There are many different ways to raise children, and debates can become emotionally heated when parents differ as to which one of those ways is the “best” one. Whether your style is more Pa and Ma from Little House (“We just hug it out”), the Jolie-Pitts (“Discipline stifles a child’s creativity”), or the Duggars (“My child does. not. lie.”), the one thing we can all agree on is that parenting is hard.
Most of us were raised by busy parents, often in multiple-child households. Our parents started out as avid Dr. Spock fans (not the one from Star Trek. The one who wrote the parenting bible for babies in the ’60s and ’70s). However, they quickly discovered that long, philosophical debates between them and their offspring every time little Billy broke the baby’s toys or Baby Buffy bit the dog simply wasn’t going to work. They only had 18 years to take their boomer babies from first discovering that we had something called “toes,” to socially acceptable, contributing adults, ready to be launched into a generally unforgiving society. Mom and Dad were on the clock.
So parents across the country developed a system of “parenting shorthand.” Brief, pithy admonitions and lessons they could chant like mantras, until eventually each child had assimilated an arsenal of wisdom to take out into the world and live the dream. Some of this advice came from Mom (23 Things Ann Landers Could Have Learned From my Mother), and some came from Dad. Today it’s Dad’s turn.
1. “Go ask your Mother.” Translated: “This is a terrible idea. You’re 14, for God’s sake. But I don’t want to fight with you about it because I like being the cool parent. So ask her if you can do it, and she can ‘ruin your life.'”
2. “Everyone comes from a dysfunctional family. If some families seem normal, have dinner with them at Christmas.” Thank God. I thought it was just us.
3. “If you don’t want to be married to a poor man, don’t date one.” Surprisingly practical advice when you think about it. Also applicable to alcoholics, drug users, and wife beaters.
4. “Men love it when women come out of the bathroom all smooth, shaved, and smelling good. But we don’t necessarily need a visual on how you got there.” To this day, I always close the door.
5. “Men are like buses. Wait on the corner, and another one will come along.” Despite the not-so-subtle implication that I had a strong future in street-walking, this got me through a few college breakups.
6. “Do what you love and don’t worry about the competition. There’s always room if you’re good.” This prevented me from hurling my laptop out the second-story window and into the neighbor’s pool on more than one occasion.
7. “Pay attention to how a man treats his mother. That’s how he’ll treat you.” It took me three husbands to get this. It’s true. Every. Single. Time.
8. “You can do anything a man can do. Drive a stick shift, snake your bathroom drain, or fix a flat tire.” Yay me. But what if I don’t want to?
9. “Other people will judge you by the way you look. Remember that when you’re considering a tongue piercing while looking for a job.” Alas, it’s true. Go shopping when you look stylish and fabulous, and then go when you’re all bed head, no makeup, and pajama pants. The difference in the customer service you receive is staggering. See #10.
10. “Life’s not fair. Deal with it,” in response to any wailing on our parts of “That’s not fair.” Dad raised extremely resilient kids.
11. “Be home by 11. Nothing good ever happens after 11:00.” Ha. I was 19 when I discovered that that one was a big fat lie. From ages 18 to 30, all the good shit happens between midnight and 2 a.m. (But after 30, you should know better. After 40, you’re too tired. And after 50, you simply don’t care anymore.)
12. “The only way to have more money is to earn more or spend less.” The only part he left out was that earning more is a hell of a lot easier than spending less. Are those boots on sale??
13. “If you need someone else to make you happy, you’ll both end up miserable.” This might explain my two divorces. Apparently, I’m a bit slow to catch on.
14. “Everything in moderation. Except love. Love with everything you’ve got. But don’t be a stalker.” One of my faves. Kind of says it all.
15. “Never do something you don’t want to do, to try and get a man to love you. If he doesn’t already, this won’t get him there. If he already does, he wouldn’t be asking.” An effective bit of advice to guard against teenage sex, drugs, and driving the getaway car.
16. “Even though we agree that I don’t know ‘everything about everything,’ mentioning that during our escalating parent-child discussion will not end well for you.” Yep, we understood what “pouring gas on the fire” meant before we were out of grade school.
17. “Yes, you can be angry at someone and still love them.” Difficult to absorb as a child, but by 50+, it describes our marriages.
18. “Always say Please and Thank you. That way, you get more.” A little narcissistic, but still true.
19. “The first rule of negotiation: What’s in it for the other guy?” Translated, “No one gives a crap what you want. They’re interested in how you can give them what they want.” If everybody in the customer service industry got this one, world peace would be achieved.
20. “If you loan money to a friend, you’ll lose them both.” Unfortunately, this is a lesson we all have to learn by experience. I’m still out several hundred dollars from a friend I haven’t seen since I loaned her the money. I’m not sure which I want back more.
21. “Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on everybody else’s.” I love this. The quintessential “The world does not revolve around you” life lesson.
22. And my all-time favorite: “Learn to laugh at yourself. You’ll never run out of material.” Done.