The other day, I was asleep on the couch when there was a knock on the door. It was Mike, a friend from Denver who had been one of the kids in a youth group I mentored twenty-five years ago. He made an impromptu trip to West Texas to be with his dad Jon, who had just had emergency brain surgery a couple days before. His parents were preparing to leave for Minnesota the next day, and Mike and Jon stopped by to say “hi” before their departure.
To this day, I am astounded by the duration of my friendship with Mike and the other young people in the youth group, now nearing age 40, who were teens when I first met them. Their friendship was important to me, but I have never (until now) tried to explain in writing why an enduring bond was created between them and me has survived for a quarter-century.
In this strange mission I have adopted of defending parricides, I see many examples of what not to do as a parent. Don’t beat your kids. Don’t call them names or belittle them. Don’t indulge your kinky sexual desires on them, and on and on. But not doing something is harder to do than doing something positive. It is like trying to fill a space with a vacuum, rather than with something solid.
So what is a parent to do that will preclude their doing any of the Don’ts?
Since I began working with parricides, I have observed that most (if not all) dead parents have been control freaks. In raising children, it is important for a parent to exercise a certain amount of control over their children. Without a modicum of control, the child may take unsafe risks, engage in anti-social behavior, and may become a hazard to one’s self and a threat to others. But these parents—the dead ones—went too far. They mistook their child’s exercise of judgement and independence as acts of defiance and disobedience, an affront to what the parent regarded as his or her authority.
But this is not the heart of the problem. If strictness were a sin, there would be many more juvenile and adult parricides than the 300 or so we see in the US each year. No, the real problem is when such parents do not regard the spirits, the individuality of their children, with reverence and respect. Even when one is in conflict with a child, he or she can be treated as something other than a mere obstacle to the parent’s will.
I first started thinking about the proper relationship between youth and adults thirty years ago when I saw the film The Karate Kid. As you will recall, at first Mr. Miyagi wanted nothing to do with Daniel and his problems. Daniel saw the learning of karate as the solution to his problems with a gang of boys who were bullying him, but Miyagi was unwilling to follow Daniel’s lead. Then he changed his mind, and Daniel was finally able to learn to stand on his own.
It occurred to me at the time that an adult—a parent even—must be willing to respect and follow the vision of youth or the full potential of a situation is beyond our grasp. Adults may have the knowledge, skills, and experience which may be conferred with age, but they don’t see everything at first. It is often the young person who has a vision of what is truly possible.
I think it is this respect for young people which was—and is—at the heart of the regard young people feel for me and I feel for them. And I have come to believe that it is the lack of this respect that is at the heart of so many problems between some young people and their parents.
Groove of the Day