October 12, 2018

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

The challenges of parenting in today’s never ‘perfect’ world

Cynthia DewesAll of us secretly think our kids are perfect. But mine actually are.

Just kidding. None of us is perfect, and kids can often be the most imperfect people we know. We love them, no doubt about that, but we sometimes lose our tempers, yell, threaten and generally act worse than the kids. It’s ridiculous, but true.

By the time it gets down to the aptly-named “grand” children and “great” grandchildren, things change. Not the way kids behave, but how we perceive their behavior. We on the upper end of the generations tend to think that greats and grands are just adorable and innocent of sinister ulterior motives. In other words, they get by with a lot.

Kids are innocent, but they can still be manipulative. Babies know, maybe just instinctively, that a certain cry will bring Mom running. And tots know exactly when to be charming or loud or whatever the situation requires to get attention. And so it goes on and on through the years. Sometimes, it goes so far that we think some adults are being “childish,” and it’s not complimentary.

When you watch the evening news on TV you have to wonder why bad behavior seems so prevalent these days. Murders, rape, armed robbery, you name it. People are doing these things every day and, it seems, more and more often. What’s going on?

The only answer I can come up with is the lack of parenting in our society. We used to learn what to do and certainly what not to do, from our parents and other adult authorities. And not only did they establish guidelines, but they also promised consequences for our actions. We were rewarded when we did the right thing, and punished when we did not.

Today there seem to be no consequences for our actions. There’s no responsibility required of many children, who act up in public and at school and at home. Some teachers bend to their will because they’re pressured by administrators, who are pressured by parents. No one pays for their errors, so we shouldn’t be surprised when adults feel empowered to misbehave.

Just because there’s a two-parent family, good parenting may still be lacking. It takes time to be a parent, to listen and pick up on what’s going on in a child’s life. It was easier when most moms stayed home because at least one parent was literally on duty. But it can still be done in households where both parents work. In the end, it’s the real attention, not the time spent or the perfect venue, that it takes to reach a child.

Maybe we need to sign up the kids for fewer dance lessons and other extra-curricular activities in favor of more time at home, and not in front of a TV. Maybe the parents would work at home a couple afternoons a week just to be present for the kids. Maybe the family could spend a quiet hour after supper just “catching up” and visiting together.

Finally, I think our goals for kids should be to study hard, not because they want to make big money someday, but to have the satisfaction of knowing they’ve done their best. And the goal of being happy means loving others in every thought and action, not in expensive toys or mindless entertainments. Let’s take God, our loving parent, as our example.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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