The contemporary parenting ideal consists of equal parts fixer, go-fer, and friend, which is why, when it is encountered in the flesh by someone of my ancient age, the new definition of a “good parent” seems so out of whack. Our parents were anything but the new ideal, as evidenced by one of their favorite parenting aphorisms: “You made this bed; therefore, YOU will lie in it.”
Today’s parents seem inclined, even eager, to lie in the beds their children make (albeit they then complain about “having” to do so). I often give thanks for parents who were not so self-destructively inclined. To be completely forthright, in the days of my impetuous youth, I often wished my parents were more willing to take on the consequences of my stupidity, but they were not stupid.
Courtesy of my stupidity and my parents’ refusal to lie in beds I made, I spent two days in jail on two separate occasions when I was seventeen. That experience — both terrifying and intolerably boring — leads me to recommend that every community establish a “Send Your Kid to Jail Day (and Night).” A short stint in the slammer for teens, especially boys, would greatly reduce the adult prison population.
The new parenting ideal came to be in large part because beginning in the late 1960s, the mental health professional community began demonizing everything about traditional (pre-1970) childrearing.
They insisted that the family should be democratic, that the parent-child relationship should be conducted as if the two parties were equals, that parents should strive, first and foremost, for wonderful relationships with their children, and that anything less than all of the above would do irreparable harm to their fragile psyches.
So, since the old-fashioned parent was not a fixer, new-fangled parents became fixers. Since the OFP was not a go-fer, NFPs became go-fers. And since the OFP was not a buddy, NFPs became buddies.
FACT: One cannot raise children in two entirely different ways and arrive at the same outcome.
FACT: Child mental health was much, much, much better when parents would not sleep in their children’s beds, either figuratively or literally.
There was actually a time — slowly fading into the mists, I fear — when young people did not need to run and hide in a college “safe space” because a professor assigned “Huckleberry Finn.” There was actually a time when parents would not take up a child’s cause if he received a failing grade. There was actually a time when other parents would think it highly odd and a touch sad for a parent to say he was his child’s best friend.
Children need parents who tell them the truth — about themselves, especially. They need parents who teach by example that the consequences of an action belong exclusively to the actor. They need parents who describe emotional boundaries, and make it clear that they, the parents, are the most important people in the family. And they need parents who are neither fixers nor go-fers nor buddies; that is, parents who are authentic adults.
[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com. Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]