Growing up isn’t easy, as most here would know. It can be difficult, it can suck. But, you know what? Raising a child isn’t easy either. In fact, it’s the hardest thing in the world.
And so I wonder…what does “being a good parent” even mean? What’s their job even? By what measure should parents be judged…?
The thing is, this site mostly approaches this question from the opposite angle – from that of the young dude or lady – or older dude or lady – who must deal with the consequences of their past – with the shit they learned, and crap that harmed them growing up, and the things they must accept and those they have to let go of in order to finally overcome that baggage.
Cause as I’ve said so often on this site, you are your own responsibility. You are, in a sense, your own parent.
Cause 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 always, your burden.
It is only your burden.
It’s not the responsibility 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’s their job, if not to make their children as we so often think in society?
Cause if their actions are as capable of harm as they are of good, then the way in which they parent isn’t just important, it’s everything. Cause it’s their parenting that might one day prove – to the child who endured it – either inspirational or scarring, life-nurturing or life-destroying, the seed of something great that grew, or the end of a life never lived; something they’ll look back on and smile, or something they can’t bear to look back on at all.
And so a parents efforts have to be purposeful. They have to have meaning. They have to have reason.
But what does that mean?
What should parents hope for when their kids leave the home every morning, and for what should they prepare them for, and guide them towards, for that day – some day – when their children finally leave their care entirely?
What, then, is the job of a parent?
Few parents must think of this.
Few must think of it when they yell, and scream, and blame; when they hit, and smack, and spank; on those days they say those things they can never take back, and a child ought never hear.
Few must think of it 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 were 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 whatever God they’ve forced upon their child.
Because too often their responsibility as a parent is misunderstood, misguided, or just plain unknown. And their duty as a parent is 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 fucked because of it.
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 once faced, or might still face.
Adult problems. Adult choices. In someone they still perceive to be a child.
The kind of situations in life that once harmed them as well, or so easily could have done so. The kind with the potential to hurt, and scar, and even kill someone who doesn’t yet know what to do, how to act, how to survive – how to take care of themselves in a world that can be so dangerous and scary.
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 off to school, but instead, of what happens out there, outside the home – at school, amongst friends, amongst strangers.
“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 by the screaming cheers of “friends” they think are cooler, or being groped in the back seat of a car by some dude, who so easily charmed their daughter through her inexperience with 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 to them, to do what these kids ask, to allow them that freedom, or any freedom at all, seems like madness.
It seems too great a risk to take…when their job is to make them, to protect them.
For most parents, this period – the teenage period – is the most difficult period; the one to which they’ll devote the most attention, yet receive the most resistance; the one towards which they’ll sacrifice the most of themselves, yet receive the least praise; where the answers are never easy, and the solutions never clear; 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. And they’ll do so resisting them all the while.
It is then their child will become who they will become.
It’s then they will grow up.
And yet, it’s also then when they, as parents, completely lose control.
Imagine a young girl goes on her first date…
A little trip to the movies with a boy 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 some hear this, 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. They’d accompany them instead. And rather than just letting two normal kids go have a normal time at a movie, they’d chaperone them instead, like some teacher at a school dance, and walk with them, following them, like they were Secret Service to the First Family or something.
“My daughter is MY responsibility till she’s 18,” they would say.
“My daughter’s MINE.”
“And it’s MY job to protect her.”
And though they are 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 such time she is allowed to protect herself, allowed to care for herself.
And so they say no. They refuse her the date – to sit at home instead, where she’s safe, where she’s watched, where she learns nothing at all, of what she’ll one day need.
But, the thing is…
…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 the greatest misunderstanding of parenthood, and the cause of many troubled and sheltered kids, is the belief 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 assumption 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, strong men and women – adults who can survive in their own company, with their own wits and good sense; people who choose right from wrong because they know right from wrong and not because they have been, all their lives, 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 every thing that may happen, but to prepare them for it; not to shelter them from every possibly bad scenario, but to guide them so they are wise enough to avoid them themselves. It’s not to rob them of the choice of wrong so that they inherently choose right, but to educate them in the effect and consequence of wrong, so that the choice is made easy.
But when the sole goal of a parent…
…is to protect their child rather than educate them, to shield them rather than strengthen them, to withhold from them all experience, and failures, and heartbreaks until whatever arbitrary age they believe to be old enough, or ready enough, they will find that when they come of that age, they are ill prepared to care for anything at all.
They’re ill prepared to care for themselves.
They’ll find that they’re indecisive and unknowing, lacking confidence and strength; someone who looks to others to make choices, and follows others to find direction.
They’ll see that they’re unable to stand up for themselves, and reluctant to speak up for themselves; unwilling to challenge themselves in ways that risk failure, and incapable of handling whatever failures way arise.
They’ll learn that they’re weak.
All because they, as parents, bred fear in them rather than confidence in them. All because they sheltered them rather than exposed them wisely. All because they embarrassed them rather than empowered them.
These parents will find that they 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, and a little hand-holding at the movies.
Cause 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.
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 every person will experience – despite whatever their parents may wish or try.
They will all go on that first date eventually.
They’ll all experience that first grope eventually.
They’ll all be put, or put themselves, in some situation that may become scary, risky, dangerous; that requires their own best judgment and strength to make it through, to stay safe, to be all right.
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.
Cause a parent either 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, and the life-lessons that have been stolen from them.
Most parents, though, 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.
I get it. And I understand it.
I understand the anxiety felt every time your child walks out the door – to a world you know, and situations you don’t, to all that your helpless to help them with.
And I can’t imagine the worry, and fear, and grief that may arise from the unimaginable coming to pass.
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-zones; their own strengths and weaknesses; what they are ready for and what they are not.
It’s about raising an independent and confident man or woman; 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, deserving of that trust at all, rather than one who would only seek to undermine it.
Because when one has parented to mature their child, rather than protect them, there is likely little to fear at all.
And so I’d let my daughter go.
I’d do it 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’m not gonna drop her off at some creepy and secluded barn 40 miles away, but neither am I gonna clothe her in bubble wrap before she heads out the door everyday.
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, enough strength.
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.
Because try all they might, and try as long as they will, parents will never prevent their kids – totally and completely – from encountering the situations every kid must and will encounter eventually. One cannot at all times protect against every scenario one can imagine and every situation one cannot.
Life – whenever possible – 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 – finally – 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 they’ve known for years, is that they 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 careful, and desperate to prevent.
The job of a parent is to raise an equal.
It’s not to shelter the weak, and encourage the vulnerable.
Because if the latter is necessary, than the former was ignored. And the life of child suffers – today, one day, some day…
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