by Joanie Butman
As a follow-up to last week’s discussion of parents looking to their children for genetic affirmation, I’d be remiss not to point out the failed logic of that belief. Here’s the problem with that reasoning. If entrance into a “name brand” school illustrates your excellence in parenting, then less than stellar academic success must mean that the rest of us are somehow lacking in our ability to produce prodigies. Sorry, I’m not buying either one – that the school my child goes to reflects my parenting or that the self-worth of kids not attending elite schools is less than those who do.
Let’s take it one step further. Wouldn’t that rationale also suggest that our children’s mistakes are a reflection of our parenting skills or lack thereof? Nothing could be further from the truth in either instance. First off, if gaining entrance into a good school is attributed to the parents, it diminishes the child’s accomplishments and the hard work it took to achieve it. As far as being held responsible for the choices our children make, I have only one thing to say. Good kids sometimes make bad choices, as do good parents. If you don’t think so, you are setting yourself up for a big fall. We are all just one phone call away from the police blotter. Your assessment of your child-rearing skills could blow up in an instance, whether it is a rejection from Harvard or a call from the police.
We’ve all been given the ability to make our own choices, but with that freedom comes the responsibility of being held accountable for them as well. This holds true for parents and children alike. Too many parents fall victim to the false presumption that it is somehow their fault if their children make bad choices, which opens a door for shame to settle in. It might be a perfectly normal emotion, but it is also perfectly useless. I’m not advocating putting a window decal on your car of the rehab facility your child is in, but I am saying that shame isolates you from the very people who can comfort you – those who have been down the same road. There is an old Chinese proverb that states, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”
I have a friend who holds a prestigious, high-profile job and a child who has faced some difficult issues. Many in the community hold this person to a higher standard, as he once did himself. When he got blind-sided by life, as so many of us do, he didn’t release a public service announcement, but he didn’t try to hide it either. I believe his authenticity and openness in regard to the problem did what any testimony does. It reduces everyone to a common denominator – life. You never know when it will be you. No one is immune to the vagaries of life. By keeping the issue hidden, it holds enormous power over you. Being open and honest about it releases that power and allows it to encourage others. I believe his experience made him better at what he does in every aspect. Sure, there will always be those who make judgments, but that’s their choice.
I believe the epitome of good parenting is choosing to recognize and help your children determine and access whatever they need to mature and develop into responsible members of society, which is going to be different for each child even within the same family. If that means helping them achieve their dream to attend an Ivy League school, great – as long as it’s their dream and not yours. On the other hand, if that means ensuring they get the best support available to overcome a learning disability, a physical disability, a psychological disability, or an unhealthy dependency – there’s no difference. It shouldn’t be a source of embarrassment. If your child had a life-threatening illness, you wouldn’t hesitate to do everything in your power to get them whatever was needed to save them, right? And you wouldn’t be ashamed of it. In fact, you’d probably be enlisting the aid of anyone in a position to help. Why is there such a social stigma involved in some forms of ‘help’ as opposed to others?
There is no denying that when your child makes poor choices publicly it is difficult, if not impossible, not to feel judged – especially because there will always be those who believe their kids would never do anything like that and don’t mind expressing that opinion. Those comparisons start in the nursery. Here’s my response and the only parenting advice I’ve ever felt qualified to offer: never say never. As one mom describes her experience, “You just want to climb under the covers. I had to face it in people’s faces over and over again. The incidences were minor in impact (only hurt themselves) but can't tell you how many times people refer to each incidence. It makes them feel better about their kids and parenting.” Bingo! That just reminds me once again about the importance of having a support network of friends to whom you can safely reach out to for comfort and encouragement.
A sad but true reality is that often as parents our job is simply saving our children from themselves. It starts at birth and is relatively easy until adolescence, when they start exercising their free will in ways that challenge our authority, values and wisdom. I am living testimony to that fact and also to the truth that the poor choices I made in my youth were no reflection of my parents. If that were the case, why didn’t my siblings do the same? No, I take full responsibility for whatever choices I made.
I didn’t recognize it then, but in hindsight I thank God for being the perfect parent and never losing sight of me. He repeatedly saved me from myself during those years. He didn’t save me from the consequences, but He made sure they weren’t permanent. It’s the only explanation for my survival. He continues to save me from myself today in so many ways. As Michael Smith reminds me,
You save me
Save me from myself
There is no one else
I'd lean on
You save me from myself
There is no one else that sets me free
Just as my parents did for me during my tumultuous teenage years (and continue to do so), I choose to pray not only for my own children but also for those of my friends. A dear friend recently shared how blessed she feels when she knows people are praying on the behalf of her children. I know God doesn’t need reminding to watch over our children; they’re His kids first. However, by choosing to pray, I am reminded of Hissovereignty AND Hispromise that He can take the worst situation and use it for good. That is the power of prayer.
Plus, if you are seeking someone with experience with a rebellious child, God’s your guy. He’s been dealing with rebellion for thousands of years. He’s watched His kids make every stupid decision known to man. I have to think that at some point He must have seriously reconsidered His choice to grant us free will. He watched His own son suffer horribly, but used that pain to save the rest of us. Yes, I’d say He’s the perfect choice when looking for comfort, compassion and guidance - not only in regard to parenting, but in any situation.