I’m a Sh** Parent Like Tony Hawk. Aren’t You?


Joanna Schroeder examines why we, as parents, are so eager to call other moms and dads “bad”.

I was compulsive about BPA in bottles when my kids were babies. And lead paint, phthalates, sulfates, pesticides and flame retardants.

Weren’t you?

I researched the heck out of vaccinations, too. We ended up giving our boys all of the vaccines recommended by our doctor, but I was the parent who requested the version with the least amount of aluminum and whatnot. I don’t even know if that aluminum theory is still around.

But living in West Los Angeles and vaccinating my kids, I was criticized by parents who were anti-vax. And I criticized them back. Had they read the studies about what happens when the “healthy herd” is no longer healthy? Didn’t they know that Dr Wakefield’s study had been debunked so hard that all of his co-authors disassociated themselves with the results? I will admit, I judge non-vax’ers probably the same way they judge me.

The past few weeks, there has been a ton of news about “bad parents”. First, in a horrifically tragic moment, a mother at the Pittsburgh Zoo lost her grip on her 2 year-old son near the wild dogs enclosure. The child was killed as the mother and other families watched.

In a well-researched piece, Bethany Bateman wrote about how statistically, the parents whose children are harmed in freak accidents like that one are exactly like you and me. I’ve held my kids up to see over the railing of an enclosure. Haven’t you? I probably wouldn’t do it now, if I had a 2 year-old, but I was just like her when my boys were small.

Last week, after an armed gunman broke into a Newtown, CT elementary school and killed 28 people, 20 of them children, we looked to his mother, also allegedly slain by her own firearms. How could she raise such a monster? How could she own a rifle that, outfitted with that clip, was designed solely to kill lots of people at once?

We judge her. But do we look at our little children and think, “what crimes will you commit in your lifetime?” No, we look at our kids and picture their weddings, their future careers, their sports highlights. But be assured that your kids will commit crimes. They’ll speed, blow through stop signs, maybe drive drunk or high, do some insider trading, or even rape or kill someone. It’s ghastly to imagine, isn’t it? But these crimes are all committed by somebody’s baby. Certainly the worse the crime is, the more likely it is that the person grew up in an unstable home. But sometimes a good kid misses a stop sign and kills someone. It’s tragic.

We do our best to protect our kids and make them into good people. We keep BPA out of their sippy cups, we teach them to use “gentle touch” and kind words with their friends, not to squash snails just to hear the “crunch”, and that there is always room for another friend while playing a game.

Those things are important and we need to do more of them.

But we all fail. We just don’t always have the horrific ramifications of our failures. My oldest son, the dreamer, followed a Monarch butterfly through the San Diego Wild Animal Park, ten feet ahead of me in a crowd for hundreds of meters. When he realized that he couldn’t see us, he zipped faster and faster through the throngs of people until I couldn’t keep up, even while shoving people aside.

Luckily, he found a family and showed them where I had written my cell number on his arm that morning. The dad was dialing my number when I finally reached him.

These stories could have gone any other way, but they didn’t. Some would say, “but by the grace of God they did not.” Maybe it’s God, maybe it’s luck. Some of it is preparation, we had rehearsed that he should find a nice family to help him and show them my number if he ever wandered off, but let’s all be clear about how close most of us are to being called bad parents.


The big news in fatherhood today is the photo of super-awesome skateboarder Tony Hawk twirling his daughter in the air at the top of a ramp in a skate park. The haterade is over the fact that his daughter isn’t wearing a helmet.

Should she be wearing a helmet? Yes, obviously, they’re an important safety tool, especially for kids. It’d be a good example for others. But her dad is arguably the best skateboarder in the world, and the likelihood of her falling, as he says, is less than you tripping on the sidewalk while carrying your kid. Even if he did fall, the man would know how to keep her safe. Does he deserve to be attacked and called a bad dad for this?

Why do we do this?

Me, skateboard, and no helmet.

Our Editor-in-Chief Noah Brand explains it like this, “I can’t help but feel it’s related to the psychology of victim-blaming. Victim-blaming is based in the Just World Fallacy, the idea that if something bad happens to you, it’s because you deserve it. It’s a way for the blamer to reassure themself that THEY’RE still safe, because they’re careful and smart and virtuous. Similarly, going off on parents who let their kids take public transit or take them skateboarding is a way of reassuring yourself that YOUR children are safe. That parent is BAD, but you are GOOD, so nothing can happen to your children. And then when something happens to your children anyway, everyone else will start looking for reasons why you’re a bad parent.”

