Parents are not God in their children’s lives; their job is to make straight the way to adulthood so that children can grow up to own responsibility for fulfilling their potential, whatever that may be.
To make the way straight requires honesty derived of God-like courage, confidence to hold to principles and willingness to allow children to make and experience decision-making appropriate to their age and stage in life, as remote preparation for adulthood.
Parents must be friendly rather than friend to the child, developer rather than controller.
Enjoyment or Anxiety
Chapter 4 of my book Becoming analyses the current challenge for parents
Instead of being a natural, enjoyable, loving experience, producing and raising a child has become a rule-bound, anxiety fraught program entered into with preconceived expectations that are unlikely to be met. Rather than helping parents, expansion of the dominion of the knowledge class of experts has made raising children an unnecessarily anxious, onerous and complex task. Parental fear has increased, while confidence has diminished. Ever greater energies and resources are vested in ever smaller families. Natural or inherited intuitive parenting skills fail to flourish, are suppressed or dismissed by those in thrall to the “rules” and fads of experts in the interest of child safety and promised outcomes. Many, confounded, muddle through, or relinquish responsibility to government agencies willing to intrude to justify their own importance and expansion at taxpayer expense.
For families to flourish and mature a simpler understanding of raising families is needed – one that places the child in context in family and society, fostering decision-making aimed ultimately at enabling the child to reach mature, competent adulthood appropriate for democracy (i.e. able to make sound decisions). Parents would then be able to move on seamlessly to the next stage of their own lives. And enjoy the experience.
Something that can be lost in the confusion is that the child does not exist to be cosseted as a precious entity alone: the child exists in context in family and community, where respect for boundaries and others must be learned as self-respect and self-esteem develop. Encouragement and correction are part of that growth to maturity. It takes a village to raise a child.
Those familiar with my book Becoming will recall that understanding the context in which situations occur is essential to making good decisions that people can live with. Socialising children comprises a myriad of daily decisions, often repetitive, each contributing to making straight the way to mature adulthood: learning respect for self, family members, property and broader community. No need for parents to beat themselves up over a daily tally of how they’ve performed: merely look at the trend of development as the child progresses through ages and stages, building capability to make decisions and assume responsibilities accordingly.
Expectation is a basic factor in developing self-esteem and resilience. Parents aren’t perfect. Expecting children to accommodate reasonable parental imperfection is part of challenging children to deal with reality.
Always giving, and giving in to a child’s demands ill equips them for collaboration and cooperation, cornerstones of mutual respect, which, in turn, frees the young adult to reach fullest potential.
Control, Development or Complacency
Parents seeking to do their best might consider whether their approach to parenting is one of control, development or complacency.
Control, when taken to extreme is selfishly about the parent. Often rigid expectations and demands are used to exert control. Discipline is strict and punitive. Expectations may have little to do with the child’s capability. Parents make all the decisions, limiting opportunities for children to gain experience in thinking, exploring options, making choices and wearing the consequences that makes for robust self-awareness.
Helicopter parenting absorbs every sling and arrow of the child’s interface with the community. Instead of stepping back to encourage the child to resilience by dealing with realities, however unpleasant, the child is “saved” from hurt to be good for little. Given the ultimate goal of parenting is to make straight the way to competent, confident adulthood for the growing child, excessive control fails parent and child, both of whom linger in immaturity at great social and economic cost.
By contrast, a development approach allows the child latitude to make decisions within a safe framework, in keeping with the age and stage. Mature parents can be confident how they exert authority over children, both living and learning along the way. Over the years between birth and 18 years, parents gradually let go of responsibility for controlling all factors of the child’s life, good or bad, to grow in maturity along with the child. The child gains experience in making decisions and accepting responsibility for them. At 18, when the child is viewed as adult by law and the community, both can celebrate the arrival as adult, however imperfectly.
A complacent, laissez-fare approach has the appeal of letting parents off the trouble of socialisation, allowing the child to make its own way, passing responsibility onto others (childcare or school). Timing is critical to success. In these days of a long life, a few years laying the foundation for the whole of the rest of a child’s life is worth it in a long life of self interest . Remediation is costly, flawed and often unsuccessful. Best to put the effort in at the right time, to fortify the child’s life and spare angst for everyone down the track.
Cost of failure
Most parents do the best they can under the circumstances. Still many fail, through one reason or another as statistics show. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare:
- 26% of children aged 5–14 and 22% of young people aged 15–24 are overweight or obese;
- 74,000 children aged 0–14 and 80,000 young people aged 15–24 were hospitalised in 2013–14 due to injury and poisoning.
- Around 39,700 children aged 0-12 (or 9.6 per 1,000) were on a care and protection order in Australia on 30 June 2018.
Disturbed young lives need plenty of support to break through a pattern of dysfunction. All strength to the 990 in a thousand who haven’t come to the attention of government agencies. Enjoy and celebrate your families.