I failed as a parent yesterday.

My wife had reheated some leftovers from our Sunday dinner, green beans, roast and carrots, homemade rolls, with some fresh corn on the cob and mashed potatoes. We drank water and and we gave my daughter milk. My wife can cook like grandmothers from the past, and for the second day in a row I stuffed myself. But all through dinner she was quiet and withdrawn. This summer she has interviewed for several jobs in a different area and always made the final list, on more than one occasion having been called back for a follow-up interview with one other candidate. But ultimately, each time she placed second. Until yesterday anyway, when she traveled to another interview only to find out the position being hired was for a completely different location. She decided to go ahead and do the interview but was not really interested in the new location. And, as these things go, she was actually offered the position. If she had known the location before driving the 45 minutes to the interview, she would have declined in the first place, but now declined over the phone.

I asked her after dinner why she was upset. She said she wasn't sure if that had been the right decision, to decline the job, but I pointed out that it was in a bad location and she had always expressed an aversion to working there. I tried to cheer her up, though not very successfully.

And this is where my parenting took a nosedive.

With our daughter playing in the room with us, I offered to take my wife to get ice cream to cheer her up. Of course, my daughter was immediately interested in this idea. We ended up just driving to a local gas station (the nearest ice cream place is about 30 minutes away). I bought my daughter a push-pop, and purchased some Rolo's for my wife and a Mountain Dew for myself.

So, dear reader, let's play a game. See how many things you can list that I have done wrong at this point.


Depending on your views of parenting, maybe you haven't noticed anything bad yet. And everyone has their style, so that is fine if that works for you and your family. But I count five things immediately wrong here, based on my limited experience raising my daughter:

    I taught my daughter that problems can be solved with food.

    I taught my daughter that problems can be solved by buying something.

    I modeled terrible eating habits.

    I modeled casualization of driving to the store unnecessarily.

    I had the conversation in the first place with my wife in front of my daughter.

Now maybe you have looked over the list and don't agree with some or all of them. Like I said earlier, everyone has their own style. But for me, the first and second one are cardinal sins because they represent what I believe is a fundamental flaw in our society right now. The third and fourth one are almost as serious, especially the third one, and frankly, this is something I fail at on a regular basis. The fifth one is less obvious, but something to keep in mind as children grow up underfoot.

Now, is this one incident going to truly imprint these things on my daughter's consciousness? Maybe, actually. Hopefully not, but at her age she is an unbelievable sponge, and every day she soaks up the most minor details and then shares them with us weeks later, usually much to our surprise. Unfortunately, for most of these, this is not an isolated incident.

If there's one thing I have learned (and one thing that makes me more uncomfortable than anything else) about parenting, it is that we absolutely represent everything our kids are becoming. She watches my every move, notes my every expression, and hangs on my every word. If I'm doing it, she wants to do it. I am her hero, and because of that, everything she sees me do she believes to be the right thing to do. And that is a huge amount of responsibility.

So the next time you're around kids, even if they are not your own, hopefully you will remember this and think, "What is this kid going to learn about the world from what I'm about to do or say?"