I really have to stop reading blogs and websites authored by Baby-Boomers.
For my own health, I really do.
One of the more popular things for these folks to do, garnering “Attaboy”s and “You-said-it”s from their readership is to go into detail about how kids these days are getting away with things they never would have allowed. There’s always a photo of a child screaming, perhaps throwing a tantrum on the ground, and the caption usually admonishes parents to “say no every once in a while”. The message, of course, is that parents these days are destroying America by spoiling their children. Sometimes this will culminate in a passive-aggressive observation about spanking, and encouragement toward that tactic. ¹
I addressed this to a certain degree in my earlier post about respect, which you can read before proceeding if you like…
It occurs to me that memes like this are looking at the issue completely backwards. When we talk about spoiled, entitled behavior, why are we surprised to find it in children? Children are still being taught. What concerns me is the adults in the equation – adults who exhibit the same characteristics but never get called on it. In fact we’re not even surprised by it. We gloss over it.
So I’ve turned this on its head, because that’s always fun to do. How can you tell if you’re a spoiled, entitled parent? You can start by looking for behavior that you’d expect from spoiled, entitled children – just the adult equivalent. And here it is!
“No means no”, but only when I say it.
If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time you probably saw this coming. “No means no” is a huge part of teaching children to avoid abuse and assault. However this phrase had a different meaning 50 years ago. It really had nothing to do with eschewing abuse. It was a mantra of authoritarian parental control.
This goes along with “Slow obedience is disobedience” and “don’t talk back to me!” When a parent gives an order to a child (and let’s be real, it’s an order), the child is expected to do it immediately, without delay, without saying anything. Any response other than absolute obedience is punished.
Now, I have no problem with parents expecting their directives to be followed. After all, there are many times when a child does not understand what is going on. A parent can guide in these situations and in moments of danger expect a child to react in trust that the parent knows what is best. However, a parent doesn’t always know what is best, and when said parent pretends they do, that leads to a breach of that trust. If your child doesn’t know from one command to the next whether you’re acting in his/her best interests or your own convenience, that confidence in the value of your leadership is eroded. You may get your immediate obedience for the time being, but the relationship is broken, and you may never get it back. There will come a day when your children realize you’re not omniscient, and that sometimes your commands/requests are selfish. Will they forgive you? It depends on a lot of things including their personality and the severity of the punishments you’ve meted out.
The truth is, sometimes you aren’t acting in the child’s best interests. That’s totally ok. As a member of a family you can certainly expect your interests to be a factor. However, your child has that same right as a human being. Being a parent doesn’t mean that your interests, your convenience, your anything trumps that of your children. This is a shift of thinking, to be sure.
When a parent’s No is the only No, they set themselves up as the final authority, which is laughable at best, abusive at worst. When a parent refuses to listen to responses to what they say, they communicate that the thoughts and opinions of others bear no importance. When a parent shuts his/her children down on a constant basis, it reveals a pattern of arrogance ill-fitting for a moral guide. When a child is taught to accept authority without question or thought, they become an adult who accepts abuse of self or others without question or thought.
That’s the scariest part. These children become adults who cannot discern between an authority and a bully.
You know, I get it. You just want to “get through” this parenting thing. You probably didn’t sign up for something as complicated as treating your children like human beings. You were taught that children should be seen, not heard. Maybe you thought you were just going to do what your parents did with you. The example you were going to work off of was just to cruise through as the head of the household, the commander-in-chief. I understand that. Really, I do. And I struggle with that myself (CFM can attest).
It’s hard to take a look our attitudes and assumptions and examine them for problems. But this is your chance. Can you raise children without bullying them? Can you respect their perspectives as separate souls with standing before God? I’d like to think you can. I believe in you.
¹ Right. Life was so much better when we beat our children like pack animals. That’s a whole other post for a whole other day.