One of my favorite sayings about being a parent is that you must be your kid’s best parent, not their best friend. Far too many parents are concerned about being their kid’s buddy, being liked by their kids, and by their friends. Sure, it’s cool to be in the good graces of our children, but that is NOT our job. Our job is to educate, raise, and equip our children to live good and productive lives. Our job is not to be their entertainment director and master of good times.
Recently I faced this choice yet again, when my older son called me with a decision he’d reached, though it wasn’t irrevocable. My choice was to go along with his in-the-moment idea that was induced by mood, (cold) weather, and hormones, or to express the harder truth that he needed to hear.
I knew, from experience, that the easier path would have been to simply agree with him. He’d feel good and I wouldn’t have to face the risk of him getting upset, possibly raising his voice, or otherwise disappointing him.
I thought of my own words about the job of parenting and quickly chose to do the right thing, regardless of how he’d react. Knowing my son so well, if I chose my words carefully, I could possibly penetrate his certitude of feeling in that moment. Key word being “if.” That meant listening completely to what he had to say without reacting too quickly and too impulsively with a “No, you’re wrong” or its equivalent.
After over 20 years of raising my son, you’d think I’d have figured out how to do this. Frankly, I was scared. I didn’t want to have a fight or hurt him by saying things he didn’t want to hear. But, that is NOT in the job description of dad.
Few parents would describe the job of being a parent as fun. Fun is going to the movies, Disneyland, vacation, etc. Fun is short-lived and easily forgotten and done with. Joy and deep happiness come from doing the right things, accomplishing the hard tasks, and achieving success through hard work. That is exactly what I faced in that moment with my son. Perhaps it wouldn’t be “fun” but I could live with myself, whatever the outcome.
It turned out just fine. He heard me. I didn’t make any definitive statements but allowed him to digest my words and re-visit the decision later. Later came and he made the right decision. I got the pleasure of simply agreeing.
Naturally, the opposite reaction was the risk I took in doing my job. I don’t think I’ll ever be indecisive about that again. Our kids will have friends and they will come and go. They will have boyfriends and girlfriends who will also come and go. They will have teachers who might have a momentary impact and other adult figures in their lives such as clergy or coaches. But, dad and mom are hopefully there for the duration.
The world is facing a reproduction shortfall. Most Western nations are not re-producing in sufficient numbers to actually sustain their existence. Even some third world countries have reduced their birth rate so severely that turning it around has become an almost impossible task. Singapore is one example of a country that bought the zero-population myth and is facing a demographic nightmare of too many elderly and too few young. Japan is already a sinking ship in this regard. Even China is suffering a demographic statistical uncertain future.
The United States also has this problem, which has strained our entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare because there are now far more elderly to “support” than young workers to feed the financial reserves of those programs.
Then there is the societal value of narcissistic hedonistic life that many of our younger people heartily embrace. Having kids simply interrupts the plan of work and play, plus it’s far too expensive.
So, is it any wonder that parents are choosing to be their kids’ friends rather than the tougher job of being their best parent? If the goal of life is to have fun, then kids really only interrupt that pursuit. And, surely disciplining them is far more work than indulging them.
I’m not sure these two themes belong together, but it’s my column and I’m going for it. I think today’s parents – those that actually do choose to have children – simply don’t understand their job and would rather have a playmate than equip their children to handle what faces them.
We have a generation of kids that are growing up in much harder times than their parents – and certainly much harder times than the Boomer parents – and they are ill-equipped to handle the challenges of our world today. I leave you with the irony of the applause that greeted President Obama’s implementation of a part of his health-care plan that allows kids to stay on their parent’s health insurance until age 26.
Excuse me? That is a good thing?