Q: I am a parent who volunteers in the office of a school. Yesterday a student came in with a note for his teacher: “Please excuse my son from doing his homework. He had a soccer game last night and was too tired to finish it.” Just the day before a mother came in to bring her child’s homework and another her daughter’s textbook. This was so they didn’t get a zero or detention. It’s like this all day, every day. As a parent who doesn’t do those things, I’m starting to feel like a monster. Should I give in?
Absolutely not. Stand your ground. Your children will be happier and healthier as a result.
These parents are doing this so their children don’t have to experience pain, discomfort, or inconvenience. Little Johnny is tired, so we must let him sleep. Detention isn’t fun, so we must rescue our child from the despair. A zero is hurtful to all of us, so drastic measures must be enacted. These are very short-sighted views.
We can all agree that we want our children to be happy. We all hate it when our children cry, are sad, suffer, or hurt.
But can we also agree that sometimes the crying, sadness, suffering, and hurt are necessary to ensure that our children’s happiness is genuine and lasts longer than just today?
What if I told you that I know two parents who used to go into their children’s room every night and deliberately inflict them with physical pain? Their children would cry out in anguish, but the parents never veered from their nightly assaults.
You might feel like calling the police right now. What kind of monsters would let their children endure such agony, much less inflict it themselves? But in reality, these are two of the most loving parents I know.
They adopted their twin daughters from China. These girls were neglected as infants and came to America with problems in the bone structure of their legs. The remedy was that every night the children’s adopted mother or father had to place painful braces on them. If the braces remained on through the night for a year or so, the girl’s legs would begin to grow normally.
The parents were tormented every time they went in to put on those braces. The children would cry and scream, “Please don’t. No, mommy. No, daddy. It hurts.” It broke their parents’ hearts to hurt them like this.
But as much as they wanted their children to be happy and sleep peacefully every night for that harrowing year, the parents did not waver. They were determined to help their daughters grow up to walk normally, play sports, and run around like all the other kids. They were determined to do this because it was good for their daughters’ futures, even though it meant pain tonight.
Parents should have the same attitude toward their children’s sense of responsibility as we might toward their legs and health. We have to understand that in order for them to grow right and have a chance at a happy, healthy, productive life, it will sometimes mean tears, pain, and discomfort in the here and now.
But a growing number of parents choose not to look at the long term. We are an “insta” culture. We only want what looks good in today’s post. We don’t think ahead to 20 years down the road.
A poll recently conducted by the New York Times found that 75 percent of parents with children ages 18-29 had made doctor, hair stylist, or other such appointments for their adult children. Seventy-five percent also had reminded their college children of school deadlines. Sixteen percent had called or texted their college children to make sure they didn’t sleep through a class or test.
Sound absurd? It gets worse. Eleven percent said if their child had an issue at work, they would contact the employer. Eight percent had, in fact, contacted their child’s professor about a grade or class issue.
The upshot of all this, of course, is that children are growing up to become adults who can’t do anything for themselves. They are unable to overcome the mildest of obstacles. And when adults aren’t responsible enough to take care of their own basic needs, who do you blame? As the Oompa Loompas sagely sang, “Blaming the kids is a lie and a shame.” You know who is to blame: mom and dad.
So the answer here is easy. If your child forgets his book, let him face the natural consequences. The same goes if he was too tired to do his homework or if he left it at home. Consequences inspire us to change our habits, and changing our habits is how we mature in the right direction. No child changes his behavior because it inconveniences his parents. He does so when it inconveniences him.
I know it’s difficult because of how much we love our children, but sometimes you have to take a deep breath, go into their room, and put on those braces. If you don’t, they might never learn to walk on their own.