Mar. 7, 2017

BE LOVELY PARENT, BE FIRM

FAMILY MORALITY: BE LOVELY PARENT, BE FIRM

Christ teaches, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk.8:34-36). Child upbringing is like losing one’s life in order to save it. The joy of having kids is awesome on its own. It’s comes with a unique joy, joy of a new life and a new experience. I witnessed this beauty once upon a time in a young couple who flew with me on a local flight in Nigeria. The couple traveled with their kid, a boy of about six years. Seated beside me, these young parents were so enthused about their love that it was all family fun for the entire duration of the flight. They simply became the cynosure of our journey. They threw pillows across each other, jumped on top of another and made family life worth admiring. They tossed their little kid across each other while the kid laughed boisterously and wished for more. That’s the fun.

However, if we contextualize the statement, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it”, we recognize how much the challenges of parenting stare parents in the face. Being able to put bread on the table for one’s family is an important task. Taking charge of material welfare for one’s family especially the kids is a great role, but being real parents demands much more than provision of bread. It has a moral dimension.

I once had an encounter with a couple who had been married for sixty-six years. One question I asked them was, “Which aspect of marriage could you consider the hardest? For them, parenting is all encompassing; all aspects are quite tough. Eventually, they shared with me how tough taking decisions regarding their children was.  Bob and Jo are great disciplinarians. They love each other so much; love their children a great deal too. They had rules in their house that sometimes seemed unrealistic to the kids. But they maintained the rules. Their agreement was never to engage in misunderstanding before their kids, and they tried to stick to it even when it didn’t seem the right thing to do. Their secret, they told me was, “no one played the good guy before the kids, we’re all either bad or good same time”.

The New York Magazine published an article written by Jennifer Senior in 2010 titled, “All Joy No Fun: Why Parents hate parenting”. Part of the story in the article illustrated this scene: “It’s a weekday evening, and the mother in this videotape, a trim brunette with her hair in a bun and glasses propped up on her head, has already worked a full day and made dinner. Now she is approaching her 8-year-old son, the oldest of two, who’s seated at the computer in the den, absorbed in a movie. At issue is his homework, which he still hasn’t done.

“One. Two …”

 “I have to get it to the part and then pause it,” says the boy.

“No,” says his mother. “You do that after you do your homework.”

The boy starts to shout. “It’s not going to take that long!”

His mother stops the movie. “I’m telling you no,” she says. “You’re not hearing me. I will not let you watch this now.”

He starts up the movie again.

“No,” she repeats, her voice rising. She places her hand firmly under her son’s arm and starts to yank. “I will not have this—” This is called tough love; it could be tougher than putting bread on the table.

Maintaining family morality is a call that demands firmness in relation to kids.

What parents ought to do:

*Set standards and agree on what should be done: Always be parents together, that’s family. As parents, speak with one voice. Discordant voices spoil the show. Never seek cheap popularity at the expense of your spouse. Agree among yourselves and be sure you’re communicating the right things to your kids. If one spouse makes mistakes, correct privately or tactically in front of the kids. Do not let down your spouse before your kids. House rules should be established- Dos and Don’ts in the family make things run smoothly.

*Ask the question, “What profit is there for us to gain and forfeit our children?”: Set your family priorities. The short-term gain of answering good daddy and good mom simply because you pamper your children is unhelpful. That’s the practical implication of gaining one’s life to lose it. If you commit to training your kids the best way, they commit to losing some of the funs that go with it. Think of the case above. The mom had two choices: either to let the boy watch his show to the end and compromise his homework or shut it down and go for his homework. It is easier to choose to let him have his way and not feel bad. But what does “not feel bad” mean for a boy of eight? This has destroyed many kids today- “make him feel good at his expense”.

*Don’t be scared of the law, be concerned with your kid’s future: Some parents tell you that the law leans on the side of children, hence they are sacrosanct. That’s correct. But the same law will punish the kid if he becomes nuisance to the society tomorrow; if he is in trouble or joins gang and becomes an addict. And the parent will bear the shame. The law will never punish a parent for providing appropriate direction to her kids. Why not prevent that kid from falling into that trap and lose your favor with him temporarily? The child will appreciate you more for saving him from being a mess much earlier than for pampering him to stupidity in life. You need courage to be parent.

*Be friends with your kids but not peers: These are two different things- being friends and being peers. Every parent should be friends with the kids. Love them, and support them. Have fun with them. Share jokes with your kids, but never be their peers. This will give you the ability to caution and correct if necessary. It means providing guidance and direction as needed. It means providing resources for them at the right time and place. Being peers with your children might swallow all these, may lead to compromise, may warrant inappropriate jokes at times.

Let’s stop here for today, our reflection on family morality will continue.