A relevant post revisited:
December, 2009. Parenting can sometimes feel like a complex endeavor – especially when the child is not cooperating. When the child is failing to meet expectations, to make the grade in school, to make the basketball team, to identify future aspirations – whatever – parents can become frustrated. And that frustration is often directed at the child.
I ran into a cousin last summer. I’ll call him Kenny for this post. Kenny is forty-eight years old. His family (relatives of my father) lived a difficult existence. Both parents were hard drinkers, hard smokers, and lived generally chaotic lives. My cousin followed their lead – but that is not how he saw it. He said, “If I had been a better son maybe my mom would not have drank so much.”
It struck me at the time that the responsibility had been flipped upside down. I asked my cousin, “You mean when you were eleven years old your mother might have drank less if you had been a better child?” “Yes,” he said – he should have been a better child – it was his fault that his mother was irresponsible.
He was wrong – but I understand where he was coming from. My father grew up economically poor during the Great Depression. Then he left for four years to fight in Europe. He came home, married, found a job, and had children. His idea of a good father was one that provided food, shelter, and clothes. One of his favorite sayings was, “Never brag on your children. They will always make a liar out of you.”
At the time I never thought he was talking about children in general – I thought he was talking about me in particular. I never felt I lived up to my father’s expectations. The reality is that I lived up to everything he exemplified, everything he expected, everything he modeled. He expected me to fail – and for a long time I respected his wishes.
Today I am in the category of people called ‘Seniors.’ I have children and grandchildren. I can see in retrospect that I treated my children in much the same manner my father treated me – and worse yet – I sometimes see my children doing the same thing to their children.
The error of this sort of parenting is simple enough – the child owns their own behavior – the parent has no responsibility (as long as the parent provides food and shelter). While talking with my cousin I asked, “When you were eleven years old who was the adult and who was the child?” He looked at me as if he did not understand. I clarified, “When you were eleven your mother was forty years old. Who was more responsible for their behavior?”
Kenny seemed mortified. One of the family values is to respect and honor one’s parents – whether they earned the respect or not. The children of my family system are held accountable for anything that is wrong. If things go well then the parents take the credit.
One of my grandsons is eleven. He is a naturally gifted athlete. He is less gifted as a scholar. One day I was talking to him about a book I thought he might like and he said with a smile, “Hey Grandpa, I am not a book dude.” I can accept that. Each of us is individually gifted – and we must praise the gifts while minimizing the shortcomings. Here is the problem – that grandson is struggling in school.
My more mature attitude today toward education recognizes a team effort. The team consists of three participants: The Parents, The School System, and The Child. Each plays a role, each has responsibility. The problem is that the child is held accountable by the parents and the teacher – the child gets all of the fault when educational goals are not met. I do not see the parents accepting their role in the problem. I do not see the teacher accepting their role in the problem. I do see the parents and teacher pointing stern fingers in the face of the child. I know what would happen if the child was an excellent student – the parents and the teacher would gladly accept their role.
This is a demanding and frustrating time we live in. Most families require two incomes – both parents have to work. Life is fast and chaotic. Parents are busy. When a child is struggling there is no time to analyze the problem. The parents know that they are busy all the time – so it follows that they are doing everything possible for the child – else why would they be so busy? And why would the child not meet expectations – because the child is being irresponsible. While wrong – the conclusion seems logical enough.
Priorities get confused. Fast schedules for busy families leave little time for adjustment. Meeting the expectation of the schedule take priority over meeting the expectation of the child.
There is one thing I know for certain today: Nothing will ever be as important as your children. We can have a successful career, a new home, a nice car, a boat at a vacation home on the lake, position and respect in our community, dignified roles in our church – and we will not be happy if our children are struggling.
I feel great sadness today.
I feel sad that I have perpetuated the idea that children are responsible for their bad behavior and parents are responsible when the child behaves properly.
I feel sad that children are growing up in a fast, chaotic, confusing, and demanding world.
I feel sad that children are growing up in a world where forgiveness and understanding are in short supply.
I feel sad that adults are not taking responsibility for their role in the lives of children.
I feel sadness for the children.