There Should be a Road Test for Parenting

By Lisa Sugarman

When you think sage you probably think philosopher or thinker—guys like Confucius or Mencius or Descartes.

You’re probably not thinking Keanu Reeves right out of the gate. And I don’t blame you. He’s not exactly your sagely, wise-man type. Surfer-guy or Internet vigilante, sure. Guru, no.

But I tend to look for and appreciate wisdom from more unconventional places. Probably because I feel like the more abstract the wisdom the more profound and meaningful it’s likely to be. And in Ron Howard’s 1989 comedy Parenthood I found some of the deepest and most poignant thinking on parenthood I’ve ever heard. I also found my Confucius. And I call him Keanu.

Dying to know what he said?

Patience, grasshopper.

People mystify me. They really do. And I’m sure I mystify my share of people too, in my own quirky way. But since I’m the one typing we’re talking about everyone else but me.

I’m especially confused by so many of the people who call themselves parents but really act nothing whatsoever like actual parents.

It’s a lot like people in business who manage other people. You’ve got your good managers, the ones who are flexible, supportive, approachable, and legitimately hard working. And then you’ve got your slackers, the ones who push papers around their desk all day and always seem like they’re moving down the hall with a purpose but are actually purposeless.

See where I’m going here?

I’m all for diversity, especially in parenting styles. In fact, I celebrate it. The more unique we are the better. We need uniqueness, desperately. I’m not into a cookie-cutter-type world or cookie-cutter-type parenting. Never have been. But, and this is a big but, there are things that I think should just naturally have some commonalities no matter what. Oh, I don’t know, things like: supervision, presence, interaction, spending time with your kids and actually nurturing them. These sound reasonable, right? So why do I look around and not see enough of that? I mean, I see it, but sparsely. And that’s not good.

Since I spend most of my time being a parent or being around them, I tend to be hyper aware of how differently we all do the job. And let me tell you, all parents are definitely not created equal.

Here’s a perfect example: we’re on a family cruise and every night we watched parents dropping their cockeyed, hysterical eight-year-old kids off at daycare at 11 o’clock at night asking how late they could pick them up. (It’s 2:30 am, in case you were curious.) This is, of course, so they can go to the bar, get trashed, and then gamble away all their spending money.

It’s stuff like that that I just can’t shake.

I thought the basic idea behind having kids was to raise them. Raise them however you want, I really don’t care. Just actually raise them. Having them just isn’t enough. That doesn’t count. (Well, of course it counts, just not for the purpose of what I’m trying to say.) It’s not supposed to be easy. Actively bringing kids up is another job altogether. But isn’t that the point?

You’ve heard of labor of love, right?

A wise Keanu once said that you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car, even to catch a fish… but they’ll let any !#&^$@%$*%@$ be a parent.

Just look around¬—you can’t deny it.

To this day, over 20 years after he said that line, I’ve never heard anything more insightful or perceptive about parenting.

It’s just plain disturbing that almost any idiot with decent a sperm or egg count can be a parent with no written exam or road test required. You have to be 14 to work. You have to be 16 to drive. Eighteen to vote. Twenty-one to drink. But there’s no test or form or course you need to take to be a parent. Is it me, or does it seem a little bass ackwards?

We have to be screened and tested for every major modern right and privilege, yet any schmuck can have a kid. This, considering that the act of parenting is the oldest and most sacred right in the book. It’s just a damn shame that there are so many people out there who don’t get that having children is a privilege, not a right.

So here’s what I’m suggesting: There should be a road test for parenting. Not sure how, exactly, to get that one done but you get what I’m saying. And I’m definitely open to suggestions. Maybe it can be a partnership between the RMV and DSS. Who knows? I wish I had a bona fide plan but I don’t. All I can do is put the idea out there and hope that someone bites.

Alright, fine, it’s not going to happen. I know that. But maybe the simple idea will make the crummy parents out there think better of being so crummy.

Maybe they’ll even watch Parenthood and learn that when we screw up our screwupedness proves that we care.

And that’s worth something, isn’t it?

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR read her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.

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