Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bristol's Parenting Skills, the Liberal Media, and Politicizing the Antics of a Three-Year-Old

Bristol Palin is currently at the center of a hailstorm of rather negative publicity surrounding her parenting skills. I'll relate the incident as depicted in the footage I watched before giving my admittedly opinionated, inexperienced, and judgmental take on what was shown.

In the clip from footage taken for her  Lifetime reality series, Bristol's three-year-old son, Tripp, wanted to go swimming. She told him that he couldn't because "there's a bunch of drunks down there." 

Tripp, Bristol's offspring, was less than pleased at having been denied permission to swim.. Trip hit his aunt  while announcing that he hated both her and his mother. Willow told Tripp he was going to have soap put into his mouth. Tripp called her an inappropriate word. 

The word may have been "faggot." Bristol alleges that it was "fuck it." In syntactical context, "faggot" would have made more sense, but it wouldn't exactly have  been the first time a three-year-old  committed an error in syntax. Furthermore, it wouldn't have been the first time a member of the Palin clan of any age --  never mind. What I was about to write wasn't very nice. I'll quit while I'm ahead.

Bristol and Willow giggled. Bristol tried to tell the child, "God is watching you" through her giggles, but her manner seemed facetious even as she said it. There seemed to be only the most cursory attempt on the part of Bristol to conceal her amusement at her child's unfortunate choice of words. Both Bristol and Willow  told the child to go to time out. He didn't go to time out. Neither Bristol nor Willow physically took the boy to the chair in which he was told  to sit. Neither did Willow produce the soap that she said was going to be put in his mouth after his first inappropriate words to his aunt and to his mother. I'm not suggesting that to have put soap in the child's mouth would have been a good thing, but I am asking why Willow brought it up in the first place if it were nothing more than an idle threat? The clip ended shortly thereafter with a voice-over from Bristol conceding, "I'm doing a terrible job disciplining Tripp." [Duh!] "I know he's going to continue to push the boundaries."

As to whether Tripp actually said "faggot' or "fuck it,' I'm not convinced it matters nearly so much as Bristol and even some of her detractors seem to think. Yes, the use of  "faggot" is particularly hurtful and is offensive to the  LGBT, PFLAG, and other supportive and sympathetic segments of society (I wasn't even trying for alliteration here),  but both words are atrocious additions to the vocabulary of a three-year-old.

Bristol's first parenting misstep [her first misstep in this particular clip; it's doubtful that it was anything close to her initial misstep as a parent] was telling her child that he could not swim because of the drunks in the area of the pool. Why would a three-year-old need to be told that he couldn't use a pool because drunk people were using it? Why does he even know what drunk people are, unless he's seen them up close and personal in real life? Either take him outside and let him swim in the pool for just long enough to tire himself out so that he'll rest well, Bristol, or simply tell him no and give him something else to do.

Meanwhile, Bristol's sister and Tripp's aunt Willow attempted to interject her own authority into the mix. This, too, was inappropriate. Willow should have allowed Tripp's mother to deal with him, at least until the point when he hit Willow.  I get that Willow has been involved in Tripp's upbringing from practically the very beginning, and when she's caring for him in the absence of his mother, she should have every right to apply reasonable discipline when a situation warrants it, but stepping in when his mother was present was in effect undermining her, albeit unintentionally. In the end it didn't seem to matter, as both Palin sisters served as the epitome of a "how not to" example of disciplining a toddler. Both appeared utterly clueless when it came to handing out and enforcing appropriate consequences.

In a later interview, Bristol tried to excuse her child's language, while saying she did not approve of it, by blaming it on the "adults" who are frequently around Tripp. Why is Tripp allowed to be in the presence of adults who use inappropriate language in his presence on a regular basis. I will say here that my own father has a vocabulary that would rival that of the average longshoreman (Do longshoremen really curse profusely, or is that an unfounded stereotype?), but that he censors himself in his work life, in the presence of people he does not know well, and especially in front of all children. I was surprised to learn at around  the age of fourteen that my father even knew any swear words, and he's practically the King of Expletives.. A responsible parent does not use profanity around his or her child except in the most extenuating of circumstances (a heavy object dropped on one's toe comes to mind here), and restricts his or her children's access to others who are unwilling to do the same. Self-respecting adults -- even teenaged barely legal  adults -- filter the words that come from their mouths when children are present. Bristol's explanation for Tripp's knowledge of whichever F'-bomb he actually uttered speaks abysmally of both the character of the adults to whom Tripp is exposed and of her own parenting practices.

So many issues have gone unaddressed and questions have gone unanswered, at least to the public, by Bristol. Under ordinary circumstances, I would applaud her refusal to answer to the charges and to keep some vestige of her personal life to herself . . . except that she chose to open her life, as though it's a public library book, for cameras to film and for all the world to view in the form of a Lifetime channel reality show.  She aired her  highly compromised parenting skills for anyone and everyone to see. People who saw it are going to ask questions. Bristol can answer the questions or ignore them, but they're not going to go away.

