Growing up isn’t easy. In fact, it can straight suuuck! But, you know what? Raising a child isn’t easy either. Think about it. What does “being a good parent” even mean? How can you be a good parent to your kid? How can your parents be good parents to you?
The vast secrets of successful parents are about to be revealed. Neeeeervous…!
I have said repeatedly on this site that you are your own responsibility; that you are, in a sense, your own parent; that the fruition of your life and self – that you become your best self at all; someone able and capable enough to deal with the difficulties of life and achieve your highest potential, or not at all – is ultimately, and has always been, your burden. It is ONLY your burden.
It is not the duty of your teachers to teach you, nor your friends to guide you, and, most of all, not your parents to make you.
In the article about bad parents, I said:
The unfortunate reality, is that these people are no more obligated to provide for you than the law requires. It is not their duty to make you into the man or woman you want and need to become. It was not then, and is not now. That responsibility is yours and yours alone, and, because of that, their mistakes are not your handicap; their shortcomings not your excuses.
But what, then, is the role of a parent? What are their duties, if not to make their children?
If their actions are as capable of harm as they are of good, then by what guide must their actions follow? To what direction must they direct their efforts and their concerns, their energies and their attention? Of what should they hope when their kids leave the home every morning, and for what should they prepare them for, and guide them towards, when they leave their care entirely?
What is the job of a parent?
Few parents must think of this, as they discipline their kid, or chastise them, or shelter them excessively; as they try to mold them in their image, or make of them what they expect, or are told, or believe – the next in a family line of whatever, or the model of excellence in whatever, or the perfection of virtue in the eyes of their God or something.
Because their responsibility as a parent is misunderstood. It’s assumed to be what it’s not, and thought to be what it isn’t. And the results – on the child, and on their relationship with them – can be damaging.
It’s seen most clearly in adolescence, in the time between the youth the parent controlled and the adulthood they cannot.
And, to parents, it’s scary.
Because, suddenly, their kid – who once sought no more trouble than jumping on beds, or staying up late some nights, or drawing on walls – is now faced with very real things; with very scary and dangerous scenarios – the kind they themselves have faced or might still face.
Adult problems, and adult choices.
The kind of situations in life that once harmed them as well, or could have easily done so. The kind that the potential to hurt, and scar, and even kill. Their baby boy or girl on dates. Their underage son or daughter at parties. The most important person in their life out there amongst strangers and without their help.
And so their greatest fear is no longer simply whether their kid is dressed warmly enough on a chilly day, or if their lunch was packed that morning before they headed to school, but instead…what happens out there, outside the home – at school, or the playground, or wherever their kid frequents, or hangs out, or may go.
“Are they safe at all? Will they be okay?”
These parents’ thoughts are filled with a fear of all in the world that threatens what they love and have worked towards – that their kid simply makes it to adulthood at all; that they’re not led astray by punks that would pressure them, or strangers that would threaten them; that they’re not drowning in their first binge drinking at the hands of neighborhood friends who were once just as innocent, or being groped in the back seat of a car by some dude that seemed so “nice”, who charmed their daughter through her ignorance of any charm at all.
Because suddenly the kid who mostly did what they were told – who mostly behaved, and did good, and WANTED good – now has a voice and a life OUTSIDE of their home, which is fast becoming the ONLY place they as parents feel any control at all. And though these parents resist it, these kids now have their own desires, and plans, and intentions. And to allow them that freedom, or ANY freedom it seems, would surely bring more harm than good.
It seems too great a risk to take…when your job is to make them.
For the majority of parents, this period, then, is the most difficult period; the one to which they’ll devote the most attention, yet receive the most resistance; where the TRUE parenting takes place and REAL growth takes hold; where the kids they have tried so hard to make into something they could know and understand will cement the behaviors, and beliefs, and thought-processes by which they will live for years or forever to come.
It is then their child will become who they will become.
It is then they will grow up.
And it is then when they, as parents, lose control.
What, then, is the job of a parent?
The Parenting of Teen Dating
A young girl goes on her first date – a little trip to the movies with a friend. They’ll be dropped off by the boy’s father.
She’s 15, and her life to date would lead most anyone to conclude that she’s responsible enough, and mature enough; not one to seek out or get into any real trouble at all. She’s a good girl, and there’s just no obvious reason to tell her “no”.
When I hear this, it makes sense, and I wish the girl a good time. When someone else hears this maybe, they can’t quite believe it. They would never let their daughter do the same at “just” 15. They’d never leave her alone with some boy, or leave her to the care of some father – without meeting them, without being there. She’d accompany them instead. And rather than just letting two normal kids go have a normal time at an innocent movie, they’d chaperone them as a teacher I suppose, and walk with them always in sight, like they were Secret Service to the First Family or something.
“My daughter is MY responsibility till she’s 18,” they say.
