Paul Prather: Your kids are your responsibility

Paul Prather
Paul Prather

In my last column I acknowledged that I'm pretty much a liberal now, at least by the topsy-turvy, good-is-bad, Orwellian standards of 2013.

Notwithstanding that, a few arenas remain in which I'm not only non-progressive — I'm a reactionary.

One of those is child rearing. I believe the overall quality of parenting in this country has sunk to its all-time nadir.

Few in my circle of wife, family and friends share my opinion. They politely listen to me rant, then wander off muttering about confiscating my tinfoil hat.

I don't care.

For instance, in 1990, when the Kentucky Education Reform Act made headlines, I kept saying, "This is well-intended, but reform won't work. We'll spend billions and hardly make a dent, because we're addressing the wrong problem. The problem isn't the teachers. The problem isn't the students. The problem with education is the parents."

Two decades later, we're still wringing our hands and touting ever-shifting reforms — and I can't see we've improved education a whit. So I repeat, for the 10,000th time: The problem is the parents. Even more so today than in 1990.

I'm a parent myself. I'm a grandparent, too.

I know firsthand how challenging it is to raise kids.

And no parent or grandparent, including me, is flawless. Real life is messy and not always amenable to pat answers.

Also, some children are more difficult than others, and some are born with emotional problems or other issues that make rearing them harder still.

Occasionally, I've known parents who did almost everything right and their offspring still went wrong.

All that said, effective parenting is possible, assuming you've got a kid who's fairly teachable to begin with — just a goofy, garden-variety child. As a parent, you don't have to bat a thousand. You just have to get it mostly right most of the time.

So, while I've got my tinfoil hat on, here are my suggestions for raising productive, respectful, educable children.

■ If you're emotionally a child yourself, don't have children. Parenting is for grown-ups. If it's too late, if you've already got kids, grow up. Now.

■ Get married and stay married. Study after study has shown that kids reared in intact homes with both parents present are, on average, healthier, wealthier, better students and less at risk for every social ill than kids reared by single parents or in broken homes. Should you stay in a less-than-blissful marriage for the sake of the children? Assuming there's no physical danger or insanity — probably yes. Enduring unhappiness for your children's benefit is your duty.

■ Don't abuse drugs or alcohol. You can't be a responsible parent if you're stoned out of your gourd. I sound like Nancy Reagan, but just ... say ... no.

■ Remember, your children are no one else's responsibility. You brought them into the world — they're your job. Not the schools' job. Not the church's job. Not your parents' job. Man (or woman) up. But you'd rather go out clubbing, you say? You'd rather have your freedom? Tough beans, pal.

■ Quit being your kids' bestest buddy. You're the adult. Teach your children to do the right things the right ways at the right times for the right reasons. This may make you unpopular. So what? They're 10 years old, for crying out loud. Ask yourself: Am I so needy I require constant approval from a 10-year-old?

■ If they get into trouble, assume it's their fault. Your child's schoolteacher has 25 other kids in her class. There's no motive for him or her to arbitrarily pick on your precious darling — unless that precious darling did something wrong. Don't rush to school (or church, or the ball field) to blast the teacher (youth group leader, coach). That's not being a protector; that's being an enabler. It teaches Junior that rules don't apply to him and turns him into a sociopath. Let him reap the consequences of his errors.

■ Don't raise your voice. Nobody profits from being yelled at or hit, including kids. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Explain your decisions and laws calmly, then stick to them. You have to outlast the little heathens.

■ Create a learning environment at home. Make it clear — by being a reader and a student yourself — that education is vital.

■ Let your children face normal adversity. They're going to encounter adults, not to mention other children, who are stupid, surly and unreasonable, who bench them on the ball team or omit them from the party invitation list. This is wonderful! It's great preparation. Life is often frustrating and unfair. They'd better learn that now.

■ Never let them suffer true abuse. There's a difference between an adult who's cranky or dumb and one who's molesting or beating them. If your kid is really in danger, it's your sacred obligation to lose your religion on his or her behalf.

■ Be the person you want your kids to become. Children are mimics. You are their role model, whether or not you intend to be. If you want them to work some day, then go to work every day. If you want them to be truthful, then be honest yourself.

■ Take them to church. They'll learn about grace and sin, about hope and charity. But if you merely send them while you pile up on the couch to watch football, you're saying these lessons are unimportant. Accompany them.

■ Hug them regularly and assure them you love them. Especially when they've messed up.

■ Pray for them. Pray for yourself, too, that you'll raise them right.

Tinfoil hat or not, I'm telling you that if parents did their jobs, we wouldn't need school reforms — or reform schools.