Punished for Having Bad Parents

So you fed the kids fast food twice this month because you were too busy to cook.  So you let your kids watch a little more TV than usual this week because you had a bad cold. Nobody’s perfect.  You do your best but sometimes you let it slide a little because you have to.  Sometimes you have a bad day and it’s okay to have a bad day.

For some parents, every day is a bad day.  Whether it’s circumstantial or just bad parenting, their children are disadvantaged.  So I ask:

What does the future hold for these kids?  
What kind of parents will they become?  
What can we do to help these kids?
What can we do to help these parents?


Discuss below in the comments, and join us this Wednesday on Twitter as we have a Live Chat about this topic at 6pst/9est using the #DadsRT hashtag.


The Beginning
About James Hudyma

Dad. Husband. Teacher. Canadian. Guitar Picker. Songwriter.

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  1. James, like you, I work in education. I’m not in the classroom, but I have the privilege of interacting with our students often. I’ve seen the kids whose parents have a bad day every day.
    What does the future hold? Depends on if they can latch onto a mentor to encourage and challenge them to break what is often a cycle of bad parenting. This sums up all the questions actually.
    How can we help the parents? That’s a delicate situation. You want to come alongside them for support and encouragement, but their willingness to change is crucial. What if they don’t believe they’re bad parents?
    I’m looking forward to this discussion, James. Tough topic that we need to get our hands around.

    • James Hudyma says:

      The spectrum of bad parenting is so huge that what we can do to help these parents improve their parenting skills or attitudes depends on what the problem is. A parent who over time has learned it is just easier to turn on the tv is probably easier to assist then someone with a substance abuse problem who exposes the children to this lifestyle.

  2. I guess I’m curious how deep down the fox hole are we talking about here? Bad parenting with regards to irresponsible eating habits, using technology as a babysitter, no focus on manners? Or the next level stuff? Or both?

    One of my wife’s biggest gripes, as a teacher, is kids’ backpacks who smell like smoke. That one bothers me greatly in that the kid has no choice in the exposure. In theory, a kid sitting in front of the TV has the choice to get up and go play outside, but if parents smoke in the house or in the car, that is grossly unfair and irresponsible to the child in that they have very little control over the situation. Or even know enough to know it’s wrong.

    Another thought for conversation – I’ve sometimes noticed that bad parenting in a particular area leads to compensation by the child when they are a parents themselves. Many of the “celebrity” trainers on TV talk about being overweight as a kid and at one point in their lives decided to make the change, almost in spite of parents as opposed to encouragement from. Not saying it’s okay, but maybe a silver lining in some cases?

    • James Hudyma says:

      Great point you made in your last paragraph Brad. I have a friend who was raised by an abusive alcoholic father. He grew up to be very successful, avoids alcohol altogether and is a great dad. He always says to me, “I am who I am because I don’t want to be like my dad. What other choice do I have?” On the other hand, his brother grew up to be just like dad and coincidentally says the exact same thing to explain his poor choices.

      • True about siblings going in opposite directions, and amazing how the same answer can be given for the different paths.

        End of the day, some of the parents I respect the most and am most grateful for knowing, both here in social media and in day-to-day life, have come from troubled upbringings. To drive home the point, these are the people I look to when I question my own parenting, seek advice from and try to emulate. Much like Chris says below, I too came from an excellent childhood with very loving parents, and while my motivation is the same as his, I often find that I also draw upon the advice and practices of many of my friends who did not have this upbringing.
        I’m not sure what stamp to put on this point, but all I know is that I’m crazy thankful for having these people in my life, not only as friends, but also as role models, and hope that anyone who comes from such a background realizes the impact they can have on some else’s life through the strength and response to adversity they have shown in their own.

    • James Hudyma says:

      How deep you go into the foxhole is up to you. I left the post purposefully vague. Yes, letting the tv raise your kids is bad parenting but not near as bad as being abusive. I would say there is a continuum.

      I also hate smelling smoky backpacks for the exact same reason.

  3. Chris says:

    I had an excellent childhood and very loving parents. What I’ve noticed is that it has motivated me to want to give my kids the same type of upbringing, if not a better. I can only speak from the experience of my handful of friends who had less than stellar parents who, while they ended up with a good head on their shoulders, they have been scared off from ever having children of their own.

