Written by: Preston Chapin Soriano
Congratulations, you’re having a baby! Whether it be a happy surprise or a planned event, you are now expecting a little bundle of joy. For those of you who are excited about the prospect of parenting, big hopes and dreams for your child are inevitable. With those wishes you start to envision what kind of person your child will be, and how you as a parent are going to get them there. It is important to understand that everything that you are imagining is fictitious because first and foremost you do not own your child or their future. You are a temporary guardian whose only jobs are to protect them, guide them, and meet their basic needs. You, as the parent, automatically owe these things to your child. This is the immediate cost of the choice to have children.
When your child is born, they are physically and mentally handicapped. They cannot walk or talk, they have absolutely no knowledge about the world, they are completely 100% dependent on their caretakers for survival. As a society that views our greatest gifts as freedom and free will, it is a cruel irony to think that our first choice–our choice to live–is not even our own. To so unwillingly be thrust into such a situation, and then be required to now pay for it would not only be an unfair proposition but morally despicable on the part of the debt collector. Naturally people would assume that since they are not asking for money to raise their children, then they should at least love, respect, and obey their parents. But these are not currencies. Love, respect, and obedience that is indebted tarnishes the very meanings of those words.
We love out of an expression of shared virtues. We respect out of reverence and admiration. We obey because we trust wisdom and experience.
To force love is to admit that you are not virtuous. Children are the only people in our lives that we feel that we can manipulate into caring about us. In every other relationship, we must show that we are worth loving. With a verbal, emotional, and written contract, among witnesses and with complete conscientious consent even marriages fail. How can we possibly hold children, who made no conscious decision to be your devoted anything–much less your child–to a higher standard than a marriage contract. Small children have no concept of love, they cannot comprehend all of its complex faculties that sadly even most adults have trouble grasping. Love is a value that can only be seen over time. Natural love is completely involuntary. It is not something that you can invoke or force in yourself. For the parents who believe that their children love them consider this: one day your adolescent child may come home claiming that they fell in love with someone they met at school, they say that they are head over heels, it’s real, and they’re the happiest that they’ve ever been (ect, ect). What is your first thought as a parent? Are you more likely to be excited for them, or be dismissive about their notions of “real” love? If you pick the former then congratulations! You are confident in your child’s abilities to decipher complex emotions. If you picked the latter, then I hate to be the barer of bad news, but you have effectively dismissed all of the previous claims of love that your child had for you when they were barely able to form sentences.
To force respect is to claim your lack of admirable qualities. Anyone who believes this is a viable approach to respect has absolutely no idea what the word actually means. In a way, demanding respect is worse than demanding love. Not only are you demanding love from them, but you are also demanding that they admire your values and worldviews regardless of the truths that are held (or not held) within. While love might only include feelings for one another, respect takes it a step further to include quality of character and the repeatability of moral or logistical decisions. Like love, this is an involuntary reaction to the actions and values of the individual or ideology. I cover more of this topic in my blog post Demanding Respect, Stealing Virtue
To force obedience is to show that you are not wise or trustworthy. Of the three, forced obedience is by far the worst offense. Now you are forcing love, admiration, and then commanding them to follow your lead without question. Obedience is not a one-sided ordeal. It is an automatic reaction to trusting in your experience and knowing that you truly have their best interests in mind. Small children who are forced to obey do not do so out of respect or even love, but out of fear of unknowing. When a child disobeys a parent, they do so because their is some facet about the instruction that they do not understand. It is not their job to find out what that is, it is the parents’ job. You will not teach anything valuable to anyone with the “because I said so” explanation. To understand anything takes time, and children are no exception. Their continued lack of understanding is self evident of the continued failure to teach them. It is your job to know what your child knows. Not what you think they know but what they actually know. We are all born with individual desires. We want what we want. From the youngest infant to the oldest adult, we want to impose our will on our immediate environment, whether it is pushing blocks or remodeling our home. To give obedience is to abandon personal desires for the desires of someone else as an act of unabashed, explicit trust. This is a challenge that many adults face when dealing with other adults, so again it is insanity to expect this from small children.
Your child did not choose to be born into this world. You made that decision for them. Because of this, it is your duty to love and respect them more than you do anyone else. To teach your children these things, the only way is by example. Love, honor, respect, and teach your children the importance of these things by showing them. Children are not empty vessels to be filled, they are mirrors that reflect you. There is no inherent knowledge in a child that is magically unlocked with age, or time, or singular events. Their behavior, their temperance, and their reasoning is a direct result to their relationship with the parent (pending mental damage, of course). Their faults are your faults, and to punish the mirror for your own reflection is to willfully neglect the flaws in your own character.
The title of parent is not some grand position. You are still a human being who has flaws and will make mistakes. Your children will see this, absorb it, and repeat it whether you want them to or not. This makes the true challenge in parenting consistency in the treatment of your child. That consistency will define how your child reacts to you, those who govern by fear will raise fearful children, children who keep secrets, and lie to avoid punishment. Those who raise children with love will teach children empathy, which will allow them to properly access the emotional needs of others. Empathy is the key to loving, respecting, and obeying of your own free will. Empathy can never be tempered by violence and fear. Ruling from authority will only gain you a temporary illusion of respect, which will only last until the child is physically large enough to supercede the physical (and mental) limitations set in by the parent. In contrast, raising them with love, patience, and empathy will allow them to reciprocate those actions towards others. It needs to be forged into a habit, and habits take time.
That is what you owe your children. Time. There is no drive-by parenting. If you are not the primary example for your child, they will learn their morals, behaviors, and characteristics from other outlets. Television, friends, and other adults can all take over that role of guardian which can be devastating for the child in question. In these outlets, children become more susceptible to bullies because they have no parental base to help them build their confidence, they often lack self esteem and become negatively introverted. Or, they become bullies themselves. Every positive moment you spend with your children will make them stronger morally, emotionally, and intellectually. Your career, your hobbies, your outside activities are mute in comparison to the importance of raising your children peacefully. By raising, I mean full-time raising. Any form of outside influence should never exceed the amount of time that you spend with your child. Let’s be clear, this is a full-time job that demands rigorous amounts of involvement. This is something that can not be substituted by material distractions. This is the most blatantly obvious, but least followed advice that parents receive. Spend time with your children. Make them your number one priority. Excuses will be meaningless when your child becomes an adult and reflects back on your parenting.
As parents, you are raising the next generation. Don’t raise assholes <3
If you are interested in child psychology and behavioral studies, I encourage you to research. It is a fascinating topic that will benefit your child (and/or future children) greatly.