Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What We Owe Our Kids

You may have seen or at least heard about the Florida father who stormed his daughter's school bus to yell and swear at (and threaten) the kids that were picking on her. He's now facing charges--and rightly so--for his outburst. So I'm not going to defend him. What he did was wrong. But it was also a little understandable, and I'll admit to many moments in my years of being a mother when I have wanted to throttle a child who has hurt one of mine. And each time, I've taken as many deep breaths as are necessary to calm down, and I've reminded myself it's not the child's fault completely; it's also the parents' fault.

I watched the video today, followed by an interview with, as she was labeled, the "mother of one of the accused bullies." She said that she didn't speak to her son that way, so it was upsetting to see this man do so.

And here's what I thought: "Maybe you should have spoken to him that way. Maybe that you never have is the problem."

Now, I'm not an advocate of screaming and swearing and threatening to kill your own child (or anyone else's), but I am a fan of discipline, which comes in all sorts of varieties: punishment, consequences, etc. And I'm an even bigger fan of making sure my kids have received that discipline at home so they won't have to hear it from strangers on a school bus. I owe it to them.

Because that's one of my roles as a parent--protecting them from the bullies on the bus.

I read an article today about how it's become popular to not just not have children but to, as the author put it, "hate" children. Seems a pretty strong word, doesn't it? So I followed several of the links the article took me to, and here's what I found.

1. Childless couples are tired of feeling pressure to have children.
2. Childless couples are tired of feeling overrun by ill-behaved children.

And I'm okay with their gripes on both counts. I think if more people felt less pressure to procreate, we'd have fewer unhappy children. And as a mother of four kids, I'm no more a fan of a screaming child in a restaurant than someone without any kids is.

And for those people who do simply hate children? Well, then I suppose we simply have to agree to disagree. I won't take offense at your opinion and I won't offer you mine. And if my child's mere presence is upsetting to you then we can both be grateful we have our own homes to return to at the end of the day.

But I digress.

What that article and the story about the Florida father have got me thinking about today is how we're too often afraid of our own kids. Afraid they won't like us if we ground them. Afraid they won't speak to us for a few days if we take away their privileges. Afraid the neighbor will gasp in horror if our raised voices carry over the fence and into her backyard. Afraid we won't be cool anymore. Afraid we'll be inconvenienced if they can't go to a friend's house, because that means we can't go out to dinner after all. Afraid we'll have to spend some of our precious and dwindling energy on figuring out how to deal with them. Afraid to admit they didn't come out perfectly in spite of their rich gene pool. Afraid of the possibility that their love for us doesn't extend to a desire to please us in all things always. Afraid--and this is a big one--someone will think we don't love our children if we sometimes can hardly bear to be around them.

I'm not begging for a return to the age of kids being seen but not heard. But I am begging for a return to the mentality that said it's okay to expect something from children--and from ourselves--regardless of how hard we think it might be. Because it's only going to get harder for all of us.


Iuliana Blakely said...

loved, loved this post. I completely agree with all that you've said. Where else will our children learn all these things if not at home? - for sure not on the street, or at school, or at work, or even at church. Our responsibility as parents is not only to love them, but to prepare them for life, to create memories and to teach them the gospel.

AngryBaker said...

Thought I should come back to this and tell you that my neighbor and I had a good chat today re: this post. I was telling her about it and we were busy agreeing with each other. I love those kind of chats.

I found it interesting that during this conference I heard several people mention how ridiculous it is to be afraid of your kids - either saying no or being afraid they won't like your decisions.