Domestic Diversions

Parenting Children from Love of Limits to Limits of Love

It used to be that kids were seen, but not heard.  Now it seems that they are seen, heard, and sometimes in control.  Sure there are still “old school” parents and teachers wielding their power over the children like a Bobby Knight can silence his players and force eye contact with tactics of verbal abuse and physical assaults.  But there are also kids I’ve seen assault their mother in the aisle of the grocery store for not getting what they want.  Perhaps this is a generation of children who are raising their parents to be seen, yet not heard?

Some children today are privileged to play travel sports.  Their parents show up weekend after weekend driving them from tournament to restaurant to motel.  The children ride with their friends, watch their favorite DVD’s, and listen to their favorite music all the while Dad and Mom attempt to talk to each other as long as it isn’t too loud and disruptive.  Parents’ schedules are dictated by children’s play dates, rehearsals, practices, and events.  Children are often fed only what they like and by requiring that they consume anything close to green eggs and ham, is considered insensitive, perhaps abusive. We want our young lads to be happy, comfortable, to feel loved, validated and supported.

Well, this can run wild.  One might retort, “come on, you can’t love children too much”.  In fact, I believe that the love of children has been misunderstood as unwavering support and accommodation.  Developmental psychologists will tell you that the developing person indeed needs to be supported or “emotionally held”.  However, that very same person, in order to grow, needs to experience contradiction, challenge and limits.  The challenge of the “other” in the development of the “self” is to know when to hold and support and when to contradict and challenge. 

Some parents in the community I raise my children in attempted to lobby the recreational director to change the rules of baseball.  They argued that too many young ballplayers were coming off the bases crying because they didn’t get a chance to run to home.  The parents felt that the cacophony of crying children could be remedied by changing the rule of three outs per inning to five.  This kinder, gentler rule would provide more base runners per inning a chance to cherish the euphoric foot stomp of hitting home base.  The recreational director scoffed at the idea, instead believing that learning the rules of baseball at an early age, even if it meant experiencing disappointment and limits, is ultimately good for the growing butterfly chasing, airplane gazing ballplayers. 

I don’t recommend we go back to the days of yore when elders in the church would keep disruptive children in line by subduing them in the half nelson, while their muffled cries into the deacon’s sport-coat could be heard after sustaining a decisive “nuggy” on top of the head.  I think we need a balance.  This generation seems to be riding the permissive pendulum swing to the other side.  Meanwhile, the parents are to be seen, but not heard.  Unfortunately this is familiar ground for a lot of us parenting today, adult children not fully seen by their parents, now struggling to be heard and understood by our children.

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