Sunday, February 3, 2013

Truly Caring for the Kids

by Charles Moncrief

Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.  Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

Whenever a political hack wants to gain power and build favor with constituents, especially following a traumatic national event, speechmakers appear on television and in news photos with children surrounding them. Why? Because it works. It’s a cheap and dirty form of child trafficking, one of the worst. Anytime a point cannot be made on its own merits, a favorite tactic is to drag the kids into the fray.

Some precedents from recent history include Chairman Mao of Red China, Kim Jong Il of communist North Korea, Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany, and Fidel Castro of communist Cuba. I admit that my ideals are different from those on this list, but I'd be just as disgusted to see some preacher surrounding himself with children as he pleads “Please bring your children to Sunday school, so that they don’t go to hell.” The believed merits of a cause simply do not justify this form of presentation.

While I'm writing this within a few weeks following the Connecticut school shooting, I'd rather leave the debates about gun control to those who follow those tactics. Instead of walking on those hot coals, my purpose is to focus on a much better treatment of children than launching a modern-day cheap version of the Children’s Crusade in the thirteenth century.*

Rather than dwell on child trafficking and abuse at the political and media level, we might want to look at forms of abuse that can occur at the level where we have some control and influence: the home. Admittedly, observations and reflections are intuitive; I'm no expert on raising children, and I'm suspicious of anyone who claims to be. But here are some observations and considerations.

Trauma or violence.Well-balanced children tend to come from peaceful homes, where there is respect and acceptance even for differences. And the opposite is true; unbalanced children generally come from traumatic home life where disrespect abounds. Violence in the home, whether physical or verbal, has its effect even on the children who are not the direct targets of the violence.

Parental example. Parents can have far-reaching effects on the children simply by the example they set. There’s no such thing as “when the children aren’t looking”. Children may be young, but they’re not incapable of picking up clues that build a picture for them over time. While nobody’s suggesting a return to the Ozzie and Harriet days, it makes sense to consider the effects of the behavioral examples parents set for their children.

Parental absence. How familiar is the story of a father whose success in business or society became more important than his family? Often a father or mother becomes so obsessed with providing for the children, at the expense of the relationship with those children. I get the picture of a parent driving by the house and throwing a bag of cash, food, or clothing into the front yard for the children to pick up.

Parental discipline. Failure to have realistic expectations on children’s formation can breed an atmosphere of disrespect and resentment. Remembering that children are not simply adults in small packages, it’s important to set standards of behavior and to enforce them. A child who knows his or her boundaries is actually much more free than one who doesn’t. Bruno Bettelheim offered an illustration of a child playing in a fenced-in yard, who knew the boundaries. He compared the situation to that of a child in an unfenced yard, who developed a fear of straying because there were no boundaries to serve as a guide.

Parental favoritism. Even the children who “benefit” from favoritism tend to have little respect for their parents, maybe more so than those who get the less favored treatment. The failure to provide even-handed discipline can have lifelong consequences when the children turn into adults.

In principle, the responses to these might be too simplistic:

  • Provide a peaceful and nurturing environment for the children.
  • Set examples of maturity in front of the children, even when you think they aren’t looking.
  • Be present with the kids. They’d rather have your presence than your presents.
  • Set standards of discipline and behavior, with consistent enforcement.
  • Don’t play favorites.
I don’t like the simplistic responses, so I'll leave that to those truly skilled in the art of raising children into adults. But I would like to offer a few thoughts for the wounded veterans of relationships, since most of us live in some form of that state.

Repairing broken relationships. Consider the possibility that it is never too late to mend fences. Whether with alienated children or broken relationships with former close friends. If you can build up the strength to try (or to try YET AGAIN), this might be the time when you find gold. At least, you might find yourself liking the person you see in the mirror.

Reaching out. If you think you’re meeting a person halfway, think again. If you think you’re reaching out more than halfway, think again. Better yet, get an objective opinion from someone you trust.

Being open to honest feedback. Rather than considering the source, try considering the content. One scene comes to mind from “Last Holiday” in which a corporate president says (paraphrased) “She made a lot of accusations and we took it, because we thought she was someone important.” Sometimes the least of those around us can offer the greatest value if we will but pay attention. Remember, “The emperor has no clothes!” came from the mouth of a child.

Forgiveness kept in private. Before entering the presence of the person you’re reaching out to, silently and to yourself say the person’s name followed by “I forgive you”. Then never say it to the person’s face, at least as a lead-off line. At least, make the approach from a posture that the issue is too complicated to offer blame.

Even an attempt to repair a broken relationship can have far-reaching benefits. The grown children may not be receptive, even to the first hundred attempts, but they will on some level have to acknowledge that you’ve made the effort.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked this way all the time? We can all hope and pray for a perfect world, though we can at the same time hope and pray for the strength -- and even the sense of humor -- to deal with the reality that the system has its flaws. All the best in your journey through this new year.

Grace and Peace,

* Legend, tradition, and lore have muddied the water about the events and sentiments surrounding the Children’s Crusade. Many modern historians even claim the participants were impoverished adults. Regardless, I'm using the name for what the words imply: exploitation of children to sell an idea that cannot stand on its own merits.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Charles! You have a way of getting to the heart of the matter... As a Connecticut resident still reeling from this massive event, I think if Adam Lantz's mother had some of these lessons early on, the outcome would have been far different!

    Thank you for caring!

    Donna "Ladyjusrtice"


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