During the first two years of a child’s life, the responsible parent pays a lot of attention to, and does a lot for, the child. In effect, the parent serves the child, who is almost constantly at the center of the parent’s attention.
Sometime around the child’s second birthday, however, a parent’s job description changes from servant to socializer. This requires the parent to initiate the most important of all transitions in the parent-child relationship - turning it right-side up.
By the time the child is 3 - assuming the parent stays the course through the child’s protests and often desperate attempts to keep things the way they were (collectively termed the “terribles”) - the parent has taken his or her proper position at the center of the child’s attention.
This “swap” in terms of who pays attention to whom is key to the success of all discipline - the process by which parents turn their children into disciples, little people who will follow their parents’ lead.
All the evidence points to these conclusions:
Most parents of baby boomers (children born between 1944 and 1964) succeeded at making this swap.
Most baby boomers, as parents, have failed to make this swap. Their bent has been to put their children at the center of their attention and keep them there, to serve them perpetually, to treat them as if they were not supposed to ever stand on their own two feet.
As a consequence, the last generation of well-behaved children in these United States is rearing the first generation of ill-behaved children in these United States. I refer to these children as “psychological toddlers” because no matter how big they get, they remain petulant, demanding, self-centered, rude, ungrateful and disobedient.
Further compounding the problem is baby boomer parents tend to embrace the notion their children’s ill behavior is due to various forces outside the parameters of parental control: school pressures, biological mechanisms, and so on. Unfortunately, parents who submit to this temptation will never, ever gain control of their relationships with their children.
The question becomes, do they even want to? I’ve noticed many parents act as if they’d rather be victims of their children’s problems than take responsibility for them. I encounter them regularly: long-suffering parents resigned to the problem-children life has dealt them and spare no effort to tell all who will listen how much effort is required in order to survive 18-plus years of bearing the crosses that are those children.
When I suggest the parents can set these crosses down any time they choose, they often look at me as if I’m speaking a different language.
In fact, I am.
I’m speaking the language of informing children, all children, of Three Eternal Rules:
1. Regardless whether you realize it or accept it, you are completely responsible for the choices you make.
2. If you make bad choices, bad things will happen - maybe not right away, but sooner or later.
3. If you make good choices, it is considerably less likely that bad things will happen.
These have been The Rules since Adam and Eve, and they are still The Rules - and only those who understand them have a shot at successfully pursuing happiness.
Unfortunately, because parents with a disciplined view of their children are a rarity these days, because toddlerhood has become everlasting, because today’s parents would rather the buck stop elsewhere, I fear today’s kids have less of a shot at happiness than has ever before been the case. What a tragic price to pay for self-esteem.
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