A few years ago, Ginger introduced me to the book "Way of the Peaceful Warrior" by Dan Millman. I was resistant at first; it looked a bit too much like a self-help book for my tastes. But eventually I relented, and as the words lead to images, and the images lead to feelings, and the feelings lead to thoughts and questions, I began to feel myself grow in a variety of subtle ways. One of the things I came to appreciate after reading "Peaceful Warrior" was the sheer amount of amazing things I encountered every day, but was simply missing - things like the sound of the breeze as it creaks through an old tree, or the way one room in your house smells differently than another, or the way that people's eyes sometimes don't match the words they are saying. I was missing some of the rich details of life, the sights, sounds and feelings of the world that we are sometimes too busy to pay attention to. And so I began to be more conscious of these details, and to allow them to invade my senses and affect me, teach me, comfort me, and challenge me.
While I notice more details now, that's not always a good thing. Sometimes, I tune into details that puzzle me, or sadden me, or anger me - kind of like what happened to me yesterday. Without venturing too deeply into the details, I had to spend a lot of time running around town yesterday, and I found myself around parents and their children in just about every place I went. And virtually every interaction between parent and child that I came across made me sad.
I saw parents yell at their children, be physically rough with them, ignore them, threaten them, and otherwise make choices that were appalling to me, all the more for the vividness with which I observed them.
Non-Physical Child Abuse
As I saw these families and thought about it last night, I was struck by several things:
Why does the child have to speak quietly and respectfully to the adult, while the adult gets to be verbally abusive and rude to the store clerk when they can't find something?
Why does a child have to be respectful when speaking to a parent, while the parent can be short and rude to the child?
Why does the child have to wait for the parent to finish speaking before they can have their turn, but the parent can interrupt at will?
Why does the child have to accept bad news readily, while the adult can react in whatever way seems natural?
Why does the child hear an angry "Listen to me when I'm talking to you!" when she tunes out, while the adult can walk around the whole store hearing "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!!!" for ten minutes straight and never bat an eyelash?
Why does the child have to handle change with logic and acceptance, while the parent can use emotion and resistance?
Why do parents leave their babies to cry it out, but immediately cuddle and console a friend who is upset?
When waiting in line, why does the child have to sit quietly while the adult gets to talk on their phone or play games on their iPhone?
When in line, why does the child have to keep their hands in the cart while the adult leaves through the magazine they got off the shelf?
Why is the child prevented from buying a pack of gum or piece of candy when the parent has three boxes of Twinkies in their cart?
Why can an adult listen to a new CD 30 times in a row, but the child cannot hear the same song from Barney or Elmo more than three times in a row without the parent losing control?
There are thousands of other examples of this non-physical child abuse, but my heart is too heavy to keep going.
In these examples, I may not be describing you and your relationship with your children. But I am describing real adults and their real relationships with their real children - I mean, it happens, it really does. And the saddest part is that our children, these children, see their parents as the ultimate model, and teacher, and authority in their lives, and they can grow up with a sense that the parenting they experience every day is the way parenting is supposed to be. And so they come to expect such behavior in their own parents, and in other parents - and so they stand a reasonable chance of becoming such parents themselves.
The Crappy Parent Job Description
So suspend reality for a few minutes and think about this. What if one of these poor kids actually lost one of their crappy parents, and had to take out an ad in the paper for a new one? Based on what I outlined above, and based on the experiences of these kids, that ad might look something like this:
Wanted: One authoritarian individual, chronologically (if not intellectually and emotionally) of an adult age, to set a bad example for their children and for other parents. Must be able to be verbally abusive, short-tempered, and rude to a variety of other people, with or without advanced notice. Interruptive communication style preferred, ability to outright ignore is a plus. Must be willing to have whatever reaction seems appropriate for the time, with no regard for others. The ability to set and maintain a double standard is required. Strong preference for those who are self-centered and too busy to care about anyone else's feelings. No previous experience or training is necessary, but knowledge of corporal punishment is a plus.
Would you ever hire such a person? Would you ever date them? Would you ever even talk to them? And would you, under any circumstances, and regardless of where you are on your own parenting journey, put that person in a position to actually be responsible for the well-being of anyone else, let alone a child? Of course you wouldn't. You would never tolerate it, would never even allow that kind of negativity into your life at all.
The irony is that these crappy parents wouldn't tolerate either; in fact, if you read my examples above they won't even tolerate such behavior from their children, let alone from another adult. I
But these kids don't have a choice.
But Oh, If They Did
If kids did have a choice, if they did have the ability to write a job description for an ideal parent, what might that look like? Maybe like this:
Wanted: Someone to love me, to play with me, to listen to me, to help me, to comfort me, to believe in me, to read with me, to tuck me in at night, to be real with me, to partner with me, and to like me. No experience or prior training required, but must be willing to grow and have a strong desire to improve. Oh, and it helps if you like Vanilla Wafers and make good sundaes.
It's really just that simple, isn't it?
Kids, in my opinion, don't expect a lot from their parents. They see the world in simple terms: fun or not, good or bad, happy or sad, etc. And because they are so free in their thoughts, unencumbered by the "benefit of perspective and experience" that drives so much fear and caution in adults, they are free to explore the infinite details of their worlds. Their world involve newness, and wonder, and freedom, and possibility, and joy. And so many adults do the exact opposite to their children - they make them live in a world of experience and training, and realism, and restriction, and probability, and structure - mostly designed for the convenience of the parent, not for the benefit of the miraculous child.
So What's Next?
I am not the ideal parent all the time, and I know it. But there are so many kids out there who suffer at the hands of parents who simply suck, that it breaks my heart. Some of these parents suck because they just don't care - they are choosing to suck, and they don't want to do anything more. But some of these parents are simply struggling - they may want to do better, but don't see a way to do it any differently than they are. I want to do something for those people. Something big maybe, or something small; something that helps all of them or just one at a time. But something, anything, has got to give so that more parents have the tools and perspectives to treat their children with love and respect and dignity. Because, after all, that all our children are really asking of us.