What Weird Rules Have You Internalized From Your Parents?

Parents are blamed for everything! The way our noses move when we think, our aging patterns, our crippling anxiety (just because), our inability to love (why?), the weird way we say “ice cream” (just me?). It’s pretty rude of us when you consider the astronomical number of times we’ve defecated on them, literally. Also figuratively. Poor parents. They don’t deserve it.

But they’re an easy target! (Please don’t apply this metaphor to the defecation reference.) And some of the random stuff they taught us — whether they actually believed it or they were just messing with us or we misinterpreted it — lingers under the surface of our consciousness for years, like a commercial jingle we can’t forget. The crescendo of this process is the moment we realize it’s unusual or unlikely or just batshit insane. And that part usually happens later than it should.

For instance, my siblings and I spent most of college unearthing, one by one, all the “common sayings” our mom used growing up, as totally weird, completely made up or, at the very least, entirely unused in the last 50 years of the English language. There were so many that we eventually lumped them together under the umbrella of “Kitisms” (our nickname for her is Kit).

Examples of Kitisms: “chip chop” / “tired solders are pessimists” / “shave my head and send me to camp” / “tired as a pig” / armpit gauges / “rock, roll and rattle” / “wheels up” / “pleased as punch” / “if you hang around the barbershop, you’re going to get a haircut.”

Even my close friends know the term and, whenever I say something they don’t understand, look at me in confused ernest and ask, “Is that a Kitism?” We still discover them every once in a while.

I love learning about these little tidbits, so I asked Team MR about theirs and oh, they delivered. Read below and then tell us yours!

Amelia Diamond: My mom convinced me that she was omniscient when I was very young and even though, as I got older, I knew that wasn’t technically true, I still cannot help but assume she has a little tracking device on me or a nanny cam at all times. Like The Truman Show!

Leandra Medine: My mom told me that if the soles of my shoes are facing the sky it means I disrespect all the people around me and that always stuck with me. So I make sure my shoes are always right side up (when not on my feet). I think she internalized that from her own mom. Also my parents always called our boogers “shmucks”, which I learned LAST WEEKEND means a horse’s penis.

Elizabeth Tamkin: We are Russian and my dad would make up words for things and tell me they were Russian translations. For example, he’d say “kitushki” meant “cat.” Nope. Also we’d always leave for the airport absurdly early. Like, 6 hours. And this is a weird one: we’d rarely, if ever, go to dinner without a reservation. For a long time I thought restaurant walk-ins were a risky and insecure move.

Krista Lewis: My mom once told me that cold water washes away dish soap faster than hot water. In later years, she claimed she never said this but I continued to believe it. I now wash my dishes in a water temperature dependent upon the air temperature. We always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with the day as a kind of add-on celebration day with the wider family. It wasn’t until college that I realized this was a Swedish thing.

Kate Barnett: My parents instilled in me that you have to wash dishes before you put them in the dishwasher. Also that you have to hit your last shots before you leave the basketball court. A three-pointer and a free throw in succession. You can’t leave until then.

Jasmin Aujla: My parents told me it was bad luck to sleep with your wardrobe doors open or opposite a mirror. I NEVER do it now and I also make sure the bathroom and bedroom doors are fully closed too. They also taught me a multitude of eating-related rules such as: 1. A cup of tea after every meal aids digestion. 2. Don’t swim or shower after eating. 3. Also don’t stretch after eating or you’ll turn into a donkey. 4. A shot of whiskey or cognac will cure all ailments.

Yvonne Dunlevie: My mom convinced me I would break my ankles if I wore heels or platforms like these, which I wanted very badly. The other thing — I’m not sure you’d call this a rule — but for some reason, in my family, we thought it was really funny to pinch each other’s butts and yell “WOO!” It was very innocent and developed into something called “the woo game” which was basically hide-and-go-seek with butt-pinching. Our whole family did it! Two parents and four kids. Then, on my little brother’s first day of kindergarten, he did it to one of his classmates and a parent-teacher conference ensued. My mom had to try to explain it was a term of endearment.

Harling Ross: My parents floss AFTER they brush their teeth which I later realized is totally wrong. They also served me and my sisters eggs for dinner as children and we were shocked to discover later that eggs are normally considered a breakfast food.

Patty Carnevale: My mom would always roll the windows down when we drove across a bridge just in case we plunged into the water as a result of some horrific event. She didn’t want the pressure to trap us in the car! I still do it when I remember and I have no idea if that’s the right thing to do. She also said that her grandmother (my great grandmother Mum-mum) washed her hair with vinegar and never had a gray hair in her life. We tried it once. It was unpleasant. And we both have gray hair.

Illustration by Emily Zirimis.


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