Throughout It Takes a Parent, I'll look at ways that, I hope, are effective in reaching the hearts of our children. In chapter 12, "To Spank or Not to Spank," I'll consider discipline methods and how some may be more effective than others at reaching the heart of a child. But before I even get to those things, I'll need to convince you that we need to be on a rescue mission for our children's hearts.
Our children are born into a world that is bent on capturing their hearts and minds, and most certainly not for their good. Yes, I think the world is full of good things, and I don't think we have to shut the culture out as much as we have to help our kids think rightly about it. But there is no question that the world seeks to win our children over to its way of thinking and behaving, and the world does not love our children.
More important, we need to see that children must be rescued from themselves. This truth is not something with which the parenting culture is comfortable.
A principal of a parochial school in an affluent suburb of Chicago wrote to tell me what he sees on a daily basis, and it doesn't look like parents on a rescue mission for the hearts of their children:
• When children receive detention for being tardy, parents often ask to serve in their place, even if it was solely the child's dawdling that made him late.
• Parents of a four-year-old conference-called the child at school about his behavior.
• A four-year-old was allowed to choose the school he would attend.
• Another four-year-old stole an earring from a department store. The mother and child returned the earring, and then the mother took the child to a toy store to buy a treat because the child had done the right thing in returning the stolen earring.
• A mother decided not to send her child to a school that served only white milk, because her child would drink only chocolate milk.
Here again is why this book is more about parents than kids.
Full disclosure: as I write this book, I find that I'm one of those parents being called to account on my rescue mission. When I lived in Virginia, my ten-year-old niece visited me with her dad, my brother. Later, she told him how amazed she was to watch Aunt Betsy completely caving in to little Madeleine, giving her something she demanded, just to get Madeleine to stop whining. Apparently, this incident demolished my niece's view of me as running a tight ship. And this has possibly happened, um, more than once, because I didn't even remember the particular incident.
I'm not worried that someday Madeleine is going to be a juvenile delinquent because I gave in to her on that occasion (and apparently quite a few others). But it's also true for all of us that being more aware of how we interact with our kids, determining what's the norm in our home and what's the exception, is the first step in helping our kids. I hardly think all behavior problems are the result of out-of-control or ineffective parents. Sometimes there are underlying medical or emotional problems, which I'll discuss later. Some of these are becoming more common, and some are becoming better identified. A small percentage of children, although healthy, are so extraordinarily strong willed that, despite the parents' best efforts, the child remains consistently angry and defiant. Parents of these kids sometimes just want to give up. I hope this book will encourage them to try to stay engaged.