Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter let loose on the parents and teenagers involved in the recent tragic shooting of four teens in his city. His comments were direct, controversial and straight to the point. In one of his less cutting remarks, Nutter said, “Parents have to know where their children are and what they are doing. Their little butts should have either been in bed, getting ready for bed or doing some homework.” He is right.
Having spent 20 years in education and now 14 as a father, some important themes emerge when it comes to good parenting and creating an environment conducive to success. Unfortunately, the tenets of good parenting are quickly slipping away. Over the next several weeks this column will explore parenting from the perspective of an educator and father.
I have no illusions that I am the expert on the topic, but my experience has taught me some important lessons that I believe are worth sharing. I also believe that parenting skills are best learned from those out in the field and in the trenches. Parents, grandparents and good teachers know what is important and what can lead down a more troublesome path. Their counsel has always been and remains my most important guide. This week I will address what I believe to be the most important principle of parenting.
You Must Sacrifice 20-Plus Years
From the moment a child is born until that child has established him or herself as capably independent, the child comes first — always. While my wife and I have probably taken this to the extreme, thus far we are satisfied with the results. Our lives revolve around our children. Our activities, our friends, every choice we make are based on them.
We do not travel without them. We have never left them with a babysitter. My wife and I rarely go out, even to dinner, without them. It may happen twice a year. This may seem extreme, but the simple truth is there is no one else with whom we would rather spend time or any others more important with whom we should be spending time.
I am always amazed by parents who leave their children weeks at a time, very often on their own, and then sit back wide-eyed as they discover the creativity and drive of their child to find alternative methods of distraction and entertainment. Nothing will ever replace presence. Nothing will ever replace support. Nothing will ever replace a love that expresses itself on a daily basis.
There is also another, more subtle danger that comes with absentee parenting — the parent savior. Any educator is familiar with this tale. The absentee parent does not know their child, cannot discern truth from fiction on their child’s lips. In an effort to make up for their general lack of attention they rush in to defend their precious and always innocent charge. Blame is shifted to the school, the teacher or administration and all is right with the world.
Only it is not. It happens outside of school as well, on the playing field, the dance studio, any place the parent might be able to compensate for a lack of real presence. It is a slippery slope and one that children quickly learn to use to their advantage.
Parents do not want their children to be among the group of kids hanging out in front of the local convenience store spewing profanity like a Quentin Tarantino film. They do not want them among the crowd that by the sheer size and force of the group terrorizes and bullies on the school grounds and beyond. They do not want their child to be locked behind a door in a room filled with self-doubt and self-hate as so many children are.
Presence and love for 20-plus years is the greatest gift you can possibly give you child. Not surprisingly, the return on that investment of time and care will provide more than any amount of money could buy.