If we look at Tony Hawk and say, “Bad Dad!” we feel a little bit better about ourselves as we strap them into their helmet. We feel our little ones are somehow truly safe. And we’re right, childhood concussions are incredibly dangerous. But if we learned anything from the Newtown shooting, it’s that devastatingly awful things happen to good people who do not deserve it.


And if helmets aren’t the area where you fail, there is something else. I promise you, there is.

As you can see in my bio, I’m a skateboarding mama. My husband and I both skate, and we ride as a family. Our kids aren’t into boards, so most often they ride bikes, and they are firmly buckled into good helmets. But Ivan and I skate alongside them without helmets… I know, it’s terrible. We started riding when we were kids and literally nobody we knew wore helmets. We’ve both fallen enough to know that on sidewalk, we’re way more likely to break our arms or tailbones than hit our heads… We do wear helmets when we snowboard or ski, however. It’s not entirely logical.

It’s a bit of cognitive dissonance. We think, I know I should wear a helmet to set a good example, but I just don’t want to!

So I’ll be the first to say it: I’m a sh** parent like Tony Hawk.

Here’s how I fail most often: I don’t wear a helmet when I’m skating, my son ran away at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and sometimes I don’t make my kids eat vegetables or fruit for an entire day. My 5 year-old just drank Diet Coke. Sometimes I forget to look up from my laptop for two hours while my kids play right in front of me. A few times, I have found my boys staring up, glazed-eyed, at a strange piece of nude art at LACMA and ushered them away (after taking a photograph). Once I discovered that my 7 year-old was wearing 3 pairs of underpants because instead of changing them everyday, he was just putting clean ones over the dirty ones. I hadn’t even noticed!

So how about you? How have you failed?

In what ways do you succeed?

And how can we talk about how to keep our kids safe without victim-blaming or calling out other parents?



Also read Merry Christmas, Tony Hawk—The World Thinks You’re a S*** Parent


About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and editor with a special focus in issues facing raising boys and gender in the media. Her work has appeared on Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane, MariaShriver.com, TIME.com, and more. She and her husband are outdoor sports enthusiasts raising very active sons. She is currently co-editing a book of essays for boys and young men with author and advocate Jeff Perera. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    The NRA might suggest that it’s negligent parenting to send kids to school unarmed. How could you let your little boy go off to school without a way to shoot back? That’s just another way of dangling him over the railing….

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I am very easily annoyed by apparently clueless parents and the first to notice when kids are misbehaving. But, I’ve learned to be somewhat realistic about “bad parenting,” whatever that means anyway. It’s just one more of those “pick your battles” things.

    Realistically, there is only so much control and only so much responsibility that parents have for the way that their children turn out. Our society tends to be schizophrenic about this issue. Either parents are completely responsible for everything their children do and are to blame for everything wrong in a kid’s life; OR, kids are totally out of control, it’s too late, they’re too far gone, parents are helpless to do anything.

    The healthy reality is somewhere in between. There is a lot parents can do, but there’s always a risk, and there’s always the fact that a child is a distinct individual, not merely an extension of the parent’s ego. Past a certain point, a person has to stop blaming parents for the way that he/she turned out.

    As for the anti-vaccination crowd, who will they blame when their children get scarlet fever? Will they say that scarlet fever is the product of a pharmaceutical conspiracy?

    As for Tony Hawk, I’ve worked out a compromise. He’s a perfectly fine father skating with his daughter without helmets. If he falls and she gets hurt, then I will judge him harshly for being a dumbass. Until then, no blood no foul. I try to suspend judgment until there are concrete outcomes.

    As for parents not wearing helmets, of course there’s some benefit to modeling the behavior you want to see in your kids. But, there is still the fact that adults and children get to play by different rules. Children are not adults, which is too often forgotten. As a parent, you get to do things that your children are not allowed to do. When they’re grown up, they can choose for themselves whether to wear a helmet or not. If they expect to have all the same privileges that their parents have, then there is something very wrong in that family dynamic. (In my outsider’s opinion.)