    • James Hudyma says:

      Good to hear your childhood was positive and from what I know of you Chris, you’re a hell of a good dad. I can see where your friends are coming from because as we all know, there are times when after dealing with our kids we realize that sometimes we’re just like our parents without really thinking about it.

  4. As a Dad: My examples were okay, but when I got older I realized that my dads (step-dad and bio-dad) both failed me. As Brad above mentioned, I have overcompensated for their shortcomings.

    As a Teacher: I define “bad” parenting as a state of mind more than actions. The situation doesn’t make a parent bad, but their attitude is what does it for me. Kids NEED anyone who will care about them. If it’s not the parents, then they will find someone who will!

    • James Hudyma says:

      I like what you said about the situation doesn’t make a parent bad. Being rich or poor or having a great job or no job doesn’t necessarily make a good or bad parent.

      My fear with your last statement are those kids who don’t find anyone or those who find family in gangs or the “wrong crowd”.

      • That is exactly where they find that “stability” structure or rules!
        It’s unfortunate, but true.

        • James Hudyma says:

          That is such a great point about making sure kids find structure in a positive environment so they don’t have to look for it elsewhere.

  5. Robert Loftus says:

    I think what the future holds for these kids depends on the personality of the child. Some will be broken right away and never recover, others will use it as motivation to never mimic their parents behavior. The same goes for what kind of parents will they be, if they choose to even raise a family. All we can do to help these kids is just set the example by being the great dad that you are when they are in your home or presence. The parents need to want the help before we can even open our mouths. I learned a very long time ago that nobody ever wants their parenting skills judged and its really no ones business. If they come to you looking for advice, be honest and empathetic. Parenting is never easy and it’s a life long process. You will never be the perfect parent and its unfair for us to judge or offer advice unless someone is looking for it.

    • James Hudyma says:

      I agree to a point Robert. For the average parent doing their best or maybe not doing their best but not intentionally screwing up, it is difficult to step in. However, my fear is being a complicit bystander. A parent who is a friend may not appreciate you telling them their kids watch too much tv or do not have enough supervision but I think that is too bad for them because the kid is being damaged for the parent’s poor choices. If a parent is too lazy or disengaged to be a good parent and no one tells them otherwise, they’ll begin to convince themselves they’re not doing so bad because no one wants to think badly about themselves and/or they are really good at deluding themselves.

  6. Sometimes it can be as simple as getting to know the parent and what they are going through. If you befriend them or at least acquaint yourself with them and ask the right questions, perhaps they will eventually open up about their situation.

    That’s not to say you need to go around making everyone who has problem children your best buds. But maybe showing some compassion will open the door for you, and it won’t seem like an intrusion to the parents if you do mention constructive things. Sometimes they may even ask for advice. Our friendship with a couple with kids the same as our eldest started this way. If I didn’t understand the complexity of their personal problems, any criticism I could give would be misguided. On the other side of the continuum, if abuse or neglect is suspected, then that turns into another issue all together that might require more urgency.

    • James Hudyma says:

      Compassion – what a great suggestion. So much good can be accomplished with compassion. I would also agree that kids in abusive situations are on the extreme end of this continuum and would require immediate intervention.

    • Great stuff, Jared.

  7. I definitely think that all parents go through a “I don’t know” what to do phase. You just try the best you can and hope for the best. My parents were way too protective didn’t allow us to do any sports or extracurricular activities so we didn’t grow up in a competitive environment and I think that has affected my sibling and I negatively for our entire lives. And growing up with tv dinners being okay and snacks/sweets everywhere in the home wasn’t the healthiest environment but I’ve changed but it’s the hardest thing to change when you’ve grown up in it. Loved the post! Thanks!

    • James Hudyma says:

      I love that you brought up “overprotective” because this parenting technique is something done with the very best of intentions but in the end can have quite a negative impact on the kids.

      When drawing up this post, my fellow contributors here at DadsRT helped me make sure the post didn’t lead readers toward a specific type of parenting in order to really see where a set of questions could take readers. In short, thanks for adding a new perspective to this comment thread.

  8. Brickwade says:

    I think middle ground is most dangerous. Heinous parenting seems to result in positive change later on. Strong parenting continues installation of positive social skills, morals and values (aside from possible entitlement). It’s indifference that hurts kids IMO. They act out for a response, positive or negative. Neg gets more attention, right? Parenting requires a middle line of balance between indulgence and deprivation. Make kids work for recognition but not at the extremes of harming self-esteem.

