We are a litigious society. There is no sadder illustration of this fact than the stories you see about a child suing his parents. We're also a society where grown-up children repay their parents' sacrifice by dragging Mom and Dad's names through the mud from the comfort of a therapist's couch or the pages of a tell-all memoir.
This happens, I think, because by the time they reach adulthood, our kids no longer remember the actual circumstances of their childhood.
That's why I came up with a handy-dandy and long-overdue bit of legalese designed to give parents the upper hand. The key is to have the kids sign it now, before they leave home.
Parental Absolution Form
I, [child's name] do hereby agree as follows:
1. THAT if, in 20 or 30 years' time, I show up on the 11 o'clock news standing grimly in my front yard as men in rubber suits and respirators from the county's Anti-Hoarding Task Force carry old newspapers, pizza boxes, winter clothing, dirty dishes, broken appliances and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrappers from my home, I will not face the camera and say, "If only my parents had made me clean my room when I was a child." Instead, I will say nothing. Or, if I feel I must say something, I will say: "Don't blame my parents. They tried everything they could to get me to clean my room when I was a kid, but I was able to thwart them at every turn."
2. THAT if I do not get into the college of my choice, I will not blame my parents for not "pushing" me hard enough academically. Instead, I will think back to all the times they reminded me to do my homework or asked if I needed help. I will remember that they repeatedly offered to assist with my English essays and social studies projects, only to be met with the sort of eyeball-rolling, vein-popping, red-faced hissy fits seen in movies about demonic possession. I will recall that on the few occasions where I did allow my mother or father to help me with my homework, the evening invariably ended with me screaming, "No! You just don't get it!" and my parents wishing it were possible to have a retroactive hysterectomy or vasectomy.
3. THAT I will not harbor a secret resentment against people who are able to play the piano, clarinet, flute, guitar, harp, clavichord, oboe, trumpet, zither, saxophone, sousaphone or sitar, or who excel at tennis, Ping-Pong, golf, basketball, baseball, softball, swimming, diving, soccer or any activity that requires long hours of dutiful, repetitive practice. I will not say, "If only my parents had made me stick to it, I could've been a world-class musician or athlete," because they tried, God knows they tried, and I always had more "important" things to do, such as IMing that kid I met at summer camp or reading a magazine.
4. THAT conversely, if I did have a full slate of extracurricular activities -- travel soccer, winter basketball, junior varsity wrestling, ballet, tap dance, modern dance, traditional Chinese opera, etc. -- I will not mutter that this robbed me of a "normal" childhood. I will not claim to have been so "overscheduled" that I was denied such simple pleasures as gazing at cloud formations or skipping stones on the mill pond. I will recall that when driven to a mill pond and offered a flat stone, I said, "This sucks," and then played a video game on my cell phone.
5. THAT I will never moan about how my parents wouldn't get me a dog or claim that because I was denied canine companionship I never learned to love or to form lasting relationships. I will recall that my experiences with the hermit crab, the goldfish, the tree frog, the box turtle, the parakeet, the hamster, the gerbil, the sugar glider, the guinea pig and the ball python all ended rather badly.
6. THAT I will not tell a therapist that my parents seemed to take no interest in my life. I will recall that for eight straight years -- from the fifth grade through the 12th grade -- I replied to every single question about the events of that school day with the same one-syllable word: "Fine." How was school? "Fine." How do you think you did on your math test? "Fine." Didn't I see on the news that a flaming zeppelin crash-landed on the roof of the auditorium? "Fine."
7. THAT I will not bristle when some future acquaintance laments my "unsophisticated" palate. I will recall that despite my parents' constant entreaties, for the first 15 years of my life I would consume only foods that were white: bagels, buttered pasta, french fries. I will remember that, for me, being "adventurous" meant eating pizza and the occasional carrot stick.
8. THAT I will not consider legal action against my parents for my slight overbite/underbite/
crossbite. I will remember that my parents funded braces for my teeth and, once the metalwork was removed, reminded me constantly to wear my retainer. Not only did I seldom wear my retainer, I conspired to find interesting ways to lose it: in the garbage, in the garbage disposal, in the wheel well of a jumbo jet.
9. THAT I will never utter the words, "If only my mom hadn't thrown away my comic books/baseball cards/Pokemon cards/Magic the Gathering cards/Dragon Ball Z cards/'Simpsons' figurines/Beanie Babies." I understand that if I didn't want them thrown away, I should have taken better care of them, keeping them neatly boxed and wrapped in acid-free paper.
10. THAT I accept that my parents did the best they could, THAT my mother's body was never the same after giving birth, THAT my father ended his dream to become a rock star/sketch artist/top fuel funny car driver just so he could put a roof over my head, and THAT it wouldn't kill me to call home every once in a while.
My e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.