A Boy and His Dad
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A Boy and His Dad • Posted: Aug 24, 2012 15:48:31Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

There are public service billboards in the Detroit area telling citizens to "Take Time to Be a Parent". The accompanying image, of course, depicts a delighted little girl hugging her daddy. Also, on NPR this week was a story about a program for incarcerated young men teaching them how to be parents to the children they have spawned. The interviewee described how becoming a parent helped straighten him out, gave meaning and direction to his life. Presumably, the child or children involved also benefitted from having a parent interested and involved in their development.

It is sad to think that there are parents out there who do not know how to parent. Little wonder we are raising ever more citizens who lack capacity for empathy, do not know how to work together with others, who feel so alienated from their fellow citizens that the concepts of citizenship and community are virtually meaningless to them. What good is banning abortion if parents don't know how to be parents?

What is the value to a child of good parenting, anyway? Research has shone newborns are not blank slates. They have innate abilities and tendencies. They quite literally are learning machines. And one of the most important ways they learn is by example, by the example of a parent. When a parent is calm and confident, the child is calm and confident. When a parent demonstrates mastery of some task, the child soon develops mastery of that same task. When a parent displays disinterest, irritability, irrationality, ignorance, impatience, anger, even viciousness, the child does too. When the parent displays curiosity, perseverance, gentleness, caring, responsibility, reliability, sympathy, respect for others, and joy in learning, again, the child does too.

When parents do their job competently, teachers have a much easier time adding substantially to the good work already done. When parents do not do their job competently, teachers have the nearly impossible task of trying to remediate the ill-prepared child. And when they fail, society inherits citizens who do not know what citizenship is all about, who do not easily find a meaningful place for themselves within our economy, who feel so alienated it often makes more sense to them to victimize their fellow citizens rather than work with them.

Any parent, competent or not, will tell you, though, parenting is not easy. But, what actually makes it so hard? What makes it hard is the mismatch between a child's impatience with the learning process and a parent's patience, energy, insight, and resourcefulness. Both are continuously running up against the parent's very human limitations responding to an endlessly aggressive child learner. And there is not a good answer to that difficulty except better parenting all the way back to the parent's parents and to a society that gives adequate time, opportunity, and resource to be a better parent. Calmer, better parents breed calmer, more resourceful learners. And, a society that values and supports better parents breeds more involved and resourceful citizens. The connections are obvious. Why we can't seem to master those connections is not.

If given opportunity to be a good parent, I hope you take it and do both yourself and this very needful society proud.

Monday, April 16th, 2012