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The Importance of Respecting the Personhood of Your Children

  • Posted on July 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM

You make love and you make a baby. For nine months, that baby grows in his or her mother’s womb. The baby is born. The mother holds the baby. The father holds the baby. They laugh, they cry, they rejoice together. Their love has made another life. This is their baby.

This is a common enough scene and a common enough sentiment. I know I’m fiercely territorial when it comes to my children. You try to hurt them and you discover that this mama bear’s got claws and teeth. I’ll shred you to bits if I have to in order to protect my children.

There’s a difference between these two sentiments. It’s subtle, but important. It’s one not enough parents seem to make.

A territorial parent will:

  • Protect their children,
  • Nurture their children,
  • Provide for their children, and
  • Make a home for their children.

Some of us go to extreme lengths to achieve these goals. We seek to guide our children and imbue them with the morals and values we believe in. We shape and mold our children, like clay, into the adults we’d like them to become.

A possessive parent will:

  • Protect their interests in their children,
  • Develop their interests within their children,
  • Provide their children with the things they wanted as children, and
  • Make a life for their children.

These parents may go to extreme lengths to make their children into the people they’d like them to be, and that’s often people like themselves. They seek to order their children’s lives and imprint them with the morals and values they believe in. They shape and chisel away at their children, like stone, to shape them into the adults they’d like them to become.

Children are not property. They aren’t possessions. They are human beings. They are individual, little people who grow into individual, big people. They have thoughts, feelings, and dreams that are all their own. Someday they will have the power to leave you. When that day comes the only reasons they have to stay in your life is because: 1) they love you, 2) they respect you, or 3) they’re too afraid to do without you.

Personally, I’d rather be loved, though I hope to be respected as well. I have no desire to be feared—by anyone, least of all my own children.

I’m a territorial parent. I’m active in my children’s lives and I feel a welcome obligation to be present, both for their sakes and for society’s sake. But I am not a possessive parent. As much as I say they’re my children, I do not consider them property. I do not own my children. They are my own, but I do not own them. The difference is subtle, yet important.

I look around and I see possessive parents, parents who are trying desperately hard to make their children into mini versions of themselves or to shape them into who they wanted to be but couldn’t be. You see this in upper class parents who demand their children live up to the family name. You see this in aspirational parents who demand their children be all they can be. You see this in impoverished parents who tell their kids to be realistic if they say they want to be doctors or presidents. You see this in gang families that expect their kids to get into the biz. You see this in sexually-abused single mothers who allow their young daughters to be sexually abused, too. You see this in families who take desperate measures to convince their self-announced gay child to be “straight.” And you see this in families where typically-developing parents take desperate measures to force their atypically-developing child to be “normal.”

History is on their side. It’s only relatively recently that children were recognized as people having rights and those rights aren’t fully developed yet. We still talk about “Tiger Moms” and wonder if it’s a good thing. There’s debate and discussion. It’s not clear to many how these behaviors show that the parent is dictating to the child who the child should be—not what, as in a doctor or a lawyer, but who.

Our children are people. They will grow into adults. What are you doing to make sure that the children around you have a chance to grow into people you want to be around and who will want to be around you?

A Look Forward

  • Posted on July 18, 2014 at 10:00 AM

As the boys grow older, there are some things that are hard to ignore. Their bodies are maturing and we need to help them understand that. They’re heading for major life transitions and we need to develop a plan for what their lives will look like after school. There are choices to make, services to acquire, and things to set in motion.

These things are difficult in the sense that they consume time and energy. They need to be planned and those plans need to be led, not by Mark or me, but by our children who will be living those plans—for better or worse. These things are easy in the sense that there are choices, paths, and opportunities. We can do something about these things.

Sometimes thoughts sneak up on me that I did not expect. Earlier this week, as I was talking with our friend about her young children, it occurred to me that we might someday have a similar discussion about our children’s children. If scientists are to be believed, the human race—like every other species on earth—has a natural impetus to reproduce. The mating process encourages survival of the fittest. If all that is true, then there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions, like how “fitness” is decided and why social structures perpetuate qualities that do not seem to be in the best interest of the species.

Personally, I believe man-made science seeks to explain what God already understands, because God created a system that truly works. I know, despite our best efforts, we’ll never completely understand how the universe works, because we have finite minds and a system like the universe works on levels far beyond what we can grasp. As an example, what are the full implications of light that can act as both a particle and a wave? Why must light be both a particle and a wave to serve its purpose?

Whether or not my children have children of their own isn’t going to be determined by science or who is fittest, but by the choices they make and what God wills for them. That’s what I believe. Yet I think there’s something to that natural impetus. I’m too young for grandchildren, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want my children to be able to have children of their own. I think that should be between them and whoever they might conceive the child with. It’s not up to me, nor should it be. It’s not up to the government, nor should it be. It’s not up to society or any self-entitled group or person.

