Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Myth of the Perfect Parent

When I was a young man just beginning a family I was convinced that how our children eventually turned out was pretty much a matter of how good a job my wife and I did as parents. As time went on and I saw more and more friends who were committed to doing the best parenting job they could, struggle with rebellious, defiant children or children who simply failed to adopt the values and beliefs they (and I) thought necessary for successful adulthood, I gradually began to see how wrong I was.

A lot of parents are filled with guilt at how their children turned out because they believe that if they had done something differently their children would have been different. They're like the person who believes that when answers to prayer don't come that it must somehow be because of something they're not doing right.

The truth of the matter, I've come to believe, is that our contribution to a child's formation is much less than what I used to think, and now a lot of "experts" on parenting are drawing the same conclusion. an article in Christianity Today by Leslie Leyland Fields discusses some of what psychologists and others are finding about the influence that parents have on the kind of young adults their children become.

Fields is writing specifically for Christians, but what she says is applicable to everyone who struggles with children who seem to be programmed to make every bad choice it's possible to make. She starts off her essay with a story, the details of which might vary from family to family, but the main theme of which seems sometimes to be nearly universal:

My family and I were traveling in Guatemala a few years ago. We visited a man who had given his life to serving a poor congregation. We sat at the kitchen table with him, a man who had been bent into humility by the burdens of pastoring in a struggling nation while raising four children. Still in the muddy trenches of parenthood with our five sons and one daughter, we confessed to him our feelings of inadequacy.

"Your children are grown. What have you learned looking back on your years of child-raising? Do you have any advice for us?" We looked at him, needy, expectant.

He would have none of it. "I'm not one to talk to. I don't exactly have a perfect record." One of his children was immersed in an addiction, he told us, visibly sad. Another had a failed marriage.

He was silent for a moment, nodding slowly, and then continued. "I never lived up to my mother's expectations either. I've been reading her journal lately, and I see how she prayed for me, what she prayed. And I've never lived up to what she hoped for me," he said, his voice a near-whisper. "I think she considered me a failure."

In my mother-mind, I supplied the last words: "And considered herself a failure as a parent." This conversation shook me profoundly, touching one of my deepest concerns.

Read the whole piece. Especially if you're a parent or aspire to be one.


Rendering Unto Caesar

Here's an ethical problem for our readers to ponder:

A businessman tells a customer that if the customer pays cash for the service he has been provided the businessman will not charge him tax. If the customer pays with a check or credit card the businessman has to charge the tax. Suppose the tax would amount to a significant sum - let's say $100.

Is the customer morally obligated to pay the tax whether he can avoid it or not? Is it wrong for the customer to pay cash in order to avoid the tax? If he would have paid cash in any event should he also volunteer to pay the $100 tax? Can he rightfully justify avoiding the tax by arguing to himself that he will use that $100 to purchase other goods from other merchants that will help them stay in business whereas the state will simply squander the money, perhaps even using it to line the pockets of legislators?

I welcome your responses to these questions, but please include the reasons which support your judgment.