Nitwits -- by Laura Houston
If you look up the definition of a “nitwit” the Urban Dictionary will tell you it’s “one who has no f**king clue what they are doing.” I think they could also throw the term “most parents” in there. I say this compassionately. Most of us have no idea what we are doing, and I think it’s high time we embraced the title of nitwit so we can all feel a little more comfortable with what we don’t know.
Now, please understand that there are several different categories of nitwits. I have listed only three here complete with personalized examples because I just took a trip home to be with my family. I found a little niche for my siblings and me after observing our diverse and committed parenting styles.
First there are the Dingaling Nitwits. This is my group. I am a Dingaling Nitwit parent. I don’t meant dingaling in terms of being a penis. I mean the definition of being forgetful, scatterbrained and eccentric. On my trip home to see my family last week, I got so caught up conversations, good food, laughter and hilarity I forgot to feed Wyatt dinner. When Lyle was up all night crying and having tantrums, I insisted he was just being fussy and was overly tired from the trip, pushing on until my husband stepped in and insisted we take him to a clinic where I learned he had a double ear infection. I also forgot to pack toys for them, so they spent their time in the hotel mutilating room service menus, the yellow pages, and the coffee maker, which I did unplug, thank you very much.
I know enough of my dingaling-nitwit-parent-tude that I fall asleep at night to the lists of everything I need to remember for the next day at playschool: snacks, shoes, a jacket, milk – simple things that most parents know well enough to pack – stuff I rarely remember to pack. I also have an anomalous thing about toys. The boys can’t have too many out at once. I am afraid they’ll never have an attention span of anything more than five minutes if they just go toy to toy, so I alternate toys, and I count how many they have out at a time. Eccentric? Obsessive? Ridiculous? Yes. But, after all, I am a Dingaling Nitwit Parent, and I am comfortable with this.
Then there are the Involute Nitwits, and their skill set is admirable and exhausting. These are the parents who have intricate, complex and involved parenting styles. If there’s a problem, they’re on it. They compare. They contrast. They make sure their kids have everything and more to succeed, and their focus is fierce. My sister Julie falls into this category. Her oldest daughter Emma went from whiner to winner after going through my sister’s behavior modification gauntlet. Julie did not stop reading, asking questions, and trolling the mommy boards until she had what she needed to tackle the problem. During my visit I never heard one negative thing come out of my niece’s mouth. She said “please,” and “thank you” and was cheery and helpful. Not the same kid I remembered from my last visit home.
Julie also spends a great deal of time finding ways to help her child succeed. She asks the right questions. She stops whatever she is doing and engages with her girls. Me? If I stop what I am doing, I will never remember to start up again. Julie can do five things at once and what makes her a nitwit, or a person has no clue as to what they are doing, is that she has no idea how well she is doing it. She’s an exemplary parent, but if you tell her this, she’ll just try harder. She’ll find something else to improve on.
The final group of nitwits I will define are the Presumptive Nitwits. These are the kind of parents who place their kids in front of the TV to learn the alphabet, social skills, and manners. These parents expect the school to be responsible for their child’s bullying and disruptive actions, and they blame the teacher for not being able to curb the behavior. My brother Joe falls into this category. When my oldest nephew struggled in kindergarten, it was the teacher’s fault. Joe’s 29-month old son doesn’t talk yet, and rather than sit down at the table to eat and talk at mealtime, they hired a speech therapist and still place him in front of the TV during dinner.
And, no, they are not well-mannered boys. My brother drops them off at my mother’s house every morning for daycare, expecting that because they are loved and spoiled by grandma (and my mother does love and adore the boys) that they will turn out OK emotionally. My brother believes that because the youngest one wants to climb all over the place that he will be a professional athlete. He buys children’s books, expecting his kids to learn to read without ever sitting down and reading to them. And when he does try to read to his kids and they run away or don’t pay attention, he gives up.
It was heartbreaking and frustrating to see the disappointment this causes, but the compassionate thing to do is to take a look at what’s in my brother’s heart. He wants his kids to be winners. He wants them to live out their hopes and dreams due to their innate, genetic abilities. He wants his kids to be gifted and talented so they can be happy human beings. He wants life to be easy for them. But he doesn’t know how to get there.
To tell you the truth, neither do I. I am a nitwit. I am a parent. But I won’t stop trying. I won’t stop engaging. I don’t have the brain or focus to be an Involute Nitwit, but I will make the attempt to be one. I will pay attention to cause and effect, and I will shut off my computer, put down my book, and get down on the floor to work puzzles with them. I know there is no substitute for face time with my kids, but it’s still hard to get enough of it in there without forgetting that I started dinner 15 minutes ago, and it’s now burning on the stove.
I don’t mean to be harsh on the Presumptive Nitwits. It’s an easy mistake to make. I have found myself making those same errors in judgment. I placed my boys in front of the TV every other day for three months with a sign language for babies DVD, and they didn’t learn a thing. I taught them the signs for “more” and “milk” in just weeks by doing it with them at the table every day. I’ve made more than my share of parenting mistakes, and I confess there are certain things I give up on where an Involute Nitwit would have just kept going and going until the problem is solved.
There are more categories of us nitwits out there. I could write four or five more blogs on them, but I decided to stop with these three for now because they’re the ones that are teaching me the most at this time. A lot of us nitwits are out there with the best intentions, and some of us are doing a spectacular job, but there’s no sort of performance rating or pay scale to help us go a little easier on ourselves. It’s hard to surrender our perfect notions of our children, and ourselves but if we can stand up and admit we don’t know what we’re doing maybe it will allow us to be better parents to our kids. So our kids can be better people. And we can revel in our nitwit-i-tude for getting the job done.