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 ..."