In the late 1930’s Europe was on the brink of war. Hitler had risen to power in Germany and was making noise about restoring the “Fatherland” to its former glory. He had broken the armistice that ended World War I and was gearing up a war machine like none the world had ever seen. And yet many in Europe and the United States felt that Hitler was nothing more than a petulant child. The British Prime Minister of the time, Neville Chamberlain, after meeting with German officials, announced that trouble had been averted. Announcing the Anglo-German agreement, his crowning achievement, Chamberlain said that this guaranteed “Peace for our time.” In less than a year war gripped all of Europe and would soon engulf the world.
I have experienced open heart surgery and its aftermath, but there have been times when parenting was more painful even than that surgery. Every parent knows the struggle of bending the will without breaking the spirit, and we have all had moments when we just wanted to give up. Those moments are pivotal moments, because it is in those moments that we are most tempted to take the easy way out, to give up and give in, to let our children have their way. There is no parent whose nerves have not been frayed to the breaking point and whose heart has not been broken by words like these:
“I hate you! You don’t love me!”
Our natural inclination in those times is to give in, to let the child have their way. We want our children to like us. There is nothing wrong with wanting our children to like us, but that is a lousy methodology for parenting. Yet that is precisely the method more and more parents are defaulting to in our time. I will not argue that appeasement, whether practiced by politicians like Neville Chamberlain or by the parents of a strong willed three-year old does not bring the short term benefit of “peace for our time,” but it only masks the greater trouble that waits just beyond the horizon.
Children need parents, not friends.
There is a reason that we don’t license 10 years olds to drive or allow 15 year olds to marry...they just aren’t ready for the responsibility. I don’t care to hear any arguments to the contrary...10 year old drivers in 2017 and 15 year olds who marry are, as a rule, unable to master the tasks or manage the responsibilities of driving and marriage (I know that some of you are even now thinking of exceptions to these examples....I don’t care. Would you trust your life to an unknown 10 year old Uber driver? Would you marry your 15 year old to another unknown 15 year old? I rest my case. Now sit down, be quiet and hear me out...you can post your responses on the Facebook page).
Parents who parent primarily with the philosophy of ‘let’s be friends’ seldom have any self-discipline and rarely if ever utilize discipline with their children. They create self-centered children with no concept of or respect for others. These parents deny their children nothing and seem incapable of either understanding or using the world “no.” In short, they create dangerous children. These children are dangerous because they have no sense of authority due to the fact that no one has ever exercised any authority over them. They are dangerous because the know nothing of restraint, having generally been given anything they want so that they will ‘like’ mommy or daddy. The end results are tragically predictable: they grow up not liking their parents and having no love or compassion for them or anyone else and feel as if things like rules and laws apply to others but not themselves.
So what’s a parent to do?
How about be a parent...say ‘no’ once in a while...make the little ankle-biter wait until Christmas or their birthday for the latest ‘gotta have it’ toy or thing...expect respect for both parents and other adults...don’t tolerate back talk, sarcasm, or rude speech or behavior...let them learn to save their own money....expect them to get a job....make them do their own homework...don’t make excuses for them...ground them when necessary...even spank them when they need and deserve it (but only then).
Being a good parent is about doing the hard things and expecting our kids to learn to do hard things themselves. Too many parents today believe that if their kids don’t like them now that they never will. But the truth is that your kids need to respect you now....they will learn to like you later. Being a parent is in large part about shepherding our kids through transitions, and the transition from childhood to adulthood is not quick or easy or fun. But when we do it right our kids will recognize it and respect and love us for what we did for them.
Be their parent, not their friend. The time will come when you can be both.