Friday, September 18, 2009

Parenting 101

Unconditional love is a funny concept.

We hear people talking about unconditional love with their spouses or partners. We hear them talk about unconditional love with God. Most often we hear about unconditional love when folks are speaking about their children.

Unfortunately, I firmly believe that the very concept of unconditional love is flawed in our society. Check out this article for a look at how one New York Times writer views unconditional love in families.

As a parent, and a Christian, this article just doesn't sit well with me. Maybe I just don't "get it," but it seems to me that the article is basically telling folks that discipline is overrated.

That doesn't compute.

I get the idea that withholding love and affection from our children can cause serious problems. I believe that children should always understand that their parents love them even when we're doing stuff that they might view as mean. However, what I got from this article was that if you try to dictate to your little ones how they should live their lives, you are doing them a disservice and you probably don't love them unconditionally.

First, I'll say that I believe forcing your children to behave the way you think is best for them is the core job of any parent. It sounds tough, it sounds mean, but the truth is that we owe it to our children to give them the proper blueprint for life. The idea that doing this is wrong, just seems, well wrong.

Yes, children need autonomy. They must be allowed their independence to grow properly. But, that doesn't mean they just get live their lives as they see fit. That is a complete abdication of our God-ordained duties.

But, what I really want to talk about is the world's concept of unconditional love. For many people, unconditional love means that no matter what you do, somebody will love you. But, those people also think that love means being sweet, and kind and nice and wonderful.

Those people are wrong.

Love means spanking your child when he needs a spanking. It means taking away your teenager's car keys when they've shown they're not ready for the responsibility of being a driver. It means pushing your children to excel in school, even if that means they can't go outside and play with their friends. Love isn't about making people feel good, it's about doing what's good for them.

Unconditional love means that no matter what you do, no matter how you fail me or disappoint me or hurt me, I'm still going to care about what's best for you. That's what parents should show their children. That's what God shows all of us. Sometimes doing what's best for others means chastising them, but that's fine when it's done in the spirit of love.

The truth is, most young people have no idea what's best for them. I know I didn't. Young people know what they want and what they like, but beyond that, they are clueless. We adults can love them unconditionally, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't place conditions on their lives.

Class dismissed.



Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

I agree with you, not the article's conclusions. Oh, it works for a child that has a naturally stable and cooperative temperament, but some kids just aren't like that.

At Back To School Night this week, I don't why my youngest child's music teacher of 30 years told our group this:

She said, "I raised three sons, and raised them each the exact same way. Two went in one direction, and are doing great. The other went in the opposite direction."

She shook her head and continued. "Parents, do your best, but remember that people are people, including your kid. In the end, how well they do in school will come down to their choice, not yours. Guide them, discipline them, but always remember that."

Darth Whitey said...

You know BM, I'd love to have a cold one with you if I ever get down to NO. Right on the money.

Black Diaspora said...

Big Man, I think I 'get it' from your perspective, as I've been a big advocate of your method, but I'm not prepared, as you are, to dismiss the article out of hand.

Child rearing is truly a difficult task, made all the more difficult when you have a head-strong, willful child. Of course, I'm sure it could be argued that poor child rearing contributes to a child's obstinacy.

Frankly, parenting doesn't come down to one size fits all, as we learned from Kit (Keep It Trill)'s sharing of one parent's lament: "remember that people are people, including your kid."

For me, parenting came down to finding ways to enforce my will upon the will of the child.

Praise was use, threats were used, rewards were used--whatever would bring the behavior I deemed important, and appropriate at the time.

No, I don't claim to have been a good parent. I'm not sure what the "definition" of a good parent is.

I say we're all so screwed up that some of that screwedupness is bound to rub off on kids, and subsequently used to corral, and manipulate their own kids.

This enforcer mentality can't be good, and neither is the good cop/bad cop, positive and negative conditional parenting, loving and withholding of love, approach to child rearing.

I don't know what is best, unconditional child-rearing vs. conditional child-rearing.

I see potential harm in either method. If our society is an example of the love-withholding love method, then our parenting, or lack there of, has given us some pretty screwed up human beings.

"But what counts is how things look from the perspective of the children — whether they feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short." From the article.

The image that comes to mind when I read this: For every swat, a hug, and a kiss.

As a child, I wasn't whipped often, but it was psychologically devastating when I was.

More than the pain of being whipped (can't say spanked, I was never spanked, but whipped), disappointing my parents brought the greatest pain.

I suspect there's some residual fallout from that--a time in my life (as a young adult) when to be liked (by others, all others) took center stage.

Robin Meade of Headline News' Morning Express (Yeah, I'm up that late, not up that early) discussed her need to be a "people pleaser" in her new book, "Morning Sunshine: How to Radiate Confidence and Feel It Too."

I'm wondering how much of a need to please others was a result of how she was parented, rather than "people will be people."

Finally, I'm wondering how much of how we perceive God as parent, who we know is Unconditional Love, comes from how we perceive our earthly parents.

