I’m frequently asked what one can do to encourage certain traits or skills in a child. How do I encourage honesty or a love of reading in my son or daughter? Of education? Music? Reverence? Provide them with the self-confidence to tackle difficult tasks?
It’s a tough question. Not because the answer is complicated but because in today’s bizzaro world mothering and fathering have been consolidated in something called parenting which doesn’t allow the adults in the relationship to require any core beliefs of the child. Any obedience. Or manners. Sometimes not even any civilization.
Some years ago when my oldest grandchild was three or four my daughter struck up a friendship with another young mother with a daughter about the same age. The two mothers and two children were taking a walk through a tree shaded neighborhood of older homes when her new friend’s daughter squatted and defecated under an ornamental bush on someone’s front lawn.
My daughter was shocked speechless as the other mother waved away her concern. “Oh I know that that offends people but I am raising her to be a free spirit, set her own boundaries.” An extreme example of the modern “parenting” ethic or perhaps we should say chic’ because that’s what it’s seen as in some circles. Fashionable, trendy, “with it.” That is the belief that children cannot and should not be constrained by rules they the child can’t be made to see the reason of. Or embrace willingly. And so in the end nothing can be required of them.
But since this line of reasoning also holds that parents should encourage a sense of self-confidence in their children it presents them with a dilemma. Because barring the odd self-starter, children raised with this philosophy rarely get good at anything and so there isn’t any other way to make a run at accomplishing this goal but by pretending that they’re wonderful at whatever it is they chose to dabble in. Which is why everyone in a U-13 soccer league gets a trophy or terrible art gets hung in school corridors festooned with gold ribbons. It’s why every child in a class always gets promoted to the next grade no matter what their work product and why you see parents leaping out of their seats to applaud the most inept performance at a school play.
This is all nonsense of course, but very appealing nonsense and any number of parents continue to fall for it. But by and large it doesn’t work, children see the hypocrisy and become not more self-confident but more self-entitled. Which is not quite same thing. Or worse they become convinced that they don’t have what it takes to make it on their own, and so whatever level of self-confidence they had before you interfered tends to erode
The best parents have a theme. What we call aculture or philosophy. It may be what we used to call the Protestant Work Ethic, among Italian friends of ours the cause is the success, happiness and protection of the family, a farm family’s cause may be the nurturing of the land their great grandparents pioneered. Groups, families, couples pick up a lot of different banners and later members tend to join the same parade which is what Edmund Burke meant when he described human society as “not merely an association of people in space, it is a succession of people in time-of persons dead, living or unborn, in a continuity of flesh and blood through generations.”
And while you might color a child’s hair because you believe blonds have more fun or buy him the right book bag to lug to school you cannot pre-position him or her for success in life unless you can graft him or her onto to one of these ongoing causes, these families, these work-a-day philosophies. Have him or her join some parade.
It’s why organizations like Boy or Girl Scouts are so important. Small towns, close neighborhoods, marriages, a continuing association with aunts, uncles and cousins. Look at what the U.S, Marine Corps has been able to accomplish in getting everybody on the same and embracing certain values.
But we miss this point because in todays’ world we’re taught not to judge someone else’s life choices. We hear a lot about validity, about how choosing to be a single mother is just as valid a choice as choosing to raise children in a two parent home when we know that most often it’s prescription for disaster, that same-sex couples can parent as well as the traditional Mom and Dad when there isn’t any such thing as parenting only mothering and fathering, we’re told that children understand a divorce and with proper counseling are “okay” with it when they are never until the day they die okay with it
And it’s all really hurting us.