I love my son. He’s 12, he is my world, he owns my heart, and 95% of the time he makes me very proud. I’m sure your kids are much the same for you. I’m a ‘free-range-mother’ (a term that makes me LOL – what was normal parenting when we were kids (although I was a bubble-wrapped kid) is now considered ‘risky’ and ‘bad’– dearie me). I feel confident in my free-range-parenting, because my intention when I became a parent was to raise an independent, self-sufficient child with great self-esteem and a sense of responsibility to himself and his community. This confidence has been boosted by the fact that I have a son who is turning out to be responsible, thoughtful, empathetic, and (mostly) sensible. And he knows that if that sensibility slips with the rush of teenage hormones, stupid ideas and/or group-think, that there will be consequences.
But there are some parents who would rather protect their child from consequences than help them learn lessons from their idiotic/foolish/criminal/intentional actions.
This blog has been brewing in the back of my mind since the murder of Emily Longley, with the Roastbusters and St Bedes (to name a few) incidents stoking the fire. But let’s throw this a bit wider than recent highly publicised cases. I’m sure many of you have encountered ‘My Little Angel Can Do No Wrong Syndrome’ yourselves over the years. I really struggle to understand it. We are all human, we all make mistakes, we all do stupid things, some of us deliberately do bad things – and no parent produces perfect children – so why do some parents believe their kids are immune to wrongdoing, or put their reputation before social responsibility?
Like the parents of adults who commit crime, particularly family of people who are violent towards their partners and/or kids, who gather around them with a protective cloak of ‘my son/daughter wouldn’t do something like that, it must have been their fault, I’ve seen them wind him/her up, I never liked them anyway’. Like the parents who scream filth and/or rush to assault the police because their child is getting arrested. Like parents who assist in destroying evidence, commit perjury, or who give misleading evidence in court in an attempt to get their child off scot free. Like the parents who rush down to the school to bully teachers who are laying down consequences for their bullying child. The ‘how dare you destroy his future, my son would never hurt anyone, he went to the best schools and wants to be a doctor/Olympian/actor, what can I do to make this go away’ parents.
Consequences are incredibly important lessons in life to learn, and some kids aren’t getting them. The lesson learnt then is ‘we can do whatever we like and get away with it’. Not a good attitude to have long term. And no, this has nothing to do with smacking vs. other disciplinary measures while our kids are little or any of that stuff. Section 59 didn’t create an attitude of entitlement. Money has. Inequality has. Our society has. Our neo-liberal way of thinking about ourselves above all else has. Anti-establishment hate of the justice system has.
I’ve had a lot of conversations recently around this issue. ‘You would be exactly the same if your son got in trouble with the cops’. ‘You would side with your son, every parent does.’ ‘If your son hit his partner you would naturally support him over her, he’s your son’. ‘If your son got to competitive level in parkour and did something silly you would still want him to compete and see him win’.
Good parenting has everything to do with raising your children and interacting with your adult children in a way that makes it very clear to them that if you break rules or laws, I will not stop loving you, I will not stop talking to you, I will support you – but I will support you THROUGH the consequences of your actions, not support you by ensuring you don’t face them.
I started down this parenting track pretty early on, at age appropriate levels. I trust you to be a free-range-kid as long as you obey the limits I put on that – and if you break them, that trust will be broken, and I will have to give consequences. I don’t want to, but I will. And follow through. There is only one thing you could ever do that would really disappoint me son, and that is hurting someone else. Everything else we can resolve, but if you steal, bully others, hit anyone, do something that a girl says no to, we’re going to have a really big problem. I’ve talked about the importance of consent since he became aware that females are attractive. That no means no, and if you go ahead anyway, I will still love you, but I will be in her corner. Once he starts forming relationships, it will be: If your girlfriend/partner/kids have to get away from you because you are violent and they have nowhere to go, I will take them in, and you will be on your own – not the other way around.
Because I love you. And loving you and being a responsible parent involves me ensuring that you are lauded for being the amazing kid you are, but also that you face the consequences if you make bad decisions. I also have a duty in the future to love and nurture my child’s partners and kids, and I will.
But I feel like a rare species of parent. And I wish I wasn’t. Maybe I’m not – I’d like to hope there are many of you out there with the same viewpoint.
However, while in these conversations with other parents, their eyes widen, disbelief flashes across their faces as I explain my perspective, and I am often assured that if/when I find myself in these kinds of situations, my idealism will fly out the window and I will steadfastly stand beside and protect my children from the ‘harm’ that is consequences at the expense of the real victim/s.
Hell no I won’t.
The most important thing a human being can learn to be part of a socially responsible society is that there are consequences for everything we do. Teaching our children otherwise is tantamount to child abuse, because it doesn’t set them up for a positive, honest, responsible & successful future.