Q: In a recent column, you identified toddlerhood as “the hump of parenting.” As a grandmother who managed to raise five kids who were out of the house in their early twenties and are responsible citizens, I could not agree more. Two of them, however, did not get over the hump with their kids and now have spoiled, difficult children whom I sadly do not enjoy being around. Do you have advice for how parents can recover from this condition with school-age and teenage children?
A: The column in question prompted a slew of responses that echoed yours, so I’ve posted a link to it on the homepage of my website at johnrosemond.com. Click on “the hump.”
As a grandfather to seven, all of whom are a pleasure to be around (most of the time, which is to say, they are normal human beings), I can only imagine the heartache experienced by a grandparent whose experience is not what he or she anticipated. That is, however, the No. 1 problem grandparents express to me. More than a few have told me they no longer visit their grandkids’ homes because they are so painfully undisciplined.
The good news is that parents can recover from not getting over the so-called “hump of parenting” on time. My wife and I are testaments of exactly that. With our first child, we (and he) suffered the aftereffects of my graduate-school education in psychology, an education that did anything but prepare me for the realities of a strong-willed child.
We were 10 years into this academia-induced parenting coma before realizing that despite everything my professors had drilled into my head, children were not holy beings sent from heaven to grace the world with their immaculate presence. They were human beings, with the slew of the imperfections appertaining thereto.
Both my personal and professional experience causes me to believe that the two most common reasons parents fail to get over the hump on time and successfully are (a) wanting to be liked by their kids and (b) thinking children can be talked into behaving properly.
As for (a), a parent’s leadership (authority) must be firmly established before a genuinely wonderful relationship is possible. Prioritizing relationship leads, paradoxically, to disrespect. As for (b), children come into the world wanting their own way and determined to get it by any means necessary. It would be lovely if the little sociopath could be gently persuaded to love his neighbor, but separating a child from his selfish, pragmatic nature usually requires a crowbar.
The contemporary parenting myth is that love will suffice to raise a responsible, charitable human being. An enchanting notion, for sure, and very seductive. The unfortunate fact, however, is that parents must counteract a child’s natural inclinations with resolute, but calm and gentle force. To his own benefit, their child needs to discover that “no” means no and that he must obey them for no reason other than “because we say so.”