Being a parent is like being an investor. The more wisely you invest in early parenting, the better off you will be later. But just like saving money, not enough young parents are wise about parenting. How you raise your children in their early years will determine how easy or difficult it will be to work with them as they grow older. It will also determine their tendency to be successful in life. Here are two situations with which I am personally familiar.
Case 1: Liberal Parenting
I coached my son’s baseball team for 3 years. It was a rag-tag team of 10-12-year-old boys who wanted to play but couldn’t get on other teams. Some of the boys were there because their parents thought they should be, for the little-league experience. One boy was a real discipline problem for me. He wouldn’t listen to directions and he did as he pleased. One day we were in an indoor batting cage and he wouldn’t wait for his turn to bat. When he jumped in front of another boy, I told him to get out of there and wait his turn. He mouthed off and I told him to go sit down and stay out of the way. He continued to argue and I raised my voice. That was probably not the smartest thing to do, but I am not always perfect. The boy had no respect for me even though I was his manager with inherent authority in matters of being a team member.
As it turns out, his parents had come to pick him up and witnessed some of what had transpired. The father told me they never raised their voice to their son and did not appreciate that I had. I told the father that his son was not being cooperative and was being disruptive. His response was that they did not believe in putting limits on his spirit and creativity. I knew then that this discussion was a lost cause. I told the parents that they could do as they pleased with their son but he could not do as he pleased on this team. The boy did not return to the team and we were better for it.
When it came to his son, this father (and mother) decided not to use parental leverage, authority, or discipline. They believed in letting him find his own path. It’s my opinion that most kids don’t respond well to this treatment. Respect for limits must be learned just as much as an imaginative mind must be allowed to wander and wonder. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. Certainly others, besides myself, were affected by this undisciplined and spoiled kid. But at least these parents had a philosophy in raising their son. Just a very liberal idea of parenting with which I personally disagreed.
How will the son react to rules as an adult? Will there be any empathy for others? Will his creativity be enhanced by this style of parenting? And if so, will his creativity be good for society or just him? Some of the most creative people on earth are white-collar criminals. Creativity is great, but it should not be destructive or a burden on others. There will be consequences due to their parental style. My money would be on the consequences being more negative than positive.
Case 2: The Enabling Parents
A young man in his mid-twenties delivers pizza for a living. One winter morning he awoke to his car covered with snow and ice. While most of us bundle up and trudge out to remove the snow and/or ice, he called his parents and asked that they have their insurance company get someone to clean off his car. When told he should clear off the car himself, he claimed he didn’t have a shovel. And when his mom said that his dad would bring him a shovel, he said he didn’t want to clean it. I’m not sure if he ever cleaned it off himself, but I doubt it.
Even though he is very intelligent, this young man delivers pizza is because he wasted years of college tuition not putting any effort into his education. He finally passed a technical course as an mechanic but he doesn’t want to do that work. He’d rather just drive around, deliver pizza and have his parents pay his bills. Undoubtedly, there is some degree of psychological problems with this son who should be much more responsible and independent of his parents. But the parents did him no favors by allowing this type of behavior in the past.
A few years later, this same young man was in legal trouble and true to form, his father got him a lawyer. The lawyer told him to write his version of the incident. But that was too much like work to the son and despite pleas from his parents, he refused to write it. Eventually, his father drafted the son’s version of the incident for him, as I’m sure he expected would happen. The parents could not allow themselves to see their son get the punishment he deserved. They knew he couldn’t handle it emotionally. He lived in a different world, a world devoid of personal responsibility. How they are dealing with their son and his issues is destroying them and not helping their son.
I don’t know when and how this behavior all started. I cannot say for sure that the parents were too permissive when he was younger. Generally speaking, however, when children are very young we help and coddle them and sometimes forget to allow them to struggle on their own as they grow older and mature. Situations like this one can get out of hand when we allow misbehavior to continue without correction. It is essential in a good parent-child relationship to have respect for each other and balance in your actions and reactions, especially through discipline and love. Usually, disciplining IS showing love!
How to reign in an out-of-control older child is not something about which I have many answers, nor do many other parents. It goes back to the caveat in my book, “The Power of Dadhood”, that successful parenting is more about prevention of behaviors, not correcting them later on. In other words, set standards and consequences early on and be consistent about them. If you do not, your battles will be beyond difficult and possibly tragic.
Always ask yourself, "Will my help make my child stronger or weaker?"