Alternately titled; We have met the enemy, and he is us.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the work of parenting, and I have to admit that the thinking I’ve been doing has led me to a great deal of concern.
Parenting is, even at its best, a lot of really difficult work. We make ourselves responsible for the care and keeping of other little humans, and it is up to us to give them all of the knowledge and skills they’ll need to function in the world as autonomous beings. Whether they come to us brand-spanky new or they’ve already been broken in a bit doesn’t matter; the work is, I think, essentially the same. Here are these young people, fresh with promise and seemingly infinitely impressionable, who look to us for guidance and sustenance.
A great many of us take that responsibility very, very seriously. There are parents who are wholly invested in being good role models, in offering encouragement and discipline in appropriate measure, and of loving their children with every molecule of their being. These are the parents who understand that, in order to be a good parent, one has to suffer the seeming hatred of their young people – they have to be the “bad guy” on a startlingly regular basis and reconcile themselves to the fact that they can’t – nor should they – solve all of their children’s problems. They need to step back and allow their children to fail; they need to wait and watch and sit on their hands and satisfy themselves with the role of post-disaster comforter.
Good parents do what they can to supply their kids with the resources they need to succeed, but they don’t do their kids’ work for them. Good parents hold their kids to a standard, give them the support and material they need to reach it, and then insist on their responsibility. Good parenting is a thousand little things, day in and day out, that teaches children how to be strong, self-sufficient, compassionate, decent human beings.
Good parents don’t make excuses for their kids. Good parents don’t call their children’s teachers to complain about the work their kids are (or, more often than not, aren’t) doing. Good parents don’t let their kids be disrespectful to themselves, their friends, or, really, anyone. Good parents don’t intervene when their children have to suffer the logical consequences of their behavior and, in fact, good parents encourage those consequences.
I have been, frankly, horrified by the attitudes and behaviors of some of my students. It occurred to me a long time ago that these kids are being raised by MY GENERATION, and I’ve got to tell you that I’m ashamed and embarrassed by this fact. I’ve had children pulled from my classes because I was pushing those kids to think in ways that were difficult or uncomfortable to them. I’ve sat in parent/teacher conferences where the parents have made excuses about why their kids can’t get to school on time or do decent classwork, and I’ve listened while parents have called to complain about some minor disciplinary action that was brought against their child. Out in public, I’ve watched parents cave entirely to their young children’s whims and demands, I’ve watched them allow their children to behave abominably in restaurants and stores and out on the street, and I’ve seen adults rearrange their entire lives, up to being willing to inconvenience others in the process, to suit the wishes of someone who’s barely tall enough to reach a light switch.
In contrast, I have told my daughter’s teacher to give the kid a detention when she got caught reading a novel under the desk in her science class. She was FURIOUS at me for that, but I didn’t care; kid wasn’t doing what she was supposed to, kid got caught, kid should have suffered a consequence. Why is that so hard for so many of my generation of parents to understand?
What is it about this batch of parents that seems to render them incapable of being the grown-up in the room? What is it that has led some of us to believe that everyone deserves a trophy, that all kids should learn the same things the same ways, and that our children have to be happy and content and feel good about themselves all the time? What has made some of us spineless and unwilling to say “no” when we should? What the hell is wrong with some of us, because if we don’t figure it out – and fast – we’re going to self destruct.