Once again, a reader proves that parenting must be added to religion and politics as verboten subjects for polite conversation. A column I published in December went viral recently — yes, three months later (such things are mysteries to me). In it, I proposed that parents, not children, are the most important people in a family, and that the husband-wife relationship, not the parent-child relationship, should be first and foremost.
That is the natural state of affairs, after all. Families were parent- or marriage-centered for thousands of years. Then, in the 1960s, America suffered a parenting revolution in which psychological theory began to dominate and eventually all but extinguish common sense. Out of this revolution came the child-centered family, which is now the norm. Ironically, it also initiated a significant downturn in child and teen mental health, which continues to this day.
My critic responded to the column with vitriol that is not suitable for anyone, no matter how crass. I am, she said, a bleeping bleep who should be bleeped out of bleeping existence. Use your imagination. Or, better yet, don’t.
It will not matter to this reader or anyone of her ilk, but parenting outcome research confirms my position. Except during infancy, early toddlerhood and critical illness, it is not in a child’s best interest to be the center of attention in his/her family. The child may like and enjoy that state of affairs, but then children also prefer ice cream over broccoli. Rational people do not generally care what children like and don’t like.
Another way of saying this is to propose that the roles parents should occupy are husband and wife; or in the case of a single parent (as was my mother for most of the first seven years of my life), an adult whose life, from her child’s vantage, is interesting and therefore worth emulating.
You are not interesting to a child who is the focal point of your attention. Instead, the child will take you for granted. He will express his sense of entitlement by being demanding, ungrateful, disrespectful and obnoxious in ways perhaps your tunnel vision does not allow you to see (but others readily can).
A child-centered family is one in which the adults occupy the roles of daddy and mommy more than they occupy the roles of husband and wife. When you are daddy and mommy, you are paying attention to and doing things for your kids. When you are husband and wife, you are paying attention to your spouse, and your kids, quite naturally, will pay attention to you. That condition is essential to establishing parent authority, effective discipline and successful emancipation. Contrary to the post-1960s myth, children (except the very young) do not need a lot of attention. They need, instead, adults in their lives who are worthy of being paid attention. Respect for others is worth far more than high self-esteem.
There is nothing that puts a more solid foundation of security and well-being under a child’s feet than the knowledge that his parents are in a permanent relationship. That is not to say that a child raised by a single parent is insecure. If you are single, then by all means be an interesting person, a person who lives a full, rich life in front of your kids. My mother did that. And she was not at my beck-and-call. She even occasionally said, “John Rosemond, you do not need a mother right now, and I am not going to be one.”
It’s impossible to develop a sense of entitlement under those circumstances.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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