The Amber Alert and an overheard conversation has triggered some deep thinking. I turned over these events in my head and came to the following conclusion: There are two ways to go when having a child. You can either carry on with your life without making any alterations to your priorities/taking any responsibility. Or you can put the child first and make their well-being and safety your primary goal in life. And I’ve seen and met both types of parents.
The self-centered parent often sees the child as an impediment to enjoying life. The parents’ needs and especially wants come first. This is evident in choices made – buy diapers or cigarettes, groceries or beer, shoes or methamphetamine… Those of course are the extremes. It is the same when the parent prefers to surf the internet instead of taking the child to the bathroom, or is in conversation with another adult and ignores the child standing up in the shopping cart. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t use the smart phone or look away from the child ever. But children need our attention. They need our help and our protection, not only from bad people and dangerous things but also from themselves. They have to be taught that fire is hot and will burn so that they don’t put their hand on a hot stove. They have to learn that streets are busy and they can be injured or killed by cars so that they don’t walk into speeding traffic. The parent who wants to go out to party getting so drunk that they come home and pass out is definitely putting themselves first.
The other type is focused entirely on the child. As with the neglectful parent, there are also extremes with this type of parenting. I’ve seen children so “managed” that they’ve never felt sand sift through their fingers because mommy doesn’t want them to get dirty and then there is the possibility that there are germs in the sand that would harm their delicate child (who lives in a virtual bubble). There are helicopter parents who attempt to insulate their children from any negative experience or consequence. These children have never gotten an average grade mostly because mom/dad will argue the grade with the teacher and more often than not get it changed in the student’s favor. Although well meaning these parents are setting their children up for failure in the “real” world. The kids never learned how to deal with disappointment, how to lose gracefully, and how to stand up for themselves. They had every advantage growing up but there comes a time when parents can’t step in and “fix” things. It doesn’t go over very well if your parents want to argue with the boss about your work load or your vacation schedule or a tiff with a coworker.
I’m not sure which child has it better, the bubble wrapped child or the child raised by wolves. Having a healthy balance is best for everyone. Yes it is OK to have some “me” time with the caveat that even when taking time to nourish your adult side you are still responsible for your child. And it is good to allow the child to develop coping strategies for disappointment. Remember not every child is a gifted artist, not every child is a star quarterback. It is OK to be average in some subjects as long as the child is doing their personal best and putting effort into the work. Being responsible for the welfare of the child does not mean having training wheels on the bicycle until the age of 12! Being an advocate for your child does not mean their team always has to win, they must get 1st place in the science fair, have the lead in the school play, or be the most popular student in the school – especially if it is achieved through your personal intervention in their life!! As for the child that is left to their own devices, if they survive, they will probably be that kid that spends almost every day at your house looking for structure, security and a sense of belonging. If you become that substitute parent, they just might stay in school and out of jail.
OK. I’m done. We return to the regularly scheduled program…