Setting the bar too low

(Warning: Rant to follow containing highly opinionated statements about parenting.)

"You and J. are such calm people, no wonder your children are so well-behaved."

"My children are just so high energy, there is no way I could ask them to sit still."

Or, how about:

"Boy, you were sure lucky when they were handing out kids." (In reference to behavior.)

Yes, J. and I actually have had all these statements (or variations of them) said to us. We enjoy receiving compliments on our children's behavior. It is a gratifying reward for our hard work. But there is another side to these compliments whether the speaker meant it or not, because they are also implying that our children's good behavior is merely a function of luck or genetics. Or as in the middle example, there is a tacit implication that our children are somehow not normal. All of the statements completely negate all of the hard work which J. and I put into training our children.

By implicating genetics or luck or abnormality as the cause of children's good behavior, it then becomes something that parents do not have any control over. Can I just say I think this is an enormous cop out? Sure there is plenty about parenting about which we have no control: a child's inclination toward obedience, a child's energy level, a child's self-awareness. Really, just about everything. But this does not give us an excuse to accept poor behavior or to abdicate our responsibility in training our children. If anything, it makes training that much more important because there are no guarantees about how a child will behave if left to him or herself.

Perhaps the problem lies in really not understanding the needs of young children, their abilities, and what is harmful to them. We set them down in front of the television at a young age... when what they need is interaction and conversation with adults. We read them books that are drivel because they are about a favorite cartoon character... when what they need are books that expand their vocabularies and stretch their imaginations. We hand them innumerable worksheets... when what they need is contact with the physical world. We entertain them constantly... when what they need is to learn to make their own entertainment. We allow them to call the shots because it's easier... when what they need are definite boundaries and limits so they can feel safe. We make other things gods and attend church when it fits into our schedules... when what they need is the love and saving grace of the Savior who made the universe.

By taking the path least resistance, we stunt our children's abilities to think, to listen, to understand, do difficult things, and, yes, sit still. (Well, relatively still...I am the mother of four boys. I can handle a little wiggling.) In effect, we set the bar too low for what a young child is able to manage and then act surprised when our teenagers are still behaving like three year olds. Thirteen is too old to begin to train your child.

But parenting is work... hard work... nearly constant work, and I am baffled by parents who don't understand this. Yes, it's difficult to train my child to sit through a worship service and to get something out of the sermon. Yes, it's frustrating to have to practice first time obedience over and over and over. Yes, it's tiring to correct the child every time he whines. But you know what? I don't recall anyone ever saying it was going to be easy. And really, parenting is not about the parent. It's not whether the parent is too tired or too busy to parent. It's not about whether the parent feels something is 'their time' or not. It's about raising children to be thoughtful, considerate, Godly, functioning adults. Parents can retire when their job is done.

Now, before you frantically hit the comment button, telling me about why your child should be given a pass in the behavior department, let me be clear. I am fully aware that some children have challenges that most do not have. I am not implying that if these children's parents just parented better, their children would be fine. But even for these children, parents are still called to be parents and to help them reach their full potential, it's just that it will look different for them than for others. And we as fellow parents need to extend grace to those families. I am addressing the parents who have either abdicated their responsibilities or have never been trained themselves in what is possible for their children. So, be the grown-up. Set the bar high for what you expect of your children and then help them to achieve that goal.


Lucy said…
I too am very gratified when my childrens' behavior is complemented. And it makes me proud of them for rising (or trying to rise) to the standards that we set.

But those comments don't negate your hard work. They simply don't give single it out for verbal recognition. They reflect, as you say, a cop out by the parent for their own disappointment.
Amy said…
I just finished Endangered Minds (fascinating), so I'm ready for your next recommendation. Do you have a favorite parenting book?
susieloulou said…
Well said! Good for you!
Anonymous said…
Just listened this week to a series by Allister Begg on Truth for Life related to parenting. Yesterdays messages goes right in line with what you are sharing. He challenges parents to face their God given responsibility to PARENT and outlines from God's Word how to do so. Very helpful and encouraging. You can listen at his website.
SAHMinIL said…
cop-out are "easy", it implies no real work needs to be done. To many people, in my opinion, are looking for the easy street.

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