National Post Seeing your bad decisions, through a child’s eyes

National Post - Wednesday March 7th, 2012

Before you act, imagine what your son or daughter will think about your actions.

In a recent column about gossip, I confessed to an enthusiasm for consuming and dispensing the stuff, but neglected to mention that I have a personal horror of being gossip’s butt. I’m not a hypocrite. Gossip is an excellent social brake on stupid impulses. We need gossip to be better people.

It is in that spirit that I offer up some juicy semi-celebrity gossip, whose subject could have avoided the embarrassment in which she’s presently wallowing, if she had followed a simple, but infallible Barbara Kay rule. But first a word about how I came to devise this rule.

Some years ago, I columnized — disdainfully, I need hardly add — on “swingers” clubs. This prompted indignant responses from some members. One woman waxed eloquently defensive of her and her husband’s weekly orgiastic forays, extolling swinging’s “healthy” fulfilment of natural fantasies, and its benefits in deepening marital intimacy.

Unpersuaded, I asked her in private correspondence if, given that sex with strangers in the presence of one’s beloved is so natural and rewarding, she had confided her enthusiasm for this enriching hobby to her teenage children. Um, well, not exactly, as it turned out. When they were older, perhaps …

I was not surprised. The woman claims to feel no guilt about her lifestyle, and yet she is ashamed to tell her children. Perfectly normal. The thrill of swinging arises from transgression of community standards of decency. Not exactly role modelling material for her children, and in her heart she knows it.

I wondered if it had ever occurred to that couple that, dealing with so many strangers, they’re vulnerable to casual exposure — and gossip. If their children find out, sooner or later, as is likely, the parents’ relationship with them will be forever damaged.

Musing on the swinger parents’ lack of foresight, I articulated the rule that I have unconsciously been following since I became a parent.

The Barbara Kay rule is not about morality, but about judgment. The rule concerns private adult activities, often impulsively embraced, that aren’t technically harmful to anyone else in the performance, but are likely to cause harm to others if they become public knowledge.

Whenever I’m not sure if what I am about to say or do is wise or unwise, all I have to do is ask myself: If what I am contemplating saying or writing or doing were to become the subject of gossip, would this be an embarrassment to my children as well as to myself? If it surely would — or even might — I earnestly try to stay my tongue or hand. That’s my simple rule.

Now that the rule’s been explained, here’s the promised gossip.

Pamela Druckerman’s name may be familiar to you as the author of the new bestseller, Bringing Up Bébé: One American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting, in which the author praises French mums’ talent for raising well-behaved children.

In 2010, the same Pamela Druckerman wrote an article for Marie Claire magazine entitled, “How I planned a ménage à trois.” In it, Druckerman reveals that her husband’s fantasy has been to enjoy a lovemaking threesome with his wife and another woman. So for his 40th birthday, Druckerman fulfils his dream.

She writes that she thought it would be difficult to find a female confederate, but to her surprise, “it turns out that all of my girlfriends and practically all the spouses of his friends would potentially make the cut, including the pregnant ones.” Afterward, Druckerman received “a series of heartfelt thank you notes” from her grateful mate.

Mortified when the Washington Post’s “On Parenting” blog revived the 2010 article amidst fanfare over her new book, Druckerman asked Marie Claire’s editors to remove the article from their online archive. But that electronic horse was already well out of the barn.

And so, as a result of her poor judgment, Druckerman has ensured that her child “Bean,” and any other children she has, will be teased about this for years to come, at what cost to their family dynamics it is impossible to say.

Don’t blame me for adding to her family’s embarrassment by spreading this story. I only disseminate cautionary gossip that may prevent similar faux pas in other myopic adults.

One needn’t have children to be wise. And many who aren’t wise, as I have shown, do have children. But for those who would be wise, and need all the help they can get, children can be an excellent prophylactic to parental childishness.

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