Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hunter! We're sharing and caring!

Yesterday's post about the Hunter Method prompted me to delve a little deeper into the crisis facing our nation ... and lay a little literary blame, just for fun.

Sometime in the middle of my now-adult child's adolescence, we had occasion to seek the advice of a Child Psychology Professional ... a counselor ... a shrink. Actually, we had a couple of occasions to seek same, but that one was the last one ... and the best. The advice he gave me at the conclusion of our intake interview was this:

"The problem with kids today is that they don't fear their parents anymore."

Ding, ding, ding!

I don't know about the rest of you, but I was scared shitless of my mother, and remained so throughout my adult life. I did not want that woman mad at me. It wasn't that she spanked the daylights out of me, although she certainly would if she needed to. It wasn't that she shamed or belittled or abused me, although at one time in my adult life I liked to call it that, because it was trendy to go to Gestalt weekends and smack chairs and learn to love our inner child. Hell, I still had a healthy fear of Mother's Wrath long after I was too old to spank and too smart-assed to belittle.

When the counselor said those simple words ... and I looked over at my own little "Hunter" sitting on a counselor's couch looking bored and aloof instead of sitting in his own room afraid for his very existence ... I realized what a moron I was about parenting, and what a great mother I'd had.

The truth is, I wouldn't know how to do half the stuff I know how to do if it weren't for my mother making me do chores, and watching her do things. I wouldn't have the high degree of good quality guilt that makes me clean a baseboard once in a blue moon or the absolute aversion I have to lying if it weren't for my mother being a clean freak and instilling in us a good measure of guilt about what other people would think. I never feared the police or any other authority figure the way I feared my mother. I never smoked pot in high school because I knew my mother would find out and kill me. No court of law could have forced me to stay up all night cleaning my house in preparation for a home visit, but a phone call from my mother saying she was coming for the weekend sure as hell could! And I'm not fooling myself that mid-life has made me any less dependent on my mother's approval. The only reason I can live with a degree of comfortable messiness now, at fifty-four years old, is that she's dead and can't come visit anymore.

So what changed between my mother's generation and mine? Somewhere along the line, people seem to have forgotten what the goal of parenting is.

It's not to ensure that your child has the most stuff, or the best and the happiest and the most carefree childhood. It's not to build "self-esteem" and an overblown sense of your child's inherent value to the universe. Ev blames Shel Silverstein and that god-awful book "The Giving Tree," in which parents are encouraged to "give until you can give no more" ... and then, when you've bailed your kid out of every failure and handed them everything they wanted on a silver platter and you're completely used up, let the kids use you for a comfy place to sit in their own old age. I owned not one, but TWO copies of it.

I also blame "The Little Prince." Hunter, you are not unique in all the world. You do not need to be kept under a glass jar and protected. In fact, Hunter, that's the surest way to ensure that you will not thrive.

Of all the parenting tools I tried to employ over the span of my sons childhood, the best thing I ever did for him was to have life intervene and render me unable to maintain his glass jar. The first time he called me from 1200 miles a way to ask for a monetary bail-out and I couldn't afford to send it, he got a job. The next time he called and asked for money to fix his car and I couldn't afford to send it, he got a real job. Now I bemoan the fact that he doesn't call and doesn't need me for anything ... because ... hello ... he grew up.

The goal of parenting is to equip children for adulthood ... that crazy time when no one is going to take care of you and there will be demands on you (some of them harder than picking up your toys). We're supposed to teach children how to navigate a world full of sharp corners -- not pad everything. We're supposed to model how humans interact and teach them how to do things. Then we're supposed to release them into a world where there might be people who don't always have their best interest at heart, and we'd better had taught them how to stand up for themselves by some more effective means than throwing a wall-eyed tantrum.

I've been there and done that, so I can tell you from first-hand experience:

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a "Hunter, honey ..."


innkeeper said...

After the last two posts, I have to say something--good on ya! Yesterday I was nodding when you talked about threatening to spank the kid until he was dead. Our daughter threw exactly one tantrum when she was three in the checkout line at the grocery store. I grabbed her up off the floor by one arm, swatted her once on the bottom (now that would be called child abuse), stuck my finger in her face, and said, "Don't you EVER do that again!" And she didn't. The hardest/best thing we ever did was cut her off when she quit college. We turned off the money, she had to find an apartment, a job, etc. Yep, she fussed and moaned about it but she did it. AND a while later she said that it was the best thing she ever did, learning how to arrange for and pay her own utilities, get car insurance and all of that stuff. It made her grow up. Woo-hoo! Your mother must have been a lot like mine. She's still living. And I'm still afraid of her.

Kwach said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence. In this day and age, those of us who aren't shocked and appalled by a spanking are ranked right down there with Jeffrey Dahmer's mother and Joan Crawford.

However, it won't be our kids who end up lazy, shiftless, good-for-nothing whiners still living in the spare bedroom at 40.

: )

xup said...

Thanks. I always feel a little guilty when I see a look of fear in my daughter's eyes when I'm angry with her or when she out and out says she's scared of me sometimes. I don't physically hurt her or play weird psychological games with her or anything, she just knows I mean business when I lay down the law. But still, I always feel bad that my kid would be afraid of me. Maybe that's not such a bad thing afterall??

Ev said...

I used to tell my kids, "It's not my job it be nice. It's my job to turn you into adults by the time you're 18." I think a lot of parents don't understand what the role of parents actually IS.

I'm with you, XUP. I know kids don't like rules. Hell, I don't like rules either, but that's the price we pay for living in a world with other people who also have needs.

I want them to be happy, but I also want them to know that I'm going to deliver them to the world as a fully-functioning (mostly), responsible, considerate adult. What they do from there is up to them.

So far, so good though. They've turned out better than I expected, and probably better than I deserved. :-)

marl said...

I was up at our local womens' softball field with my dogs tonight. My old girl, Kelly, is as calm & even-tempered as dogs get - she rarely reacts to anything. I've not heard her bark at any person, and certainly had never heard her growl.

A young boy, maybe 8 or 9, bolted over to "play with the dogs." Kelly jumped up, lunged, barked & growled at him. Thankfully, I had her leashed. I told the kid that Kelly didn't really like him for whatever reason & that he should just leave her alone.

This scene was repeated 3 times, with Kelly going berserk each time. For the first 2 times, I asked him nicely to just leave my dog alone, and that I didn't want her to bite him. The 3d time, I snapped & said loudly 'look, I asked you nicely twice to stay away from my dog. I'm not asking nicely any more. Stay away from my dog, or I'm not going to be responsible if she bites you.'

His mother - who was on the players' bench directly in front of my friend & I - finally turned around to see what was up. She took him aside & apparently told him to back off. Then she turned to me & said "he's autistic & doesn't always understand." I said, "That's all well & good, but he needs to leave my dog alone." If this kid was autistic, he was clearly high functioning, and should have known better.

The kid has a diagnosis, but it doesn't excuse his bad behavior. My godchild has aspergers, and he gets it.

We finally got up & moved to the other side of the field. About 5 other kids, ranging from 2 to 12, came over to ask if they could play with the dog, and Kelly was perfectly appropriate with them. After the game was over, the kid came over to where we were standing, stood about 6 feet away & taunted Kelly. Of course, she reacted by barking & lunging at him.

Just one more example of parents' unwillingness to make their kids responsible for their behavior. Jesus, we're raising a generation of morons.