    *I’m also not referring to uber bad, social worker required, kind of parenting.

    • James Hudyma says:

      Indifference. I agree. I done my best to remove the phrase “I don’t care” from my vernacular because it sends such a negative message. At first I replaced it with “It doesn’t matter to me” and found it to be having the same negative connotations. It was weird to see how difficult it can be to remove uncaring language.

    • DisastroDad says:

      I would think heinous parenting does more harm than good and that the few cases we have of people turning their negative pasts into positive futures are an anomaly.

  9. The point I want to make is suggested in the comments above, but I’ll put it this way:

    Parents are not kids’ only influence. Obviously, we play a big role — or *can* play a big role if we choose to be around and get involved. But what happens when we’re not around is not up to us. How our kids react to what happens when we’re not around is partly up to us, along with the influences of what happens when we’re not around. It becomes a cycle.

    Are poorly parented kids disadvantaged? I’d say that the odds are stacked against them a bit. But a lot of it will have to do with the crowd they fall in with — the non-parent influences that is — when they start to exert their independence. As parents, we do our best to provide good models of behavior — not just rules and routines. Hopefully it sticks.

    I guess my point is that as parents we have limited opportunities to influence our kids, probably more limited than we realize. Dumping kids in front of televisions, eating on the run — these are poor models and wasted opportunities. It’s exhausting, but we’ve got to sieze those moments.

  10. happiestdaddy says:

    There are some great responses on here and the only thing I want to add is that maybe we can help other parents through our example.
    I’m talking about the parents who are at the park letting their kids run wild while mom or dad is consumed by their smartphone. I want that parent to see me digging in the dirt with my sons, sliding down the slides or laughing with them.
    Unless I see outright, dangerous behavior I would be disinclined to speak to that parent. However, I like to think that my attitude, my enjoyment and my attention to my kids and their fun as well as their needs, speaks volumes.
    If I saw a child in need — especially one of my children’s friends — and felt that a conversation with that child’s parents would have a benefit and not overstep a boundary, then by all means I would speak up. That is our responsibility.
    Someone once said something about it taking a village, right?

  11. Brickwade says:

    Have we defined “bad parenting”?

    Being on a smart phone at the park should hardly be classified as bad parenting. You can’t see the big picture and that could be an independent break for both.

    I work hard to instill a sense of comfort in my kids not needing their hands held 24hrs a day. My kids should have the chance to play solo, or feel inspired to make new playground friends while I casually watch from a bench.

    We need to cut parents some slack before casting major judgement.

    • Laid Back Dad agrees.

      In my estimation, helicoptering is bad parenting; kids need to learn to work things out. Let ’em. But keep an eye on them from a distance, by all means. That’s good parenting. If you think you can keep a safe eye on Noodle while smartphoning, that’s your business, and maybe you’re good at it. I’m not.

      Laid Back Dad neither imposes his techniques on others, nor compromises his techniques in the presence of others. (Easier said than done.)

  12. Al says:

    I am perplexed by this line of reasoning. The initial question throws up a bunch of straw men ( straw children?) and then begs you to be their savior. Of course we could all conjure up to mind a few hapless kids born to terrible humans. But most lie somewhere in between.

    And as Agent Starling found out, sometimes you can’t save even one. So where does your good intention become harassment ( like we fear from the PC police)? What if I felt compelled to save your child from eternal damnation by showing him the Truth of Allah’s message?

    I’d worry more about your own than meddling in people you have judged from afar against the holy measuring stick that is yourself…or rather the person you wish to be ( but admittedly are not yet).

    But what are you honesty trying to suss out here? How to help parents be better, even ones who aren’t asking for your help? Seems like the exact opposite of the libertarian, “best example leads by example” line of thinking you normally support around here.

    Am I being provocative, sure. But it’s worth asking nonetheless.

    Whateer you reply. Keep up the good work. Thanks for your writing.

    • James Hudyma says:

      Provocative is what we need. If we’re never challenged we’ll never grow.

  13. DisastroDad says:

    We all know what bad parenting is.

  14. Sara Felix says:

    There may indeed be a select few bad seeds, but most kids are a product of poor parenting choices James & it’s just getting worse as the world continues to speed up with no time for them

This is what I think...