  3. It’s so much easier to point out failures in others because we’ve all done stuff as parents–and humans–that we knew we shouldn’t have. And people are always looking to knock down celebrities. I don’t need anyone else to criticize my parenting; my son draws pictures of me losing my temper (new facebook profile pic, my redfaced bald head screaming at a cowering dumb ass dog “You broke the scrin[sic] door!”). Rarely do we tell someone–even our spouse–how awesome it was to recreate Minute-to-Win-It in the backyard with the neighborhood kids. It’s like Andrew’s comment in the original post “When I see those photos, I see a beautiful bonding experience between father and daughter, one that she’ll probably cherish as one of her earliest memories.” We choose what we wanna see. Every parent could do a better job. And every parent that is active in his kids’ lives is doing a helluva job.
    Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/families/merry-christmas-tony-hawk-the-world-thinks-youre-a-s-parent/#AuqL7CeAr05lTTWC.99

  4. I actually do look at my kid sometimes and wonder about what horrible acts toward humanity he’ll do. It keeps me teaching him the good things. If I see him torturing bugs and enjoying it, I immediately think about how that’ll turn into torturing animals and then how it’ll turn him into a mass murderer. So I try to stay ahead of the game. My actions? I just don’t like it when he catches me goosing momma because then he does it too and things get weird.

  5. Mark Greene says:

    My son is seven. I have two words to say: “Robot Chicken”.

  6. Nick, mostly says:

    I’ve always said, someone’s kid must be “the wrong crowd” and it very well could be mine. I also think safety has become a fetish among parents, a way to delude yourself into thinking you hold some amount of control in what is a random and capricious world. It’s a response to urbanization and rapid change, both technological and cultural. The idea that we can protect our kids from harm is an illusory one, and in pursuing this unattainable goal of “safety” we miss out on teaching our kids what is truly important: how to be good people in a future world we may not recognize. Instead we hover about them – ever the generation of helicopter parents – while our kids come to think YOLO is actual wisdom. We shield their eyes from pornography but let them soak in the latest Taratino flick or FPS release. It all seems to be a cruel joke, doesn’t it?

  7. Alyssa Royse says:

    Unfortunately, you said it so well that I have little to add. I fail in many of the same ways, and some that are wholly unique. I believe, from the bottom of my warm and fuzzy little heart, that one of the best things we can do for our kids is model imperfection. And use every moment as a teaching opportunity. I don’t expect myself or my daughters to be perfect. I don’t expect any of us to always be right, to always know the answer. I expect us all to make mistakes, and then to talk about it in a calm – and often amusing – way. Although I make them wear helmets and such, I also go out of my way to expose them to risk and fear, so they learn how to handle it, as risk and fear are ever present. I try to help them learn that although we can mitigate risk, magical thinking doesn’t make the world safe. That often, when we worry, we just use up energy that could be spent living on worrying instead, and almost always worry about the wrong things.

    When I broke my neck and nearly died in a car accident, one of the many fleeting thoughts as that car was racing towards me was, “I didn’t see that coming.” And I didn’t mean the car. I meant dying that way. Since then, I haven’t bothered with a lot of worrying. We practice living fully with all practical risk-mitigation, and no magical thinking.

  8. Bad behaviour needs to be called out. Anti-vaxxers put the herd at risk, if they grow in number they become breeding grounds for diseases that can mutate and hit the vaccinated people. I fully support blocking financial aid to those who don’t vaccinate their kids because these are risks to everyone, not just their kid. If you want to live in our society you damn well better do your best to make it safer and that means don’t purposely become a breeding ground for polio, etc. No way in hell should their unvax’d kids be allowed to goto the same preschools, etc and mix with others if they’re going to put everyone at risk. I’d like a world where polio stays the fuck away thank-you very much.

    Where does it start though? Slap a kid on the ass? Slap them across the face? Punch them? When should we start saying OI, you’re a bad parent, stop putting your kid in danger or being abusive?

  9. Thanks for the link back. We all both thrive and fail in all things. We blame in hopes that magical action will keep us from being hurt. I’m sure this is all part of victim shaming as well.

  10. Nothing more to add to my comment on the other article, I just wanted to say I really liked this article. Also, Diet Coke is by far the best Coke variety. Except Cherry, but that goes without saying!


  1. […] This is a comment by Nick, mostly on the post “I’m a Sh** Parent Like Tony Hawk. Aren’t You?“ […]

Speak Your Mind