and do activities, etc. I love my kids with all my heart, but I wasn’t a perfect parent…and I don’t believe anyone ever is. I read somewhere that we should forgive our parents because they only did what they knew. I did the opposite of what my parents did. I tried always to put them first. I ended up divorced, and it took its toll on all of us. During those days, I did my worst parenting, my kids even went to live with my ex for a year during this time. I count that as the worst year of my life. So, although I tried to always express love to my children, feed them well, hug and kiss them, read to them, help them with homework, work around their schedule so I could be with them and be a better parent, give them everything they needed and most of what they wanted, and teach them everything I had learned over my life-time….I realize, now that they are adults they will also make their own mistakes and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I didn’t have good parents, so through my parenting I had to learn as I went…..I tried to go exactly in the opposite direction of my parents, but some things stuck….my anger and depression is something I always have to work on. I have been doing it for many years. I am working on forgiving everyone, including myself. Parents are people who carry baggage from their own childhood. Sometimes we can look at someone else’s circumstance and say “That wasn’t so bad….you should know better!” Apparently they don’t. I taught my children early that they had each other, no matter what, and I taught them not to worry about me…just to take care of themselves. I was okay. My children are adults, but still young. I miss them because they are off living their own lives, and as I taught them, they don’t really worry about me. LOL….this is very long, and there is a point in here somewhere. That man is wrong for what he is doing to his child, but of course, we know there is a reason behind it. Sometimes we are trying to be the best person we can, and even then, our efforts may result in an epic fail. What that man needed was a handout on nutrition, or maybe a phone number of a nutritionist. He may have refused it, but that is the effort he needed. When we see people in trouble, we decide it is none of our business to get involved, but we do not hesitate to talk about how superior we are to the person fucking up their kids’ lives. Frankly, we all suck at one point of another. Hopefully we grow from that, but we all need help to do so. Hopefully we are not fucking up too many people in the process.

dc0de March 6, 2012 at 4:53 am

As my Aunt says, “As a parent, it is your responsibility to take all of the good things from your parents and pass them down to your children. But most importantly, take out all of the things that you didn’t like, and change them. And beware, it is far easier said than done. I try to follow this guidance every day, and hope that my children Deedee a difference.

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