Twenty years ago, in this same paper, I wrote a sincere column about the many reasons I would never embrace life as a pushover parent.
Mostly, I penned it to get some things off my chest and to send two very strong-willed boisterous male children a message. They were not going to run over me, disrespect me, call the shots in our home, or lack the integrity to take responsibility for mistakes. I was totally unprepared for the generous feedback and response.
Back then, I was still a radio news anchor for CBS Radio/KVIL in Dallas. By the time I made it to work that afternoon, I was handed a ton of pink paper, all messages from readers. There were also several calls to the newsroom, from listeners, as well as notes from co-workers applauding my “boot-camp,” tough-love style.
Many parents confessed to being exhausted from working two jobs just to keep their ungrateful offspring in designer gear. Others expressed tremendous guilt at not being home for more quality time, because they wanted to give their children “a better life” than theirs. I asked several parents the same question: “How is it that we had less, but turned out better?”
Over the next few days, I was invited to speak at numerous events. I found myself bombarded by hundreds of North Texas parents who promised to stop being “a pushover parent” and take back their homes, demand their children work for what they want instead of having everything handed to them on a big Lone Star platter. As parents, when we first vowed to ensure our children had the best of everything, exactly what were we committing to provide?
Money in the bank is not enough to make a child rich, or responsible.
As the years went by, numerous challenges with my sons drained me and a sad divorce separated me from their father, and I would smile at the column and continue to be true to my mission of building character and consistency, not storing cash for their convenience. Many times, these boys provided the “times that try men’s (and women’s) souls.” But I kept pushing and guiding, loved and nurtured, punished and chastised. I prayed, for them, and with them, always demonstrating hard work and eyes on the prize.
The simple column pierced my heart again a few nights ago. Anderson Cooper was interviewing a grief-stricken husband and father who lost his wife and daughter because of the actions of a 16-year old drunken driver named Ethan Couch.
Ethan’s defense was largely built on the thesis that “affluenza” affected his entire world, his ability to process right from wrong, and his belief that he was, somehow, entitled. A multitude of his peers have made us reflect on how they process reality, pain, sex, suffering and life.
What is it a 16-year-old has accomplished that deserves a lavish birthday bash, a new car, or used truck, and bribery laced with possessions just to entice them to do what they should anyway? What is it that a 9-year-old has done, except be cute, that merits being rewarded with an allowance and a cellphone? What is it that a 2-year-old has achieved, besides the ability to say no, that grants him the right to dictate (as I saw in the grocery store once) what kind of cereal his mother buys?
If our children don’t respect us or can’t honor the rules of our home, why are they being rewarded for mediocrity? Until parents stop being pushovers and do the right thing, their children will play them like an out-of-tune piano.
Good parents, exhale. It’s OK to be a loving, compassionate dad or mom. But be firm. It’s wonderful to shower a sense of security on your child, as long as that security is not decorated by indifferent prosperity. Let us all be more aware of embracing humility for humanity so this generation will value people over possessions.