Last week’s column told a story the moral of which was essentially this: Never underestimate the power you have as a mother or father rearing a child. Whatever power you think you have, I promise you that the child’s view of you is bigger and more powerful than that!
Paradoxically, then, the job of quality parents is, over time, to deploy parent-power in such a way as to empower the child! This is what the old saying means by “Good parents are always working themselves out of the job.” Bit by bit, I want my children to invest less in my opinion and to invest more in their opinion. Bit by bit, I want them to understand that what I think about them pales compared to what they want to think and believe about themselves.
It might be nice to procure the respect of your mother or father. But it’s ever-so-much more valuable, useful, liberating and necessary to nurture and procure self-respect.
A reader, then, wrote this in response:
“Is it possible to raise a kid in such a way that they won’t look back and think that their parent(s) didn’t botch some aspect of their upbringing (without a Ph.D. in child development)?”
See, that’s the problem in a post-Freudian world! It’s difficult to observe, examine, critically reflect upon and talk about quality child-rearing without provoking self-conscious anxiety in modern parents. In some cases, anxious parents, then, replace incompetent, neglectful or abusive child-rearing with paralyzed, permissive, walking-on-eggshells relationships with their kids.
So, Good Reader, to your question …
The way you phrase the question is fascinating. And the answer to your question is that tons of adults don’t “look back and think their parents” botched some aspect of their upbringing.
Sometimes this is because the adult in question has resolved the botched items within him/herself. Sometimes this is because the botched items seem like not a big deal to the adult in question. Other times the adult doesn’t look back because they are following a powerful, time-honored rule of Western civilization: Thou Shalt Protect Thy Parent’s Image At All Costs.
So, let’s answer a different question: Is it possible to raise a kid in such a way that you won’t botch some aspect of their upbringing?
No. “No” is the answer. No, it is not possible to raise a kid in such a way that you won’t botch some aspect of their upbringing. And “no” is still the answer even if you DO have a Ph.D. in child development!
I make my living in part by educating parents about healthy child-rearing. I have learned what I teach in two educational settings. One such setting was in university classrooms and libraries, sitting at the feet of brilliant teachers. The other educational setting was my own childhood. I’m saying that my desire to help children and parents in therapy emerges in large part from my hope to redeem my own life as a child and as a father.
I’ve botched things, see. I regularly ask myself what my sons will someday complain to a therapist regarding “Things My Father Botched.” I want my children to feel the liberation of seeing me as I really am. I want them to abandon any responsibility for aiding and abetting my illusions of self.
Liberation is knowing your mother and father are flawed, and making peace with that.
What is possible, with or without a Ph.D., is to decide in principle not to botch a couple of Big Ticket items. Here’s my list:
Don’t hit your children. It’s both wrong and unnecessary. Corporal punishment is just what it is: a cultural bias, doing significantly more damage than good.
Don’t demean, degrade or exploit them. You have no right to call your children names, to mock them, humiliate them or profane them.
It’s called CHILD-rearing. Not Parenting. Child-rearing is about children. Parenting is about you. And it’s not about you.
Be accountable. When you botch things, account for those things. Apologize. Morally surrender. Spell out in clear language that what just happened was about you and not about them. Let them know in no uncertain terms they did not deserve what just happened, and that you are committed to repairing the damage and changing your behavior immediately.
Make certain that every respect you demand from your child is exactly the same respect you are willing to offer.
My prayer is not to be a perfect parent. My prayer is, “God, please grant that today my sins as a father can be rather ordinary.”
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at skalas@ reviewjournal.com.