As parents our mistakes fall into one of two categories, the mistakes we know about and the one’s we’ll find out when our kids pick the nursing home.I have yet to meet the child who thought they couldn’t improve on their parent’s efforts – of course that was before their kids became teenagers.Parenting is difficult because parents have what I call “Perfect Ignorance.” It’s not that we aren’t smart enough, it’s just that the information to make an informed decision doesn’t exist. On any given parenting issue there could be 5 or 6 alternatives to pick from, however the wisdom simply doesn’t exist to discern which one will enable our children, or which one will discourage them.How many times have we seen the same tragedy create one person’s courage and yet be another’s disillusionment. I personally know people who achieved great things in life because they suffered from Polio at the “right” age. Could any of us have predicted such an outcome?This is not to say that we should throw up our hands and be completely arbitrary in our choices since any one of them could be the magic potion. No, far be it. We are required to try and figure out what might be the best option, it's just that we rarely know for certain if it's going to work. In fact, every parent also knows that most parenting mistakes were made with excellent intentions.With that in mind, it’s of vital importance to understand what is the worst mistake a parent can make.
Faster than a speeding bullet. Able to leap tall buildings with a single bound. “What’s that in the sky?" "Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” “No, it’s mom!” Like most people raised with a healthy dose of unhealthy television in their youth, I was led to believe that whatever I or the United States Marine Corp. could not achieve, Superman could. These comic book heroes, which seem to evolve into ever more incredible life forms, have led us to believe if we only had another pair of arms or could see through walls, we could solve all of life’s problems, or at the very least get our teenager off the couch. All I can say is Superman hasn’t met my kids. So, what is the problem with Superman?
Before I came to these United States, I had no idea how easy it was to raise healthy, optimistic, energetic, and wildly open minded children. Apparently, it’s all down to shampoo and breakfast cereal. I am also informed that if you pick out the right fabric softener your kids will love you and your life will become stress free - wow. That has to be the reason why so many parents are bemused and confused that their teenage children give them so much grief. I mean, they bought all the right brands, color coordinated their living room and even said “no” to drugs. Yet, their children didn’t laugh all the time, like the ones bouncing down the stairs holding the latest fluffy toilet roll.
Last time I looked on Amazon there were more than 50,000 books on parenting. Assuming no plagiarism, that’s an awful lot of help. Even if parents had the luxury to sit and read, by the time they covered the subject of infants, their children would be married with kids of their own. Maybe parents could read everything there is to know about the Terrible Twos by the birth of their third or fourth grandchild. One has to wonder what people did before these piles of parenting books anyway? Was the world overrun with psychopaths? And since Dr. Spock created the parenting book genre, has our ratio of psychopaths diminished? I don’t think so.
The Russian communists realized that the process we call “parenting” is vastly overrated. The idea that people who excel in chemistry, mathematics, or even literature can be expected to know which way is up on a new born baby is obviously an act of extreme wishful thinking.Planes should only be flown by trained pilots, nuclear reactors should obviously be operated by engineers, and anyone who has experienced their own teenager will testify that this is no job for the general public.So the question we should all be asking ourselves is, “What was G-d thinking?”The essence of effective parenting is the ability to learn on the job...
"Honey, let's get the child car safety seat that's rated barely sufficient." "Alison's teacher just called, he said that with a tutor she could move up a grade. I told him we are saving the money to get cable."
Children fall into two basic categories, those who have said “I hate you” and those that are going to say it. Gives you that warm fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it! Children say it, not because they mean it, but because they are very aware of your baby-boomer sentiments. Namely, your need to be their best friend. Your children can sniff out your weaknesses better than a police dog in San Francisco's Airport. They know what you want to hear and (more importantly) don’t want to hear. As they say in the movies, they have your number!
