Nathan Tompkins

Guide to Bad Parenting: Family Holidays, Reunions, and Other Horrors

Nathan Tompkins offers advice on how NOT to do parenting. First up? Summer family vacations.


Summer is upon us. Soon all of the schools will breathe a sigh of relief, having completed another academic year without being burned down by one of their juvenile inmates. Their denizens cheer and salivate in anticipation of the destruction they will gleefully produce during the three months of freedom. While you, as the horrified parent, conjure up images reminiscent of a Griswold vacation and the flashbacks of holidays past.

Most parents will be misguided and permit their barbarian spawn to partake in such activities as swimming, fishing, camping, scout trips, neighborhood softball games, summer reading programs, or just hang out playing violent video games with their friends. In my imaginary family, my nonexistent kids—well, I have one daughter who lives with her mum; it’s fortunate I suppose that my ex knows nothing of bad parenting, as it leaves me free to scar the hearts and minds of everyone else’s little hordes; someone’s got to ensure the shrinks remain gainfully employed in twenty to thirty years, so why not me, eh?—will have their imaginary video game systems put away, where they’ll be unable to locate them, until school resumes the following fall. Then, they won’t have any time to play them anyway.

Many parents are under the mistaken belief that they should take their monsters on trips. So they take them to places like Europe, Hawaii, Disneyland (and other theme parks), or camping in a vain attempt to connect with their offspring and prove to them their parental coolness, when all the kids are really thinking is that they’re old and stupid.

If you wish to do it right, go on your trips to Disneyland or Disney World, but leave your children at home (or better yet in the hotel) with someone who will bore the crap out of them, like your nearest Mormon relative, or really anyone else who will happily spend their time preaching to them about God, Jesus, or any other unexciting topic, up to and including the wonderful science of pencils or the intricacies of the Oxford comma. Together, they’ll spend the whole summer studying textbooks, religious documents like the Book of Mormon, or the ever monotonous grammar books. It should prove to be the summer from Hell for your little beasts, unless they’re the masochistic type and actually enjoy it.

However, there well may be times when leaving them behind would not be feasible. In fact, you may be expected to take them along. I speak, of course, of the dreaded family reunion. This event does not need to be viewed with the same trepidation as a visit from your annoyingly nosey in-laws (unless the reunion happens to be with your annoyingly nosey in-laws). No, siree, boys and girls. It should be seen as the perfect opportunity to prove to your parents and other relatives that your mastery of bad parenting skills far surpasses their own. This is where I can help you achieve your goal and rub your parents’ noses in the fact that you are a true champion at bad parenting, and they are but amateurs. This is why I was placed upon this earth: to bless you with my misguided advice.

Most reunions occur at campgrounds so families can spend several days drinking, fighting, eating, and recalling exactly why they live so far apart in the first place. So, the following scenarios will cover anything from sleeping arrangements, snacking, and recreational activities. Each tip is designed specifically to torment your children and alienate your kin. I must warn you, however, that each suggestion is based on my own experience, and so the places in the coming schemes will be located in the great independent nation of North Idaho.


  1. Recreation

Spending the whole duration at camp is impossible. Well, it is impossible if you do not wish to end up in the local psychiatric center for the criminally inane, or is that insane? No matter, it is highly important for you to leave at one point or another. It could be doing anything, such as taking the kids to the lake or pool for a swim, or heading to town to tour the shops, or maybe a group trip to the local theme park (however, if the last is the choice, I would recommend leaving the kids at camp, it’s more enjoyable this way, as you won’t have to listen to their whinging arguments the whole time).

If you are taking them swimming, I would suggest hiring a boat (or use your own if you are local and lucky enough to possess your own vessel) for a few hours, under the auspices of taking them to the center of the lake to dive off the stern deck. Make sure they are wearing personal flotation devices, as the authorities frown on accidental drowning, nor do we want anyone to get hurt. Fortify them with a couple of shots or so of whiskey, it will make them more pliable, if they question why the engine’s still running and why you haven’t anchored, tell them that you have to keep the engine going, as it would be impossible to restart it, once it cools down. If it’s in August and the summer’s warm, the water’s temperature should be comfortable, anyway.