Unfortunately, human society has produced numerous people and groups that believe they should have the power to make those kinds of decisions. This results in dramatic, world-changing affairs like the Holocaust and the other genocides that have been committed in the name of various forms of purity—as if any kind of purity could be acquired by drenching the earth in human blood. This also results in less dramatic, but equally evil affairs like forced sterilization and denial of reproductive rights.

I can influence many things about my children’s future. I can fight with every ounce of my being that eugenics does not prevail. Yet I know that this silent, hidden enemy is alive and well and plays a very current, if less dramatic role, in contemporary society. I don’t want to look into the future and see this possibility, but denial doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

A New Article is Live: Take the Scare Out of Dental Care

  • Posted on March 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM

It’s great when you get to write from a position of authority and learn at the same time.  If you’re struggling with providing your children with a positive dental experience, then please check out my article, Take the Scare Out of Dental Care, published in MetroKids.

Thanks!  And enjoy!

:)

Bullying (Part 5): Why Do Children Bully?

  • Posted on November 1, 2010 at 3:29 PM

After a few distractions, I’m back to the issue of bullying.  I started with a description of bullying, where I attempted to distinguish between bullying, harassment and abuse.  Then, I discussed boys bullying and girls bullying.  I left off with a thought for bullies, because it is my experience that many bullies are victims themselves.

Now, I would like to explore some of the other reasons for bullying.

Two Basic Reasons

There are two basic reasons children engage in bullying behavior: (1) to buoy the self-esteem of the bully, and (2) to sink the self-esteem of the victim.  These are two different, distinct motives.

Victims of bullying and abuse often need to boost their self-esteem.  There are many ways people attempt to do this.  One way, as I mentioned earlier, is to engage in bullying.  Those surrounding this individual—parents, teachers, other supportive adults, and their own peers—can help this person find productive ways to build self-esteem, and thus eliminate the need to bully.  It’s not always easy, especially when the abusive situations that trigger the need cannot be resolved, but it’s worth the effort.

Not all bullies are like that, though.  Not all bullies are needy children stuck in an unendurable situation they don’t know how to deal with.  Some kids bully for fun.  These people bully not to boost their own self-esteem, but because they like to witness the effects on others’ self-esteem.

In my lay opinion, I consider this behavior pathological.  Perhaps there is already a psychological diagnosis for this kind of behavior, but I suspect our society is too enamored and forgiving regarding bullying for this to be the case.  Disabilities and disorders, after all, are determined on the basis of what society considers normal or acceptable.  If being morally challenged isn’t pathological, why would bullying be so?

America Loves Bullies

The increase in bullying (or, perhaps, the increase in our attention on bullying) has been called “epidemic.”  And part of that epidemic is that bullying is an acceptable pastime in our culture. 

I would say most kids are good kids.  But not all kids are good.  Some kids are bad.  Kids who take pleasure in other peoples’ pain and suffering and inflict pain and suffering for the sake of their own fun are not good kids.  (If this behavior is pathological, however, that “badness” can be addressed and remedied, much like the bad behavior of addicts can be addressed by addressing their addiction.)

And yet we not only tolerate this behavior, there are forces in our culture that actually encourage it.  Bullying is celebrated in television, in movies, in music, in advertisements, in books and short stories and even in news articles.  Bullying pervades our culture.  Adults, kids, corporations, public organizations, and even non-profit organizations and civil rights movements engage in bullying because it works.  Not only does it work—meaning that bullying can help you achieve the results you want—but for those willing to take pleasure in other people’s suffering, it feels good.  It makes you feel powerful.  And that feeling is honest, if not true.  (You are exercising power, but the power wasn’t rightfully yours.)

So, What Can We Do?

For bullies that use this behavior as a coping mechanism, the “solution” is to discover why and to stop it, if possible, while providing the child with other coping mechanisms.  It’s not easy, but it is rather straightforward.

For bullies that use this behavior because they enjoy it or because they perceive bullying as the cultural norm, the “solution” is neither easy nor simple.  Assuming that we’re not going to get these kids in therapy any time soon, we can only do so much.  We can attempt to change the culture.  And that = HARD and LONG-TERM COMMITMENT.  There are those who have been making that effort and investing their time.  I applaud them, especially Bullying Stories.  The recent emphasis in the news is also a good thing, or it could be if less attention was paid to why the victims were bullied (i.e., the implication that bullying = homophobia) and more attention was paid to the fact that the problem isn’t new and that people with many kinds of differences are the victims of bullies.

We also have to be vigilant.  As parents (of the bully or the victim) and as “the village” (i.e., the bystanders), we have to notice bullying and we have to take steps to stop it.  We have to assert that these behaviors are not acceptable.  We have to acknowledge that bullying is not a rite of passage.  We have to allow our minds to acknowledge that bullying, harassment and abuse are different and that none of these behaviors are acceptable.

Next, to “prove” that bullying is not a rite of passage, as some claim, I will demonstrate that bullying continues on into the adult world.  And, as much as I appreciate Joel Burns willingness to speak out, I have to say, sometimes it doesn’t get better as you get older.  Sometimes it gets worse