Bristol might say I'm in no position to criticize her because I haven't walked any distance at all in her shoes.  Becoming a parent at the age of eighteen is far from easy, which is why I have no intention of following in Bristol's footsteps in that regard. I'm not critiquing her choice to have sex, and I'm not promising I won't do the same at some time in the next few years before I'm married. I am saying, however, that I will use the most reliable forms of birth control on the market before I have consensual sex. Parenting on camera, likewise , is not an easy task. That's why I'll never do that. We've all seen enough of "John & Kate + 8" and similar programming to know that reality television seldom brings out the best either in children, parents, or families. It's  all  but impossible that I will ever be extended the offer of participation in  a reality series with or without any future children I may produce, but in the event that the inconceivable actually occurs,  I won't take the offer. With very limited exceptions (the Osbournes come to mind here), few have gone into reality television and emerged still in possession of their souls.

Bristol expressed displeasure with the "liberal" media for "politicizing" the actions of her three-year-old son. Perhaps "politicizing' is in the eye of the beholder. Certainly the media had a field day with the incident. What Bristol seems not to understand, though, is that by contracting with Lifetime network to star in her own reality show, she opened herself up to public scrutiny of her parenting skills -- parenting skills which arguably failed to hold up under the microscope of public scrutiny.


  1. Well said, Alexis! I agree that it seems like most reality stars, although I use "stars" very loosely here, come out looking twelve shades of ignorant. Sometimes I wonder if it is how the producers decide to edit and present the clips, but in all honesty, I'm sure that isn't the case the majority of the time. Interestingly, this is probably the third or fourth time in the past week that I have discussed the topic of parents and kids and respect. Unless she buckles down on the discipline, not meaning that she beat his rear or anything -just be consistent, she is going to have a very disrespectful child on her hands. Not fair or other children to deal with a kid who doesn't understand or follow basic rules, and definitely not fair to his future teachers.

  2. You are very right that the trick is following through. If you don’t follow through, they don’t learn. I will admit that we have a little bit of Bristol/Willow syndrome here. I have a big opinion on how Ben is punished because I spend the most time with him. I try not to interfere in what goes on between him and his parents though; I do if he’s being directly bratty towards me. Right now Ben's main problem is his mouth, too. He idolizes Jason and all of his immature friends, and sometimes he comes back with some doozies.

    Child rearing is hard. No matter how old you are. I don’t know why the Palin’s have a reality show. I find it annoying when politicians turn into celebrities. It irks me beyond belief. Poor Tripp is already in the spotlight enough because of being his grandmother’s “bastard” grandchild.

  3. PS: I lived with my grandparents from the time I was born, until the age of three, then again from age 5 till age 11. My Grandfather, EX logger, tanker, cop, truck driver had a mouth. But, then... I knew what would happen if I dared repeat what he said, at times. I know Vietnamese profanities.

  4. Tina, Tripp's teachers are all in for rough year if he stays in the same school system for any length of time. He's the type of child that teachers are going to see coming down the pike and are going to plan their pregnancies and hysterectomies in order to avoid teaching him a much as they possibly can. he may be a rule-breaker whose peers don't care for him as well if they don't rein him in. This is sad and totally unfair. he never asked to be born to a couple of clueless eighteen-year-olds.

    Also, I don't know anything about either Arizona's or Alaska's child custody laws, and I don't know what rights Levi Johnston may have already signed away, but Bristol could end up with Levi having custody while she pays him substantial child support if she shows too much abysmal parenting on TV.

    My mom taught for two years in order to cut her psychology practicum in half. She said there was a kid in her school who was so bad that one teacher had gastric bypass surgery, another had a breast reduction,one had a hysterectomy, and two others had babies to avoid.

    Rebecca, Jillian, who has a master's in Ed Psych, said that either parenting the youngest kid or kids in a large family or raising a child who has much older brothers and sisters is a whole different ball of wax and brings really interesting dynamics to the table. She did her thesis on family size, birth order, and child-spacing. When a child is much younger than his sibs, as you've seen, the siblings are in some ways like aunts and uncles to the child. Sometimes the family is better off financially than they were whentheir older children were younger, so you have the whole dynamic of the older kids thinking the younger ones are spoiled. Also, the natural tendency of parents, unless they have a disaster child in terms of behavior somewhere along the way, is to ease up just a bit with each child, so the oldest ones are watching the youngest get away with things for which they would have been crucified. Then sometimes there's conflict over who disciplines a kid, and sometimes the kid ends up with too many people disciplining him. you're probably right to let the parents handle it for the most part, but If older kids are ever to watch a younger one, their authority shouldn't be undermined, and they should have the right to deal with it if the younger child is bratty toward them. And you're also totally on the mark in that the younger children with significantly older siblings are exposed to things at a much earlier age than they otherwise would have been. (Although where your brother's friends are concerned, I suspect the things they come up with would be things the Palin clan would consider appropriate to talk about in church.

    I remember being at the house of a friend about a year ago. we were watching something on ABC family. a boy lightly kissed a girl on the cheek. my friend's four-year-old brother popped up with, "And now they're going to have sex." My friend's mom almost went into cardiac arrest. All the kids denied ever saying that in front of the kid or watching anything where those words were spoken in front of him, but he obviously heard it somewhere.

  5. becca, I know what you mean about knowing bad words. by a certain age -- usually kindergarten or first grade -- all kids get together on the playground and pool their knowledge. You have to assume that every kid knows at least one word that he or she shouldn't know. If it's a different word for each kid, they come home eventually with a whole new vocabulary. But in at least moderately strict homes, kids know very well what they can and cannot say. It was a major surprise to me to know that my dad actually knew such words, but I knew very well that I better not repeat them within earshot of any adult or any kid who would tell. My brother and I both knew that long before we heard the words come out of our dad's mouth.