There’s this story circulating around Twitter and Reddit about “Bean Dad,” the parent who wouldn’t help his nine year old daughter cook beans on the stove and expected her to know how. It’s a whole thing. A lot of comments in response to this were about how abusive this type of parenting is, coupled with people surprised that this sort of audacity could even be a thing.
I’m here to tell you – it absolutely can be a thing, I lived through it, and while my upbringing has me cautiously shifting my eyes about before stating it’s abuse I’ll readily admit it’s toxic and it instills the wrong lessons in children. I know this, because in many ways I was that child. I mean, back then they didn’t have social media so I doubt either of my parents lambasted me to the masses (they kept that to loud shouting matches) but the belief I should “figure it out” and the punishments, plural, for not knowing how… and then later, being surprised and upset when I wouldn’t ask them for help and would screw something up because I would try to do things myself.
Two things to note – first, if you need a trigger warning, this is it: I’m going to be discussing childhood abuse here both physical and mental. This is not easy for me to do, and as a result I won’t be curtailing my thoughts or feelings for any particular audience. If you feel I’m focusing on the wrong aspect of things, either too much or too little, kindly fuck off in the most defensive “I need to stick up for myself here” meaning of the phrase. Second, I don’t know Mr. Roderick and I do not know his parenting style; I can only share my experiences as they relate to this one specific incident shared on Twitter. It is entirely possible he was going for a tone that was sardonic in nature; for the sake of what I’ll be sharing, I’ll be taking the story he shared on Twitter at face value.
I love my parents, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve acquired a much greater understanding of the struggles they’ve dealt with. I don’t enjoy talking about my parents in a way that comes off as “they’ve done me wrong” because they are my parents, and in many ways I feel that my issues come from a failure to overcome my trials, and not the actions of my family as a whole. This is 100% my damage, I accept that, I handle it with the same compartmentalization I’ve practiced for decades, and while I don’t expect anyone who reads this to understand I also won’t apologize for it. The events I dealt with as a child will often clash with how I present myself when talking about my family now in the present day.
Growing up, my stepfather had a number of health concerns related to an on-the-job injury that severely messed with his back, and he coped by self-medicating and taking odd jobs. To this end, my brother and I were expected to keep the house clean (a skill I wish I still had today) and on occasion cook and clean. My mother did what she could, but worked late days at a 2nd hand store and nights at a restaurant. It wasn’t like we were preparing gourmet meals, just sandwiches and stuff you’d find the recipes on boxes for like “sloppy joes.” Ours was a house where respect was kept with frequent use of belts and the raising of voices, which was justifiable because my brother and I were scheming children who brought a lot of pain and sorrow to our parents (especially, it would seem, our stepfather.) Clothes needed to be folded a certain way. Rooms needed to be cleaned in a certain order. We should be out of sight and out of mind, but also needed to ensure we were getting things done. How do you stay relatively quiet while operating a Rainbow vacuum cleaner? (And how did we even own one? Those things are literally hundreds of dollars!) Then emptying that bin without spilling it, making sure to clean up any mess that was made after it spilled…
I came to learn two distinct things. The first is that it would never be done quick enough or right enough. The second was that the rules of “quick enough” or “right enough” could change at any moment.
In fairness, I wasn’t a particularly bright child, so many there were just nuances to the rules I didn’t understand. Or maybe I was being gaslight because of issues into how things needed to be done. Mostly, though, I knew not to bother asking how to do things, because I should already know. Best to figure it out myself.
These kind of “teachable moments” teach nothing more than anxiety. They teach kids to second guess themselves. They teach kids to find their own ways to get the things they want and the things they need, and sure there will be consequences but that’s just a natural response to getting what you want and what you need, a consequence that good kids don’t have to worry about.
It also creates a mentality of fear that cripples a child.
I was 12 – TWELVE! Almost a teenager, early November, in Montana. The day had started a little chilly, but the weather wasn’t wet. We recycled cans for cash, and we had a process that involved pulling the tabs from the cans before crushing them by foot and putting them in a large bin. I was working with my brother, and we were making solid work of these cans. Lots of fermented beer cans, of course, but some soda cans as well. This was the best way to ensure that when we eventually took all this scrap aluminum to the recycler we’d get the most bang for the amount of gas it would take to make the delivery.
I remember the weather getting very frigid, and it was getting colder rather fast. It looked like it was going to snow, although I don’t believe it did. We were crushing down two full 60 gallon trash bins, which was a LOT of uncrushed cans. And I remember thinking to myself, “I can’t get my coat, because then I’ll be stepping away from the job.”
There was a very simple solution to being cold – go inside, grab my coat really quick, and then go back out and finish the job. Maybe grab a hat if I needed to. I genuinely believed that if I went inside, I’d get yelled at or worse get a spanking – at that time delivered by having me hold onto the bunk bed while they were delivered until the arbitrary number had been delivered (with the count restarting if I tried to block them in some way.)
I don’t remember how long I was out there, but eventually I was done. I went inside, super cold, and was stopped by my stepfather who wanted to know why I was shivering.
“I’m cold,” I replied.
“Well why weren’t you wearing a fucking coat?” he asked.
I didn’t have an answer. How could I tell him “Because I don’t trust you not to punish me for doing so?” That, in and of itself, would have been a form of insubordination!
It wasn’t that my stepfather wasn’t willing to teach me new things, it was just his way of teaching was to command and then get really upset when my brother or I would mess up. But he absolutely was the sort of person who would get angry if either of us couldn’t do something “simple” like open a can with a can opener. Hell, we had a cherry tree in our yard growing up, and we both got into a fair bit of trouble for not properly using the device that was set up to de-pit them one year. No showing us of how to use it, “it should be obvious” and then getting into trouble because we ruined more than a reasonable amount. (I tried to find a picture online of the type of pitter we were using, but haven’t had much luck. This was not a hand-held device, it was a heavy fiend of a device that connected to the dining room table with a clamp.) I don’t even remember what it was we did WRONG with the device, just that we didn’t de-pit them correctly and we should have known because “it’s easy, how can you not?”
You can teach your children how to do things in a way that isn’t enabling them. If your child wants to snack on something, and you suggest a can of beans, you can walk them through how to use the can-opener (or just show them yourself to give them a refresher) without teaching them they’d be better off just struggling without humiliating themselves by asking you. Mocking your child instead of caring for them is going to be a teaching moment, alright – it’ll teach them to be wary of coming to you.