And though they is right in the legal sense, they say this as if what they TRULY meant was that her SAFETY is their responsibility until she’s 18; that their job as a parent is to protect their daughter until that time she is ALLOWED to protect herself. And in such case, they would NEVER let their daughter do the same. They would NEVER have agreed to this date, as it was, with who it was.
The True Purpose of Parenting
One of the largest factors in the discontent and teenage depression of adolescence, is the difference between the teen’s recognition of their OWN maturity and desired independence, and the complete inability or reluctance of those that care for them to see or allow the same.
And nowhere is this clearer than in situations like this.
Because this person’s fears and beliefs feed what is, to me, the greatest misunderstanding of parenthood, and the cause of many troubled and sheltered kids: that their job is to keep them safe and secure from every evil of the world, and every thing that may happen to them, and any person that may approach them in life; that their sole goal is to teach them rules and discipline, caution and good behavior, through the belief that they’re not ready for the world, and the fear of what may come if they were.
The job of a parent is not to protect their son or daughter until they are of legal age to do so themselves. It’s not to shelter them in the home from all the situations and choices in life that would seem difficult to resist, or problematic to confront. It’s not their job to make those choices for them at all.
The job of a parent is to raise independent, confident, wise adults; people who can survive in their own company and with little help; people who choose right from wrong because they KNOW right from wrong and NOT because they have been, all their life, robbed of the experience of the choice.
It’s to raise children that know that their fears are imagined and their limitations are self-imposed. It’s to nurture kids that recognize the dignity of other men and women and the strength and ability in themselves. It’s to support their child in their efforts to improve themselves, and guide their child in their journey to find themselves.
And so it is not, and has never been, the job of a parent to protect their child from everything that may happen, but to PREPARE them for it; not to shelter them from every possibly bad scenario, but to raise them so they are wise enough to avoid them themselves. It’s not to rob them of the choice of wrong so that they choose right, but to educate them in the effect and consequence of wrong so that the choice is made easy.
The Effect of Sheltering
When the sole goal of a parent is to protect their child till whatever arbitrary age they believe to be enough to do so themselves, they will find that when they come of that age, they are ill prepared to do so at all.
They’re indecisive and unknowing, unconfident and incapable; someone who looks to others to make choices, and follows others to find direction. They’re unable to stand up for themselves, and reluctant to speak up for themselves; unwilling to challenge themselves and incapable of overcoming challenges at all.
All because their parents bred fear rather than confidence. All because they sheltered them rather than exposed them wisely; because they embarrassed them rather than empowered them.
These parents will find that they surely succeeded in protecting their sons and daughters, but failed in raising Men and Women.
This is the ONLY true purpose of parenting at all – that one helps a child who knows nothing become an autonomous and confident man or women who can take on the world, let alone a little hand-holding at the movies.
One cannot shelter teens and expect them to mature. They cannot treat them as children and expect them to act as adults. They cannot hide them at home till the storm and rocky waters of adolescence have passed, and yet expect them to weather the storms themselves when at last they venture from shore.
No. Because while these parents think they are protecting their child, by sheltering them and coddling them, their actions do more to harm them than improve them. They do more to prevent what they should have desired all along – that their kid doesn’t need them at all.
Because in life there are some things that we will ALL experience. We will ALL go on that first date eventually. We’ll all get to first base some time, and of course, round all the bases. We’ll all be offered drugs, or be at some party where bad shit’s going down. We’ll all be put in some situation that may become dangerous, that requires our own best judgment and strength to make it through.
And when their parents are gone (as they must be eventually) – when the anchor that once secured them is pulled, and the tether their parents think protects them is broken – when THAT day comes – the kid who was raised on respect rather than fear will have the experience of a sailor who has spent days far from shore and the wisdom of one who’s navigated the seas themselves. Rather than the horrible realization – now alone and on their own – of the crippling handicap of a life spent on the safety and comfort of the beach.
Either a parent teaches their child to live and LETS them live, or they hide them in their home – safe and secure from the slimmest and most random of possibilities – but wounded and stunted inside by the rules that have been imposed upon them and the experiences that have been robbed of them.
The Reason of Sheltering
I understand the position of the person who would oppose something as simple as a date at the movies.
She claims she’s just not ready; not mature enough, or responsible enough.
“Boys are trouble and they just want one thing. And who knows who this father is…”
But if, as in this case, the girl is pretty responsible and her request (a freaking movie at the mall) is more than reasonable, then what then?
Her reasons don’t speak to her truest fears. Because when she refuses the date she doesn’t do so simply to prevent the possibly wandering hands of a boy. That’s human nature, and is as likely or unlikely an outcome then as it will EVER be in her life, and perhaps less so, considering the general fear of most 15 year olds to make any move at all.
No. Her real fear isn’t of kissing, or touching, or even of teen pregnancy or anything like that. Those things would have surely been discussed already in their home, and though she surely hates the thought of it, I’D bet SHE’D bet that her daughter knew right from wrong in this area anyway, and KNEW that – despite her fears – an evening at the mall probably wouldn’t result in a screaming baby 9 months from now.
