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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #56, 12/29/2006

Extreme Parenting

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

For the elite athlete, there are extreme sporting events to challenge the body and mind. You can participate in the Ironman triathlon or make the grueling climb to the top of Everest. Some people ski down glaciers. Others revel in survivalism, where you deliberately expose yourself to the wilderness armed with only a few basic supplies and try to make the best of what you find.

To these obvious challenges, we should add another, experienced by far more people: Extreme Parenting. It is like survivalism, except that you are trying to keep alive not just yourself but also the unruly children in your care.

This isn't just a 2-day event or a 2-month trek; this challenge can last 20 years or more, and you never know what the game is going to throw at you. First, you are supposed to provide food, shelter, clothing and protection for your children. Then there's the problem of money to pay for all this and how to keep the children safe while you go out and hunt it down. Meanwhile, each child presents his own unexpected challenges: health problems, learning problems, discipline problems. Just when you think you have things under control, the organizers hit you with something new.

The spouse who you thought was going to help you might turn out to be problematic. Maybe he or she becomes just another of the children you are trying to raise. Even worse, maybe he or she turns on you, and now you are not just fighting to survive and feed the spawn; you're fighting your erstwhile ally, who has unexpectedly transformed into a monster.

The organizers are sitting in their control room saying, "Ha! Get yourself out of this one!"

Maybe if you didn't plan things right, you end up starting over, without a partner, trying to raise children on a maid's salary. The children, meanwhile, are rebelling. They're not as manageable as they used to be. Their demands become fevered and ludicrous: $100 sneakers, $50 fashion statements, money for this, money for that. There are longer and longer stretches when you have no idea where your children are. Soon, you have to take time off work to go to juvenile court, as things go from bad to worse.

There is nowhere to turn, no support system, which is all part of the game. They're trying to push you to see if you'll go mad. If it's all just too much for you, then drugs are available, which usually means you lose your job and have to go back to Square One. Your children are taken away, and now you have to fight the government to get them back. There are all these hoops they make you jump through, and when you get your kids back, you're still in the same economic grind only worse. Maybe you have to get a job in fast food, making the same money as some teenager who blows it all on video games. Maybe you can hardly make ends meet no matter how many hours you work.

There's no escape from Extreme Parenting. Unless you are willing to abandon your kids altogether, you have to play the game.

And it is not just the poor who are trapped. Parenting is a minefield even if you have enough money and your partner is semi-there. Adolescence is usually when things start going sour. You once had this perfect little angel, good grades and everything, but as soon as the boobs grow in, it's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You don't know this person anymore. Every word that comes out of their mouth is a lie. You can't trust them with anything, and if you're inattentive for just one minute, they'll steal a car and rob a bank.

You cry out, "Lord, why do you do this to me?" to which there is no reply, because that would violate the rules. You are supposed to work things out on your own. You cut corners, skate along the edge of chaos and make compromises you thought you never would. You squeak by one crisis after another, all the while enduring the abuse of the people you are trying to protect. Any dreams you once had of raising the perfect citizen have long fallen by the wayside. Now you just hope that they won't be featured on "America's Most Wanted."

In the end, if there is one, there are no accolades. You won't be profiled on ESPN's "Extreme Parenting," because there is no such show. There is no such recognized sport, even though millions are playing it. It's just not a ratings buster, you understand. All you're probably going to get in the end is the satisfaction of having survived and having played the game to the best of your ability. If you don't achieve success in any worldly terms, then at least you have limited the damage. At least you've turned out kids who are not as bad as they could have been if you weren't there.

To those who are struggling through the Extreme Parenting decathlon, we salute you. You could be swimming, biking and running the Ironman in beautiful Hawaii, but you chose to be here, in the real world, fighting for the things that matter. It may not have been the greatest of wisdom that got you here, but you're in the game now, and you're going to fight for your kids to the best of your ability. You're going to make huge compromises, and you're going to find innovative uses for the tools that have been given you.

You're not going to bug out on drugs or any of the million legal distractions. You're going to focus on your mission, and you're going to get the job done.

—G.C.



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