And I know some of the Bible's approach to child rearing:

"He who spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes" (Proverbs 13:24) and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13-14)

The Bible also states how women should be treated, both in and outside the church.

And I admit: I disagree with much of what is prescribed, when looked at from a fundamental, take-it-as-you-see-it position.

I believe that much of our misunderstanding of God as Parent, as Love, as Friend, is rooted in our relationship with our human parents.

That said, I'm going to stay open to what is the best way to parent, and rear children.

"Cause right now, I would be hard pressed to subscribe to any method.

Thanks for the entry, and an opportunity to sound off.

Deacon Blue said...

I mostly agree with you Big Man. It's not that the article is out of left field or anything, just that people who advocate that kind of thinking are trying to apply a "this will fix everything" mentality. That brand of "unconditional love" does work for some kids. But, I suspect, NOT for MOST kids.

Myself, I haven't spanked Little Girl Blue and probably won't. But there are myriad other ways I crack down because, as you've noted, it's a parental responsibility to sometime be the bad guy in the child's eyes, for the sake of teaching them the right things.

Tit for Tat said...

First, I'll say that I believe forcing your children to behave the way you think is best for them is the core job of any parent(Big Man)

Not sure if "forcing" is the right term here. I understand the need for consequence when teaching, but using that word opens it up to a whole other level.

Tit for Tat said...

say we're all so screwed up that some of that screwedupness is bound to rub off on kids, and subsequently used to corral, and manipulate their own kids.(Black Diaspora)

This reminds me of a funny joke.

"They had a meeting for functional families and only 2 showed up. They were both in Denial".

Imhotep said...

Big Man, If a life does not originate from our sperm, egg and womb do we really care the same for that life, as if it's carrying OUR blood? So the love that we give our kids is definitely conditional, and selfish, the condition being that our love is reserved for life forms that carry our DNA.

I think we all will agree that people, and in this case kids are unique, each and everyone, so I don't believe that there is any one particular parenting approach that will work with all kids. I may have appreciated the scientific study if there was more of a breakdown according to economics status, race, gender, siblings, no siblings, etc. I think as a parent you do your best and hope for the best.

Big Man, I know you to have some strong Christian beliefs. With that in mind, you cannot diminish the role of God in the outcome of any child's life, regardless of the amount or level of parenting skills involved. All that could be for naught, if God has made a contrary decision for a kid's life. If a kid is to become a substances abuser, a classical musician or a child molesting priest, then, that's how it goes. If God decides birth, death and amount of blessings one receives, then God must decides if some kid grows-up to be a mass murderer . So giving love, withholding love or terminating privileges does not matter in the end, because the will of God will prevail. IMO.

Big Man said...


It's true that God's will shall be done. But, I don't think God randomnly decides that some folks are going to have screwed up lives for no reason. From my perspective, human suffering is directly linked to human sin. It may not be our own sin, but just the general sin that is rampant in the world.

People often wonder why bad things happen to good people. Or, why bad children come from good parents. It's true, sometimes parents can do everything "right" and still have negative results. However, I truly feel like this isn't a the result of predestination, as much as it's an outcome of the degradation of our world.

I really appreciate the thoughtful comments which made me consider this issue on a deeper level. I agree that you have to tailor your parenting to your child. I can already see that with my children. However, I'm a firm believer in having core values that guide all of your actions. My brother and I were just discussing this concept, and agreed that it makes sense to us to take every situation, apply your values, and then decide how you want to proceed. I can see the same approach to children. You have core values that are the immutable bedrock, but you have flexibility when it comes to the details required to honor those values.

Some of y'all have noted that it doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach when it comes to this article. I can see that mindset. However, a part of me feels that there is something deeply wrong with the mindset advocated by that article, the idea that imposing our will on our children is a negative no matter what. I can see how people can do damage to their children by imposing their will, but I really don't see how parenting works unless you are instilling principles and values in your children. Otherwise, what exactly are you doing with them? But, maybe that's just a misreading of the article on my part.

LisaMJ said...

I only skimmed this one but I am with you Big Man. As I skimmed it Bernie Mac's voice popped into my head and said "this is some bulllll" I don't have kids, may never have that privilege, but I know that just b/c someone loves you doesn't mean they have to tolerate all of your behavior and if your parents set you up to think you can do whatever you want and get love and cuddles and kisses all the time are sending their kids down a bad road b/c NOBODY else is going to do to that, and if you find someone who will do that, they have some deep issues with themselves and are just aiding and abetting the problem. Did I like it when I got yelled at for screwing up? Nope. Did I sometimes think my Mom was "mean"? Yep, would I have rather her let me do whatever I wanted all the time? Nope, not good. You can unconditionally love someone but set boundaries and punish when appropriate. It is human nature to "withold affection" when you are upset with someone so why would it be different with kids? You can love someone and be upset or disappointed with them.

Raving Black Lunatic