Standing in the store other day, I noticed a mother with her two boys. Mom was filling her cart, and the boys were chasing each other down the isles. Thinking nothing more of it, I continued my own shopping. BAM! Pain shot through my leg and I hit the ground. Turns out, one of the boys took out my legs from under me!
Now in his defense, he was probably bored and just playing a game. What kid wants to go shopping when he can play outside? Still, I was raised to be polite, which meant apologizing when I did something completely insensitive. Although, truth be told, my mom would have been all over me for running in the store. Quoting my wonderful grandmother, she would have said, “This is not a gymnasium!”
So after getting my feet back under me, my expectation was that the little boy would apologize to me. Instead, I saw him dart around the corner, entirely caught up in the game and unconcerned about me. Expecting to see his mother either reprimand him or apologize on his behalf, I turned to her.
And she was not even paying attention.
You ever get the feeling that sometimes you’re just not parenting enough?
Last week, Dan talked about parenting too much. He wrote this:
“We cannot and should not shield our kids from the bad, nasty, and evil components of life. Ugly is all around them, especially when we are not. Better they encounter the filthy stuff in our company then on their own and under pressure to be cool.”
This is absolutely brilliant! We cannot shield our kids from the nastiness of life. By doing so, parents are causing them to be completely unprepared when it hits them like a freight train.
But what about those kids who are the bad and nasty? Lets face it, every child’s first instinct is to care for him/herself. There’s nothing wrong with this, as survival tends to be our strongest instinct. But part of growing up means learning to love, care for, and respect your fellow human beings.
Saying Please and Thank You
My wife and I taught our son how to say “please” and “thank you” really early on. He doesn’t always remember, but with a brief reminder, is quick to say it. By learning these words, he’s reacting to the actions of others with respect and kindness.
We also taught him to say sorry. As a little boy learning to express himself, he’s done his fair share of slapping me in an angry tantrum. Now as a parent, I could react by getting just as angry (and at times, it’s really hard not to!). Instead, we walk him through his emotions and disappointment, and finally lead him to apologize for his actions. It’s ok to be angry; it’s not ok to react violently!
Taking Responsibility for Your Actions
I felt incredibly guilt the last time I watched my own crazy son knock someone over and spill the contents of their cart. Thankfully, his victim had children too and understood. That made requiring my son to turn, apologize, and help pick up marginally less awkward. More important than my discomfort, my son learned about taking responsibility for his actions, especially those that caused others harm. It also taught him to watch out for those moments in the future.
I’m a big fan of creating boundaries for your children. It’s more than not putting a paperclip in an electric socket; this is letting them know that don’t get to have anything and everything they want. My son’s favorite show is Curious George. Were it up to him, he’d be in front of that TV all day long. While we do let him watch, we limit the amount of time he spends in front of it, directing him to other activities. Our job as parents isn’t to be our child’s best friend; it’s to guide them towards being healthy, intelligent, and caring young men and women.
Getting everything they want as children only leads them to believe they should have everything they want as adults. When my son doesn’t get his every desire, he learns that life isn’t always about him. Sometimes, it means having to work for what he wants (much like earning a salary). It may also mean letting go of it. Other times, it is recognizing that his immediate desire may not serve his actual need, or may cause harm to others. This lesson is especially important when he has a family of his own.
This isn’t just for authority, but also for friends, family, and strangers. It means talking nicely (such as “sorry,” please,” and “thank you”), helping when others are in need, and the willingness to sacrifice the immediate desire for the betterment of the community.
As Dan said, over-parenting can be damaging to your children. Insulating them from the junk of life doesn’t work, and doing so leaves them completely unprepared for it. Under-parenting can be just as damaging, for they may turn out to be the kid who creates the junk of life.
Good parenting is a really fine line, isn’t it?