A desperate man calls a talk-radio help show and says, “I need help, I have a drinking problem.” HOST: “Have you ever tried quitting?” CALLER: “That’s easy, I did that three times just today.” Stopping isn’t the problem, we all know how to do that, it’s not starting again – that’s where the wisdom is. Obviously, when it comes to child abuse there are some real clear lines that I don’t need to spell out. But, as with many things in life, there is an awful lot of gray. When we define child abuse by a set of actions, we can easily ignore many so called lesser actions that can be equally devastating. In fact, child abuse doesn’t have to involve physical actions at all. A student of mine who is a plastic surgeon told me of the teenager who tried to commit suicide because every time he saw his father, the father said to him, “I hate you.” That’s just as much child abuse as any amount of physical punishment. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how a parent can affect his children negatively. I use a simple rule of thumb to test for child abuse:
It’s your son’s sixteenth birthday and he is expecting a car. Why is he expecting a car? Because since his fifteenth birthday he's been telling you there is only one kid in his grade who didn’t get a brand new car and his father is making license plates for the federal authorities. So let’s examine the choices in front of you: Option a) Buy him the brand new Mustang – bright yellow – that he’s been hinting at for the last year. Option b) Buy him a 10 year old Ford Taurus in faded blue with roll-up windows, no a/c and rusted windshield wipers. Tell him if he wants the Mustang, he needs to work over the summer and you will match him $-for-$. Option c) Get him the same thing your father got you, a pat on the back and some ideas for a weekend job so he can save up for the 10 year old Taurus. For those who don’t have the finances to avail yourself of these choices you will probably fail to appreciate how difficult it really is. So let me spell out for you what goes through the mind of a rich dad as he thinks about each of those options: Option a) New Yellow Mustang: I’ll be lucky if the only thing in two pieces by his 17th birthday is the car. Do you want me to tell you about all the rich kids who are now paraplegics because they got a car like this? Option b) 10 Year Old Ford Taurus: My son is going to get very depressed. He’ll be incredibly embarrassed that all his friends have fancy cars. His friends will make fun of him to no end. He’s going to think I hate him and he’s going to start hanging with the kids who drive this kind of car, like the one whose father is making arts-and-crafts for the State of Florida. Those kids don’t take school seriously, many are taking drugs and most drop out of school. And if you think I am exaggerating, that’s what his school counselor told me! Option c) Car Wash: My neighbor did that with his kid three years ago. On the way home from work his son was mugged. He’s now blind in one eye and has a phobia about leaving the house, which he can only do if he’s seriously medicated. Of course, any one of them could be the choice that makes the boy into a man, but which one? It’s so easy to pick, but if you pick the wrong one you will never forget it. Never! Having met a significant number of these parents who now live with the knowledge that they picked the wrong option, I can attest to the fact you will never forget making the wrong choice. Alternatively, the poor parent has an easy choice. In fact he or she doesn’t really have any choice at all. It’s the son who has the choice, and it’s real simple and real clear: grow up or be bitter. Ok, so what’s a rich father or mother to do?
Wouldn’t life be great if it were as easy to empower our children as it were to mess them up?I know someone who’s son is suffering from Mercury poisoning – you can google what the effects of that are. Out of five choices we gave parents in our on-line survey, feeding your child harmful food was their second highest fear.The number one fear is that their child would marry the wrong person. I know parents whose children have done just that.The third highest fear is drugs, fourth is breaking the parent child relationship. Last, is sending them to the wrong school.And, unfortunately, I’ve seen them all. Not at the hands of indifferent or “too busy” parents, but by wonderfully conscientious moms and dads.I think we have to conclude that the things that can mess up our children are as easy as can be. As Ilana Ratner and Dick Goldman eloquently pointed out, you just can’t stop the world. If the list of tragedies, from minor to major is 100, then everyone of our children will go through many of them, many times over.Yet, it is far from inevitable that our children will be messed up.Two people go through the same experience, one is traumatized for the rest of their lives, the other uses the pain to make life, theirs and others, better.I remember vividly explaining to a class the experience of one of my teachers, and how an early trauma in his life, made him who he was. A woman raised her hand and told me, that same experience occurred to her daughter. It sent her spiraling into depression, to which she has not recovered.Parents, it is clear, can be broken into two categories, those who try to shield their children from the world, and those that give their children a shield.