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Worst Parent in the World

Worst Parent in the World

Protecting the welfare of our children supersedes the need to be considered their best-buddy.


John Kass, a much admired feature columnist for the Chicago Tribune, recently wrote an article on the Penn State sex predator scandal, titled “Thankful to be the Worst Mom in the World”. It was a response to a previous article he’d written about the particular way in which predators often target the “children of single moms overwhelmed and desperate for a strong male role model for their kids.”

In short, a reader named Susan Francis had contacted Kass and shared an episode from her grown son’s childhood: she refused to allow a sport’s coach to give her son private pitching lessons based on a negative gut feeling she had about the man. Her 10-year old, in response, cried, refused to speak with her, and called her “the worst mom in the world”. Fast forward, twenty years later, this man was arrested for child molestation.

Related Article: Preventing Child Molestation

All of us with parenting experience, single or not, are inevitably anointed “world’s worst” when invoking the parental prerogative for one reason or another, and all of us would agree that protecting the welfare of our children supersedes the need to be considered their best-buddy. The clarity of judgment necessary, however, to act on negative gut instincts isn’t always crystalline, especially in a particularly tricky area of child abuse when the perpetrator isn’t an adult, but rather another member of the child’s peer group.

We may have diminished the seriousness of the problem, by giving it a different label. “Bullying” is still a form of child abuse so insidiously common that most of us bear some form of scarring from our own years of youth.

I know, for example, a young man in his late twenties, an accomplished martial artist who can bench press a staggering amount of weight; he stands 6-foot-2, served in a special ops unit of the IDF, and has been employed as a body guard/escort for Jewish families living in East Jerusalem. You’d never imagine him as a school yard target, and yet he once ended up in an emergency room during his sophomore year of high school; he’d been pummeled by an upperclassman over an off-hours dispute regarding use of the school’s basketball court. None of the onlooking students were willing to intercede, none reported the incident to school authorities, and none were willing to step forward as witnesses.

There was a policeman filling out a report; he wanted to know if I’d be willing to press charges.

I know this because the victim was my son. When I arrived at the emergency room where he’d gone for treatment, there was a policeman filling out a report; he wanted to know if I’d be willing to press charges. If you think that was an easy choice, I’d ask you to think again; the school was a reputable Jewish school and the bully was the son of a prominent rabbi, educator and leader within my Jewish community. For over a decade I’ve second-guessed the decision not to press charges but was still deemed “world’s worst” mom for confronting school authorities and demanding action.

“Don’t you know,” my son shouted, “that this is only going to make things worse for me?”

And he was right. It was a high price to pay, and ultimately my son transferred to a different school, but that was the end of the high school’s basketball bully. He’d been abusing other students off court for years under the protection of family status and the common refrain of a song we all know so well, “boys will be boys.” The choir only changed its mind when confronted with the possibility of a law suit.

But let’s not be naïve. It’s not just boys and it’s not just schoolyards. Girls are some of the cruelest perpetrators of emotional abuse towards their peers, and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are the newest venues for psycho-social torment. Your child can be easily targeted even if you implement the strictest parental oversight of their internet presence because you can never control the internet activity of others.

Times have changed. My youngest son’s school now offers sensitivity training at the elementary grade level with a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying. But it’s not enough. It will always fall to the parents to be proactive in protecting their children from the various forms of abuse and perpetrators who are not always strangers and not always adults.

I have, like Susan Francis, offended my own children in attempting to protect their best interests. I’ve repeatedly worn the title of “Worst Parent in the World,” which I inherited from my own parents, God bless them. I hope to pass it down at some point to a new generation. In the words of heavyweight prize fighter, Jack Dempsey, “The best defense is a good offense.”

November 26, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 11

(9) Bobby5000, December 2, 2011 9:14 PM

Be a resource for your child not a problem

While I was not molested, I did have problems which I generally did not discuss with my parents, at least when I could avoid it. Frequently when a problem came to their attention, they made it worse. One family member would begin screaming, blaming the schools, others, argue with the other parent, and I quickly realized that they would only going to make the problem worse, and dealing with it far more distasteful. I think you have to be loving and calm and be a resource for your child so he can discuss things.

(8) Anonymous, November 29, 2011 5:19 PM

great article

I am totally with Joyce on all of this. However, my experience as a child growing up in my parents' house was that whatever they forbade me or allowed me was for their own narcissistic reasons. For example, I was not allowed to take piano lessons not because we couldn't afford them or a piano, but because my mother was and still is hypersensitive to noise. I'm over it, but really, if you want quiet, don't have kids. But it gets worse. As another example, because my parents had to have their Shabbat naps, I could not have friends over at our house, and so I either went to friends' houses, or, in nice weather, we played on the street. (My parents were, and still are, of the opinion that the older kids watch the younger kids. Not true. Keep reading.) There was a guy on my block whom anyone should have been wary of, since he was one of those "nice guys" who always fixed kids' bikes. One Shabbat when I was 6, and out on the street with my older siblings "watching" me, I went into his house alone with him where he molested me. I don't fault my parents for this, or my older siblings, who were just as clueless, but this could have been prevented, had my parents (A) foregone their Shabbat naps to watch their kids, and/or (B) made our home a place where my friends were welcome. Like I said, if you want quiet, and if you want sleep, don't have kids. I'm over it, but it doesn't mean I want the same thing to happen to my own kids. So, my husband and I do exactly the opposite: we do not think of napping on Shabbat (though we desperately need it), and our kids' friends are welcome to come to our home to play, in the house or in the backyard. We serve them cake, juice, etc. Our kids do not go to friends' houses and certainly don't play on the streets unattended. My point here is that because of their narcissism, my appreciation and respect for their judgement as to what was in my best interest was clouded and it led me to make mistakes as a young adult.

(7) gur, November 29, 2011 4:10 PM

Bull's Eye on Bullying

Right on target, as usual. Well written piece - glad to see you underscored the idea of bullying as just another form of child abuse. Nice to be reading one of your articles on Aish.

(6) Ariela, November 28, 2011 10:07 PM


B'ezrat HaShem I was given choices and will continue to have them, I chose to get my children out of America home to Israel, I chose to homeschool and refuse facebook, I choose their social encounters, and proudly I am the worst Ima in the world.

Observer, March 11, 2012 3:06 PM

YOu also need to give them tools

You are not going to be able to control all of your children's interactions for too much longer. In fact, your children may already be having interactions that you are not "in charge" of. So, you had better start giving them the tools they need to deal with all sorts of situations. I am NOT suggesting that you let your children do whatever they want, nor that parents not step in when situations get to a point of abuse. I am suggesting that you need to let them stretch their wings and that it really is not possible to always prevent every issue.

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