Garth Brooks' Parenting Dance

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

I suppose if Jenny McCarthy can write entire books about parenting, then Garth Brooks—the biggest star in country music history—can give out advice about raising daughters. The country superstar took an extended career break to focus on his family, and now that his youngest is 18, he’s jumping back into the spotlight full time. His kids are growing up, and he’s ready to head back out into the world.

Let’s get this out of the way: I am not, nor have I ever been, a Garth Brooks fan. I don’t even pay much attention to country music. But Brooks isn’t just a country star, he’s a megastar. He’s the second best-selling “albums artist” in the U.S. ever, with The Beatles in front of him and Elvis Presley right behind. So I can doubt all I like, but he’s beloved by millions, and a stand-up guy who raised three daughters and has something useful to say about it.

People magazine recently put him on their cover, and published his Top 5 Tips for Raising Daughters, and while I don’t normally find Brooks to be clickbait, I clicked anyway, hoping to pick up some tips. Let’s take a look. (I’m going to do them in reverse, just to be different.)

1. Always set consequences.

In Brooks’ case, it has to do with grades and cell phone privileges, but in general, he got this one right. We’ve all seen those parents who tell their kids, “If you do this one more time, I’m canceling the trip!” and then the trip goes on, and the kids learn nothing. We’ve probably been those parents, sometimes. But he’s right, a good consequence goes a long way. (Still I can’t bring myself to throw my son’s Legos away even when I step on their pointy little edges hours after he’s gone to bed.)

2. Test their dates right away.

I was ready to assume this was going to be some kind of shotgun-toting sexist crap. Test their dates? Intimidate them? Bully them? Treat your daughters like precious flowers who need to be protected from sex and love? Oh, Garth.

But guess what? That’s not what he’s saying at all. His example actually warms my heart. “If a young man can swallow his pride to let her drive [on the first date], that’s cool. And if something goes wrong, she can come home,” he says. Well, look at you, Garth! You’re not about over-protectiveness, you’re about independence! And equality! His support for gay rights should’ve already been a giveaway that he wasn’t going to be a chauvinist jerk. I’m happily surprised, and I love this advice.

3. Put them to work.

Okay, I can’t argue with this one either, and I especially like when gajillionaires make their kids wait tables, which is what he did. I had crappy jobs growing up—including waitressing—and I learned the value of work, of money, of how to treat people, and of a college education and why you should take it seriously on a dollars-to-credits ratio. My 11-year-old already makes money with his own Lego Service, where he goes to little kids’ houses and helps them build their kits, thus saving their harried parents from digging for parts they can never find, but when my kids are old enough, I’m all about them getting jobs to see what the world is like outside the safe confines of our benevolent neighbors. I actually think every kid should take a year off before college anyway, to work, so Garth, once again we are seeing eye to eye. I’m still with you!

4. Let them fail.

Okay, stop it! Yes, this one’s good too! Now I’m annoyed.

He talks about his daughter playing soccer even though she got her ass kicked, and I get it 100 percent. There’s a lot of talk about how we are raising kids who don’t know how to lose, and while that’s not my particular bugaboo, I’ve seen all kinds of childhood frustration, and had to fight hard to resist the temptation to jump in and save the day, rescuing my children from their own folly. My new tactic last night while I watched them playing backgammon was to ask, instead of offering. “Anyone want strategy tips?” “No!” they told me. I watched them make mistakes and give up some great moves, and when my daughter lost, she told us, “That’s the least I’ve ever lost by!” with pride. So yeah, he’s got this one too.

5. Always be on call.

Hey, Garth: I’ve been down this road. Here’s where we part ways.

When I first stopped working full time in an office far away from the daily needs of my kids, I found out just how often things come up in the course of a day. After the initial joy of finally being available when they needed me, I found myself trapped in an endless cycle of delivering forgotten items to school, and jumping every time the school nurse called with some nebulous report of the latest illness. My son was dizzy, my daughter wasn’t feeling quite right, maybe they wanted to come home? The nurse, it turns out, was actually asking them what they wanted to do. “Do you want to go back to class, or do you want to call your mom?” What do you think they were choosing?

So don’t ALWAYS be on call, I say. I know I haven’t sold 135 million albums, and I’m not up for my seventh entertainer of the year award at this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards, but my voice must be heard! Be on call sometimes. Be on call within reason. We finally laid down the law with our kids, AND with the nurse, about what constituted a call home regarding illness: vomiting, fever over 100, excessive bleeding, broken limbs, or anything that requires a ride right from the school to the doctor’s office. As for forgetting their stuff, we’ll bail them out depending on the consequences, and if neither one of us is around, then they’re stuck.

So there you have it. I finally found my connection to Garth Brooks. We can’t all find refuge from empty nest syndrome in world tours, but we can still look at how even the biggest star can take pleasure in packing lunches, schlepping his kids to soccer games, and watching them grow up right before his eyes, and then give out tips to the rest of us that actually make sense.

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