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PARENTING ISN'T FOR COWARDS
By James Dobson
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 1987 James Dobson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE CHALLENGE
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Have you noticed? Being a good parent seems to have become more difficult in recent years. It never has been all that easy, of course. For one thing, babies come into the world with no instructions and you pretty much have to assemble them on your own. They are also maddeningly complex, and there are no guaranteed formulas that work in every instance. The techniques that succeed magnificently with one child can fail bewilderingly with another.
Many parents do not understand this frustrating aspect of child-rearing because they have never experienced it. Through no great achievement of their own, they managed to produce a house full of "easy" children. My wife and I are acquainted with a family like that. They were blessed with three of the most perfect children you are likely to find. All three made straight A's in school, kept their rooms perpetually clean, were musically talented, ate with one hand in their laps, were first-team athletes, spoke politely and correctly to adults, and even had teeth that didn't need straightening! It was almost disgusting to see how well they turned out.
Predictably, our friends awarded themselves complete credit for the successes of their children. They were also inclined, at the drop of a hat, to tell you how to raise yours. Overconfidence oozed from their fingertips.
But then an interesting thing happened. The Lord, who must have a sense of humor, gift-wrapped a little tornado and sent it as a surprise package on the mother's fortieth birthday. That family has been stumbling backward ever since. Their little caboose, who is now six years old, is as tough as nails and twice as sharp. He loves to fight with his parents and already knows considerably more than they. Just ask him. He'll tell you. The funny thing about his parents is that they quit giving child-rearing advice shortly after his birth. Their job suddenly got tougher!
When I think of these parents today, I'm reminded of a photograph in my files of an elegantly dressed woman who is holding a cup of coffee. Her little finger is cocked ever so daintily to the side and her face reveals utter self-assurance. Unfortunately, this woman does not yet know that her slip has collapsed around her feet. The caption reads, "Confidence is what you have before you understand the situation." Indeed!
More than one tough-minded youngster has sandblasted the confidence of his parents. That's how he gets his kicks. If you have raised only compliant children who smiled regularly and then hustled off to do your bidding, then beware. You may not yet understand the situation. And the Lord could send you a surprise package too. Of this fact I'm certain: If you produce enough babies, you will discover sooner or later that there is nothing simple about human beings ... of any age.
From the mail I receive from parents it is clear to me that many are struggling with their responsibilities at home. To learn why, I asked one thousand mothers and fathers to describe the frustrations they were experiencing in child-rearing. Their answers were fascinating. Some talked of sticky telephones, wet toilet seats, and knotted shoestrings. Others told the most delightful stories.
I'll never forget the mother who had been cooped up with her toddler for several weeks. In a desperate effort to get out of the house, she decided to take her son to a Muppet movie ... his first. As soon as they arrived in the theater, the mother discovered a minor technical problem. The child didn't weigh enough to keep the spring seat down. There was nothing left to do but hold this churning, squirming two-year-old on her lap throughout the movie.
It was a mistake. Sometime during the next two hours, they lost control of a large Pepsi and a king-sized box of buttered popcorn! That gooey mixture flowed over the child onto the mother's lap and down her legs. She decided to sit it out since the movie was almost over. What she didn't know, unfortunately, was that she and her son were being systematically cemented together. When the movie was over, they stood up and the mother's wraparound skirt came unraveled. It stuck to the bottom of the toddler and followed him up the aisle! She stood there clutching her slip and thanking the Lord she had taken time to put one on!
Can't you see this mother desperately begging the child to drag her skirt back within reach? Parenthood can certainly be humiliating at times. It also seems specifically designed to irritate us. Tell me why it is that a toddler never throws up in the bathroom? Never! To do so would violate some great unwritten law in the universe. It is even more difficult to understand why he will gag violently at the sight of a perfectly wonderful breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, and orange juice ... and then go out and drink the dog's water. I have no idea what makes him do that. I only know that it drives his mother crazy!
Obviously, the parents who participated in our "Frustrations of Parenthood" poll did not just share their humorous experiences. They also provided some surprising and distressing answers. Rather than criticizing their children, as one might have expected, the most common response focused on their own inadequacies as mothers and fathers! Specific answers revealed the great self-doubt so prevalent among parents today:
"not knowing how to cope with children's problems"
"not being able to make the kids feel secure and loved"
"I've lost confidence in my ability to parent."
"I've failed my children."
"I'm not the example I should be."
"seeing my own bad habits and character traits in my children"
"inability to relate to my children"
"dealing with guilt when it seems that I have failed my sons"
"inability to cope"
"It's too late to go back and do it right."
"I'm overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all."
Isn't it incredible to observe just how tentative we have become about this task of raising children? Parenting is hardly a new technology. Since Adam and Eve graced the Garden, seventy-seven billion people have lived on this earth, yet we're still nervous about bringing up the baby. It is a sign of the times.
I'm quite certain that parents in past decades spent less energy worrying about their children. They had other things on their minds. I remember talking to my dad about this subject a few years before his death. Our children were young at the time and I was feeling the heavy responsibility of raising them properly.
I turned to my father and asked, "Do you remember worrying about me when I was a kid? Did you think about all the things that could go wrong as I came through the adolescent years? How did you feel about these pressures associated with being a father?"
