I recently asked a married couple who have three kids, none of whom are yet teens, “Who are the most important people in your family?”
Like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they answered, “Our kids!”
“Why?” I asked. “What is it about your kids that gives them that status?” And like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they couldn’t answer the question, other than to fumble with appeals to emotion.
So I answered the question for them: “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status.”
I pointed out that many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage and their family exist because of the kids, when it is the other way around. Their kids exist because of them, and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.
Furthermore, without them, their kids wouldn’t eat well, have nice clothing, live in a nice home, enjoy great vacations and so on. Instead of lives that are relatively carefree (despite the drama to the contrary that they occasionally manufacture), their children would be living lives full of worry and want.
This issue is the heart of the matter. People my age know this because, when we were kids, it was clear that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that is why we respected our parents, and that is why we looked up to adults in general. Yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the United States, children were second-class citizens, to their advantage.
It was also clear to us that our parents’ marriages were more important to them than their relationships with us. Therefore, we did not sleep in their beds or interrupt their conversations. The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities. Mom and Dad talked more — a lot more — with one another than they talked with us. For lack of pedestals, we emancipated earlier and more successfully than today’s children.
The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO. The most important person in a classroom is the teacher. And the most important person in a family is the parent.
The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.
“Our child is the most important person in our family” is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled.
You don’t want that. Unbeknownst to your child, he doesn’t need that. And neither does America.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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