So what then is her fear? Why would she reject such a simple request?
It seems hard to argue that her truest fears are NOT of the headlines in the news; of the stories she’s surely heard, and the nightmares she’s certainly dreamed – of girls raped or kidnapped or murdered; one’s who went to a simple movie much like this, yet never returned.
And that’s how she explains it to her daughter: that she cannot let her go where she cannot see her, that she cannot give these people control over what she cannot control; that if she waits just a bit longer, and stays put but a few more years, she will allow it because she will be ready; that she doesn’t TRUST this boy, or his father, with the well-being and life of her daughter.
But that’s the problem: she needn’t trust the boy, or his father, with her life at all.
She just needs to trust her daughter with her own.
And I understand her concerns. I know the pain she would experience and the guilt she would feel should what she dreads come to pass – the kind of thing she would never forgive herself for. Those things are awful, as that situation too would be awful. But it isn’t realistic. It isn’t reasonable. Because against something like that, what can truly be done?
Because despite all and any effort that she might produce, nothing can truly prevent that which makes no sense and knows no reason. She cannot control that someone, some time gets it in their head to cause her harm. And yet she lets her go to school. She lets her go shopping. She lets her out in public where the chance of such a random act of violence are no less existent or likely.
And that’s not very likely at all.
She just wants to go to the movies. She just wants to go hangout with a friend she likes, who she has probably known for some time, or known of for a long time.
She isn’t requesting a night alone at his house. She isn’t asking for condom money and some privacy. She’s not requesting she be dropped off 40 miles away at an unmarked and rundown shed to hangout with a group of older dudes she met on the street recently.
It’s just the mall for a few hours. It’s just a movie with a friend.
“But Adam, You don’t understand, you don’t know, blah blah blah…”
Most parents would say it’s something you understand when the decision is your own; when it’s YOUR kid asking to go off with some boy for a bit, and YOUR kid asking to be put in situations that may prove disastrous.
No one says it’s easy being a parent, and no one would claim there isn’t anxiety EVERY time your child walks out the door.
But it’s a matter of values. It’s whether a parent wants their child sheltered from all and protected from everything, or to become strong against all, and capable against anything. And that comes from experience alone. It comes from letting them learn their own limitations and their own comfort-zone; their own strengths and weaknesses; what they are ready for and what they are not.
It’s about raising an independent and confident teen; one who desires freedom not only to prove to their parents, but most importantly to THEMSELVES, that they are WORTHY of that trust at all, rather than one who would rather sneak out only to undermine it.
When one has parented to MATURE their child, rather than PROTECT them, there is likely little to fear at all.
And so when my daughter comes to me and asks of me the same, I will let her go.
I will let her go because I raised my daughter as best I could and as well as I could, and if I consider the date at all it’s because I believe she has become much of what I expected. And so I trust that she can discern that her date is no rapist at all and that she is ready for whatever may come. But mostly, I realize that this boy and his father (who I too would have asked to meet) are no different than the teachers I leave her with, or the friends I introduce her to, or the thousands of people who everyday come within sight of her.
At some point you must realize that you have all along, and now consciously must, let them care for themselves. In this thing at least.
I do what I can do, and prepare her as I can, and trust that she is as ready as I am nervous.
And so I’m not gonna drop her off at the creepy and secluded barn 40 miles away, but neither am I gonna clothe her in bubble wrap before she heads out the door to safeguard her from whatever I cannot imagine, or lock some chastity belt around her waist either to prevent what is – whether one admits it or not – inevitable.
Denying an innocent date seems to me no less an exaggeration.
I will understand that more important than protecting my child from EVERY possible thing that may happen – of which I have NO control – is that I prepare them for ANY thing that may happen; that they have integrity, and virtue, and honesty, and as strong a desire to HELP ME help them as I have to LET THEM help themselves.
It goes to the very purpose of this site and the crux of what is so very wrong with the world: that society does not produce enough Men and Women; that it doesn’t produce enough good, enough confidence, enough independence. All because of stupid little things like this. All because parents parent to their fears rather than to the improvement and maturation of their child.
Parents cannot prevent their kids from encountering the situations every kid must and WILL encounter. You cannot protect against every scenario you can imagine and every situation you cannot.
Life must be lived. And the life of a teen, like all lives, must be lived, to the greatest degree reasonably possible, by their own direction.
And if that is to work at all, parents must realize that their job is not to protect their children, but to raise them to protect themselves; that better than restricting them to the house and the close company of only those people you’ve known for years, is that you teach them the confidence, and independence, and wisdom to see to it that they NEVER put themselves in the situations that their parents so fear and are so desperate to prevent.
The job of a parent is to raise an equal. Not to shelter the weak and vulnerable. Because if the latter is necessary, than the former was ignored.
What do YOU think though?
A big article. With a lot of stuff. What do you think? Is this all there is to parenting – daunting though it may be? Or is the more modern protective-style parenting become the necessary style? Leave a comment!