It Takes Courage to be the Parents Our Children Need

Last week, I had reason to be in a tuxedo rental store with my 14-year-old son. While he was being fitted, I struck up a conversation with one of the floor managers. (This is a habit I picked up from my mother who has discovered relatives in the check-out line of stores in practically every city she has ever visited.) This young lady was going on about how her eight-year-old daughter was asking to wear make up “because all the other girls are” and complaining about the woes of raising children these days. She made the comment, “Kids are just so different from when I was growing up.” Now, in the past when I heard a statement like this, I would have bitten my tongue, plastered on a fake smile, and nodded like a bobble-head. But not this time.

I looked her in the eye and politely suggested that kids are no different now than they have ever been. Children are coming into the world the way they always have and go through all the same developmental stages. What is different is “the times,” (for lack of a better way to put it) and defining “the times” is the realm of adults, not children. She looked at me with her mouth open and after a minute replied, “You know, you’re right. I hadn’t thought about it that way before.” At that point, my son was finished and our conversation ended, but my mind was racing.

I was transported back in time to 7th grade when I begged my mother to let me get my ears pierced because “all the other girls were getting theirs pierced,” (well actually, it was one girl, but she was popular so I was sure it was just a matter of time before “all” the others would follow her lead). In spite of my pleading, nagging, and whining, my mother stood fast to her position on ear piercing – “You will not poke any holes in your body as long as you live in this house.” She went on to add some version of one of my favorite quotes from Atticus Finch, “From now on it’ll be everybody less one.” And that was that.

Now, did I like it? Of course not. But that didn’t matter. She didn’t tell me I had to be happy about it. She had the courage to withstand my disappointment and the resulting anger directed toward her. She had confidence in the strength of our relationship. She was counting on the certainty that her opinion of me meant more to me than that of my peers. And she was right.

After all, who sat up with me for hours gently blowing warm air into my throbbing ear; rubbed alcohol on my aching legs; decorated a cake for every birthday; made nearly all my clothes; celebrated my accomplishments; comforted me after setbacks; drove eight hours to arrive shortly after the birth of my first child, and arranged her life to help care for him when I was employed. Just a hint – it wasn’t any of my peers.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr. wrote, “Parents are pals nowadays because they don’t have the courage to be parents.” We are living in a culture where our children are exposed to influences, pressures, information, expectations beyond anything we ever imagined. And all of these are happening at ages when they are not developmentally ready to deal with them. They do not necessarily have the social, emotional, intellectual maturity to handle the decisions they are facing. That is why they have parents. They need us to be courageous. They need us to be willing to say, “No,” and make unpopular decisions. They need us to be the adults so that they can safely enjoy their childhoods. They need us to prove Mr. Brown wrong.

Now, in case you are wondering, yes, my ears are pierced. I got them pierced when I was in college. And I am so glad I waited until I was old enough to make that choice because I wanted them pierced, not because my mother didn’t.

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