Dad was rather embarrassed by the line of questioning. He smiled sheepishly and said, "Honestly, Bo," (his pet name for me) "I never really gave that a thought."
How do we explain his lack of concern? Was it because he didn't love me or because he was an uninvolved parent? No. He prayed for me until the day he died. And as I have said on many occasions, he was a wonderful father to me. Instead, his answer reflected the time in which I grew up. People worried about the depression that was just ending, and the war with Germany, and later the cold war with Russia. They did not invest much effort in hand-wringing over their children ... at least not until a major problem developed. Trouble was not anticipated.
And why not? Because it was easier to raise kids in that era. I attended high school during the "Happy Days" of the 1950s, and I never saw or even heard of anyone taking an illegal drug. It happened, I suppose, but it was certainly no threat to me. Some of the other students liked to get drunk, but alcohol was not a big deal in my social environment. Others played around with sex, but the girls who did were considered "loose" and were not respected. Virginity was still in style for males and females. Occasionally a girl came up pregnant, but she was packed off in a hurry and I never knew where she went. Homosexuals were very weird and unusual people. I heard there were a few around but I didn't know them personally. Most of my friends respected their parents, went to church on Sunday, studied hard enough to get by and lived a fairly clean life. There were exceptions, of course, but this was the norm. It's no wonder my parents were concentrating on other anxieties.
It is also no wonder that parents are more concerned in the present era. Their children are walking through the Valley of the Shadow! Drugs, sex, alcohol, rebellion, and deviant lifestyles are everywhere. Those dangers have never been so evident to me as they are today.
I'm writing this book in the heart of London, where my family has joined me for a couple of months. This wonderful and historic city is also the home of some of the most pitiful young people I've ever seen. Rockers and punkers and druggies are on the streets in search of something. Who knows what? Girls with green and orange hair walk by with strange-looking boyfriends. At least I think they're boys. They wear earrings and have blue Mohawk haircuts that stick four inches in the air. While gazing at that sight, a clang! clang! clang! sound is heard from the rear. The Hare Krishnas are coming. They dance by with their shaved heads and monk-like robes. Gays parade arm in arm and prostitutes advertise their services. I stand there thinking, What in heaven's name have we allowed to happen to our kids?
The same phenomenon is occurring in the United States and Canada. It is sometimes overwhelming to see what has happened to a value system that served us so well. When my daughter was eighteen, I attended a program put on by the music department at her high school. Sitting in front of me was one of Danae's girlfriends. At intermission we chatted about her plans, and she told me she would soon enroll at the University of California, Berkeley. She had just returned from a visit to the school and mentioned casually that something had bothered her about the dormitory in which she would reside. She had learned that the men and women lived side by side, and they also shared the same bathrooms. What concerned this pretty young lady was that there was no curtain on the shower stall!
This is the world in which our children are growing up. Obviously, conservative communities still exist where traditional values are honored. Millions of kids still want to do what is right. But dangerous enticements are there, too, and parents know it. Some live in fear that the dragon of adolescence will consume their sons and daughters before they have even started out in life. That anxiety can take the pleasure out of raising children.
There is, however, another reason for the crisis of confidence that many parents are experiencing today. Mothers, especially, have been placed in an impossible bind. They have been blamed for everything that can conceivably go wrong with children. Even when their love and commitment are incalculable, the experts accuse them of making grievous errors in toilet training, disciplining, feeding, medicating, and educating their youngsters. They are either overpossessive or undernourishing. One psychiatrist even wrote an entire book on the dangers of religious training of all types. Thus, no matter how diligently "Mom" approaches her parenting responsibilities, she seems destined to be accused of twisting and warping her children.
Not only have mothers been blamed by the experts for things beyond their control, but they have also been quite willing to criticize themselves. Consider again the list of statements cited from our poll of parents. Eighty percent of the respondents were women, and their most frequent comment was, "I'm a failure as a mother!" What nonsense! Women have been taught to blame themselves in this way, and it is time to set the record straight.
I don't believe that the task of procreation was intended to be so burdensome. Of course it is demanding. But modern parents have saddled themselves with unnecessary guilt, fear, and self-doubt. That is not the divine plan. Throughout the Scriptures, it is quite clear that the raising of children was viewed as a wonderful blessing from God-a welcome, joyful experience. And today, it remains one of the greatest privileges in living to bring a baby into the world ... a vulnerable little human being who looks to us for all his needs. What a wonderful opportunity it is to teach these little ones to love God with all their hearts and to serve their fellow man throughout their lives. There is no higher calling than that!
The book you are reading, then, is intended as a celebration of parenthood. We've had enough of groveling and self-condemnation. What we need now is a double dose of confidence in our ability to raise our children properly. We also need to consider the specific frustrations that prevent us from enjoying our kids while they are young. Toward this end, the chapters that follow will deal with the contest of wills between generations, with the perils of adolescence, with parental burnout and its causes, and with the other stress points that irritate and depress us. There is a more satisfying way to raise children, as I believe the reader will see. And there is no better time than now to apply it. Our sons and daughters will be grown so quickly, and these days at home together will be nothing but a distant memory. Let's make the most of every moment.
Excerpted from PARENTING ISN'T FOR COWARDS by James Dobson Copyright © 1987 by James Dobson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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