Once they are all wearing their flotation devices, make them leap into the welcoming waters. If they refuse, in spite of being half drunk, throw them in. When they are all bouncing in the mild waves, you can leave them in the more violent wake of the screw, as you sail to another part of the lake to swim without them around, fish, or just sit out on the deck getting drunk or stoned (just be careful as the authorities take a dim view of boating while intoxicated). Or you can tie them to a buoy so they don’t float away and it will be easy to locate them when you’re done having your own fun. You can always go back and fish them out. Then head back to the marina, sliding the boat gently into the slip.

If you are, by this time, too drunk to drive back to the camp, do not drive on your own. You are more likely to get busted by cops or, worse, wreck! Even though it may look like a good idea to be weaving back and forth across the road and have the arresting officer take your children away (yes, this is every parent’s dream), you would not enjoy your child-free moments to be spent in the holding cell, nor the fees you would have to pay afterward. No, what you should do instead is have the oldest kid drive you back. If his legs are not able to reach the pedals, then have one of the younger ones lie on the floor and press the appropriate pedals as needed. I know it sounds like a bad idea, but at least you, yourself, won’t be behind the wheel, and that is the important thing.


  1. Snacking

You cannot have a camping trip without some sort of snacking going on. It’s impossible. Snacks could be anything from cooking hotdogs or s’mores around a fire, a bag of chips, or even celery stalks and peanut butter. Now, in most cases, you may be tempted to let them have whatever they want to snack on, it’s not like you go on these trips all the time, after all. So why not some leniency so you don’t have to listen to them whine all day? Usually, I would suggest something they would find revolting, like Vegemite, butter, and cracker sandwiches. I can almost guarantee you they will never come near you again, asking for something to munch on between meals. That is unless they actually like the taste of Vegemite. If you are unsure what Vegemite is, it is a spread made out of brewer’s yeast. It is extremely salty, has the consistency of a hairball, and tastes like the morning after a good drunk. In other words, smart people should avoid this at all costs. While it is an Australian craziness, it is based on British marmite. It is, thankfully, difficult to locate here in the States, though any Oz shop or foreign goods store should carry it. While the smart parent should never touch it, it is good to give to their kids, as it is nutritious, no matter how revolting it may taste.

If Vegemite and crackers are not to your liking (as if they should be), you can actually have fun with the more currently creative, homegrown snacks. For instance, special brownies would be a good thing; it will not only make them more pliable and happy, but will not affect their appetite for dinner. You could also give them a snack of mushrooms; however, this must be done with care because of the hallucinatory effects. If given at the wrong time, it could cause the child to freak out and create more work for you as you try and talk them down from their bad trip. However, it may just be worth it to prove how bad a parent you truly are to your kinfolk.


  1. Sleeping Arrangements

The northern reaches of the United States are rife with wild creatures, bears, wolves, big cats, coyotes, and such, though North Idaho (thankfully) does not have any poisonous snakes. I remember one time during a reunion at Farragut State Park, which is just north of Coeur d’Alene, a pack of coyotes was screeching and then ran through camp, searching for their supper. One even sniffed and scratched at my tent, until I punched the wall, striking its long nose. Like the coward it was, it backed off, and ran off with the pack.

Now, you may be wondering what to do with your little terrorists-in-training, and may even think that for their sake it may be a good thing to have them lodge in a motor home with a willing and helpful relative, but this being a good idea, would not be the thing to do. You may even want them to sleep in the tent with you, but that would be what a good parent would do and so would defeat your purpose. No, I suggest having them take a tarp and drape it over a picnic table and have them sleep under it. If some wild creature comes along and carries one off, it will be one less mouth to feed and you can claim the wolves, cougars, coyotes, or grizzlies ate your baby. Of course, in the Northwest anyway, Inland or coastal, rain is always liable to come and join your festivities. If this occurs, the demon spawn can spend the night in the campground’s public restrooms.

I hope that I have illustrated for you the opportunities to warp the minds of those Visigoths, better known as your children. If you follow my advice or not, that is your choice, however, I should tell you I have lots of experience with bad parenting, as I was raised by a consortium of crazy people—my grandparents, my aunts, and my own parents—so I know what I am talking about. I should warn you, that if you do wish to follow my guidance, it is on your own head. If you get busted by the police, I refrain from accepting any responsibility for your demented urges to actually follow my guide. Only an idiot would follow my advice.




Nathan Tompkins

Nathan Tompkins is a writer living in a small town just north of Portland, Oregon, though his heart will always be walking along the Kootenai River in his native North Idaho. His work has appeared in many publications including NonBinary Review. He is the author of four chapbooks, but his beautiful Australian daughter is his finest accomplishment.

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