Chapter 4 of my book “Becoming”, titled Making Straight the Way, provides an inspired guide for parenting children from birth to adolescence, based on sound principles that could be useful today.
- Parents need to be mature and responsible
- Parental responsibility for children declines over time as children are deemed self- responsible by law at age 18 years
- Parental attitude is best when focused on development of the child, rather than authoritarian or complacent
- The child develops in maturity by being allowed choice and responsibility appropriate to age and stage, within clear boundaries. Parents, as adults, should be in charge.
My Maturity Model for decision-making enables interested parties to self-assess how well they are going in important life tasks and make corrections where brave enough to do so. None of this is easy, which is why so many are willing to abrogate responsibility for raising the children, farmed out to government child care or other agencies promising to do better, but mostly failing.
Historical influences on parenting trends
Of the many trends historically influencing child raising, I’ll mention just a couple of significance that have had a major impact:
- Dr Benjamin Spock’s 1946 book, Baby and Child Care, became a global phenomenon, selling millions of copies worldwide, to become a “bible” for post-war parenting. Spock upturned family relationships from being parent controlled to child-centred. Authority of the parents was undermined, as focus changed to caring for the child’s needs and whims, no “no”, no physical punishment. Parents became servants to children.
Number of children in a family declined with more effective contraception and availability of safe abortions. Both factors freeing parents to devote themselves to their one or two children.
Parental status and confidence was further eroded by the blossoming dominion of the knowledge class of experts (psychologists, educators, doctors) who wrote papers on outliers of clinical analysis, while rarely experiencing 24/7 hard tack parenting with children.
The pendulum swung from authoritarian to indulgent.
What was missing was the position of children in the context of family and community, rather than special, favoured entities with neither boundaries nor responsibility. Context is a critical element of making decisions with which we can live.
- Marxist feminists in the 1970s, clamoured for equal opportunity for women in the workplace, built on the cemetery of family care work. Boasting more abortions than children, they populated positions of influence in the bureaucracy and led the family policy agenda. Hostility to women caring for their own families was rampant, reflected in taxation policies favouring single people, intended to coerce women into the workforce where condescension failed.
Missing from policy settings
As always, blind ideology overlooks matters important in people’s lives:
- People value their children and families, however bungling their parenting may be;
- Promises for women to have it all at once have proven a sham as scarcity of partners and infertility for women too often denies them late promise of children once glass ceilings have been broken;
- Overlooked by feminists was the extended term and quality of life gained largely by women caring for families – in improved health care, sanitation, diet and education. All beneficial factors show decline as women largely abandoned family care work to the “experts” in childcare, psychology and schools. Experts have not done any better.
Plenty of opportunities now exist for career changes, for retraining and re-entering the workforce for women and men over a long life of 80 or so years. Having only one or two children means a long life of self-interest.
While parents of principle and faith stick to their guns in driving behaviours in children most likely to result in productive young adults, many have succumbed to fads that undermine their purpose and betray their children.
Putting in the right effort at the right time of a child’s life means success is more likely, though not guaranteed. Preschool years are crucial for development of relationships and skills.
Who is in Charge?
After decades of child-centred and laissez-faire complacent parenting, we should not be surprised by the outbreak of violence, youth rampant in the streets, uninvited assaults, theft, burglary, stabbings and assaults. That is without even addressing the ill-discipline of rampant addiction to screens and drugs.
A couple of factors appear glaringly obvious:
- Youths have not felt the weight of responsibility for their actions. Spock’s never saying “no” has removed boundaries of accepted community decency. Context of child in community has been lacking.
Absence of physical punishment for childhood misbehaviour has not meant physical punishment has gone away: it is just being meted out by children to other children, to parents, grandparents and community. Ingratitude and entitlement reign. Oldies should just drop off their perch and leave their hard-earned to the undeserving. Otherwise, the kids will just take it.
Physical punishment for children is now frowned upon, parents even punishable by law. Yet the law repeatedly lets youth off for crimes committed, so it appears that even the community beset by crime remains unrelieved. Running a business only to have it broken into and goods stolen multiple times, or buying a car important for functioning only to have it stolen and smashed up is discouraging and costly. Even the law is not in charge.
The modern way is to reason with the child, often too young and cognitively undeveloped to understand reasoning and consequences. The longer parents jaw off, the more the child is in charge.
Parenting is hard work
Parenting is hard work – emotionally, physically and financially. No wonder many, immature at family establishment, fail to stump up to own responsibility for doing the hard yards, setting the boundaries, holding firm under pressure of fads, experts, peers and children, while being denigrated, taxed and discouraged.
All too easy to look for relief from responsibility in childcare, employment, diagnosis of alphabet conditions to attract lifetime funding, when the physical effort of getting kids out to a park to run freely until exhausted is considered too much work. Yet an exhausting run is what many need to spark brain activity and enable poor behaviour to be brought into line.
Expensive chemical and expert advice may provide some parental solace, which must be weighed against the damage to a child of a lifetime of dependency, victimhood or crime.
Parents have to grow up themselves, lift their game, put in the physical effort for the short time they are responsible for children in a long life. Remediation is fraught, costly and likely to have limited success. Parents owe it to their children and the rest of the community.
Parents are in charge. Abrogating decision-making responsibility to children is a dereliction of duty, leaving both parents and children immature, leading to family breakdown, with major social and economic costs.
New gods who believe they can change the climate, morality and values, could draw wisdom from the ages which cautioned, “cosset your son, make a darling of him, binding up his every wound, heart wrung by every cry, and he will set your teeth on edge with the bitterness of his ways.”