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Friday, March 29, 2013

Being a parent, not a friend, to your children

In a recent post I talked about about the amazing Dr. Ben Carson.  And while there's plenty of positive things to talk about him, there's a particular piece in his Prayer Breakfast Speech that stuck out at me that I wanted to touch on.  In his speech, he mentions how his mother made him and his brother read books and give her written book reports on what they read.  He mentions how other parents and neighbors ridiculed her for this decision, saying how they (him and his brother) would hate her for making them read these books and give reports.  And he admitted that yes, at the time, he hated her for it.  Though years later, he appreciated what she did for him and his brother as it was this prodding to read and her unflinching expectation of excellence that allowed him to rise out of poverty.  He recognized that his mom did what she knew was best for her children, even if they hated her for it at the time.

The anniversary of my father passing was just the other day.  It was a rough day, but it reminded me of my own childhood in conjunction with Dr. Carson's  anecdotes.  Growing up, my dad was the Bad Guy.  I was afraid of my dad and at times I hated him for how cruel he seemed to be.  I also grew up in the 80's, quite easily the decade where the trope "parents just don't understand" became prolific.  Heck, Will Smith, back then half of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince had a hit single "Parents Just Don't Understand".  Family sitcoms and movies were rife with child angst at parents not understanding.   And while I'm aware the child-parent conflicts are nothing new to the 80's, this explosion of entertainment expressing this angst definitely exacerbated the issue via indoctrination of an impressionable mind.  So it wasn't until my mid 20's that I started to see what my dad had done.  He had raised me right.  He had done his job as a parent and there's much I have to thank him (and my mom, of course) for becoming the person I am today.  By no means perfect, but the solid foundation he laid via discipline, at the price of me hating him, is something I value tremendously.

Now this isn't an indictment on anyone nor am I trying to call out anyone, but I've run across quite a few parents that seem hesitant on disciplining their children for fear that the child will hate them.   This fear of not being liked by one's children is natural,  yes, though I believe it's ultimately not a good measuring stick when administering discipline.  Here's a couple points to consider:

  • Discipline, by nature, is not fun - for either the child or parent.  The parent has the aforementioned anxiety about being hated combined with not liking to see their children cry/be miserable.  The child, because, well, the parent is not only preventing them from doing something they want, but is forcing them to do something they definitely do NOT want to do.  So naturally, there are going to be feelings of resentment from a child when you enact discipline.  I would posit to say that any discipline a child actually doesn't dislike is probably not effective discipline.  
  • Most children I know have an amazing ability to bounce back from being irate, upset, or screaming bloody murder about their discipline to being just fine.   Once the  high flowing feelings "burn out" of them, they'll come down to more a lucid state where they're not screaming how much they hate you (which btw, my parents never tolerated even that).  Rational discipline will not "leave them scarred for life".  And it's in my view that kids are deliberately designed, by God, to have this resilience so they can be disciplined by loving parents without "breaking".
And speaking of the Bible, sparing discipline is considered to be tantamount to hating your own children.  Proverbs 13:24 states "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." The rod, in this case, is referring to discipline.  In the Old Testament days, shepherds had rods that they used to keep their flocks in order.   Why does the Bible say you hate your children if you spare the rod (and btw, rod in this sense means discipline, not explicitly spanking)?  It goes something like this:

A parent's primary duty as a parent is to raise their children to be good people (in God if you're Christian, naturally).  To equip them with what they need to know to live good and moral lives on their own so they can in turn be successful in life.  It falls under the notion that children, like all of us, are not naturally good (as we're born into sin).  And that a child that is not disciplined will be spoiled, selfish, and a burden to those around them.   Therefore, by withholding discipline, they're deliberately dooming their child to not growing up good.  Thus, what kind of parent would deliberately do this?  A parent that hates their child.  

Sounds pretty extreme, considering how potent wielding the word hate can be.  Though, it's not meant to be a condemnation, but more of a discernment on the results of your inaction.  "You must not like your child very much if you choose to let them grow up this way".  

One thing I also wanted to point out in that passage is the "careful to discipline them" part.  Careful being the key word here.  It is possible to have too much discipline just as there is possible to have too little.  Having a measured approach and deciding which aspects of child behavior matter most to you is a good way to establish when it's time to "lay down the law" and when you don't necessarily need to drop the hammer.  

Your children, when they children and even young adults, are not supposed to be your friends.  The duty of the parent is to shape the child into becoming a moral, upright human being - even when it's against the child's will.  That's the price of being a parent.  Yet, when they get older and wiser, they'll come back and see the sacrifices that were made to mold them, and thank the parent for it.  

Of course, all this comes from my own experiences and observations.  So this is pretty much one parent to another.  Don't let the fear of your kids hating you prevent you from doing what you need to do to ensure they grow up to be strong, moral, and upright people.