Sometimes I feel so frustrated for young people in this society. Our understanding of family dynamics is so convoluted. Now, I am not a fan of regulating personal freedoms, but I do wish there was some sort of regulator that could be placed on potential parents. It would be helpful if, before they took the plunge, people figured out if they were ready to be PARENTS or if they were simply wanting to have kids. I think there is a difference.
I have worked with families for over 28 years - as a volunteer through church and as a school employee. I’ve worked with children and teens from all walks of life, in all demographics, at all different stages in life. The jobs I’ve had and the volunteering I’ve done put me in the position to observe generations of children grow up and become parents or have children of their own. It makes me wish there was a way to gauge parental readiness. I have some thoughts on this. There are several things people should think through before procreation happens.
First of all, if you have a child, you are not their friend. They don’t need you to be their friend. You should have your own friends and if you don’t, then don’t have a child so you can have a friend. That sounds silly when I read it. But seriously, it happens and it causes problems for young people when their parents are confused about their roles. You don’t look as hip and cool in their clothes as they do anyway, sorry to be the one to tell you. “Well, that’s no fun,” you might whine but believe me - it is quite possible to have fun with kids without trying to be one of their peers. A friend cannot parent. The parents I have observed who tried hard to be friends first with their kids always ended up with out-of-control kids and teenagers because when the time came for training and molding their young lives - which helps prepare them for adulthood - there was nobody around to do it. They might hang out with you a lot if you are more of a friend than a parent, but in the end they respect you more if you act like their parent. So just remember - do not have kids so you can be friends with them.
Second - do not have kids if you are looking for someone to control either with your words or your (gulp) fists. They are not possessions or objects, they are people. While they are small, they are pretty controllable because your bigness and loudness are intimidating. As they get older they may still cooperate out of fear of your wrath, but if you are hoping to have close relationships with them in the future - I haven’t seen that happen. Kids need freedom to grow and experience life and make decisions of their own. Even decisions you don’t approve of. Of course, I’m not saying they should be allowed to choose drugs and alcohol and teenage sex - as a parent your job is to teach them not to want to do destructive things with their lives. I’m saying they should be allowed some freedom in choosing things like clothes, food, whether or not to play sports, and etc. You don’t own them. If you find yourself considering children as a new acquisition or possession - don’t have them.
Third - don’t have kids to improve your social standing. I see so many parents whose lives revolve around their kids and whatever they might be accomplishing. The bragging lists are lengthy and everyone tries to top everyone else. We live in a competitive society - many people want to be the best and they want their kids to have the best. But the reality is - nobody is the best at everything and kids can be so pressured to achieve or so overly-praised over every accomplishment they become unable to accept anything less. If the highest grade is not achieved or the biggest trophy won it becomes the teacher's or coach’s fault. And Mom and Dad jump right into a battle which should never happen in the first place. It’s okay to be second or third or lower sometimes. If you need children for your ego, please refrain from having them.
You also shouldn't have children because you are a teenage girl and think it would be cool to be a young mom. The producers of “Teen Moms” and “16 and Pregnant” are not going to call you up and put you on the show. You won’t become an overnight celebrity - and you shouldn't. All that attention you receive and the addition of a child in your life will not ultimately fulfill the deepest needs you have, anyway. When you have a child in those circumstances you are making that individual’s life all about you. It is selfish and a terrible reason to have children.
These are important matters to consider before stepping into one of the most amazing journeys of your life - becoming a PARENT. Do you want to love someone more than you can ever imagine? Are you willing to be firm with them when you have to, realizing giving in to their every whim will harm them? Will you commit yourself to teaching them - not only with your words, but through your actions - how to be a functional, honest, trustworthy, hard-working member of society? Will you tell them you love them on a regular basis? Will you be involved in their lives as a supporter and cheerleader, yet be prepared to let go and step aside when the time comes? Will you be willing to slow down your busy life so you can listen to their concerns and learn about their lives? Will you step out of your own life so you can ensure their lives are safe and healthy and well-rounded and filled with hope? Will you learn how to instill confidence while keeping pride and an entitled attitude in check? Will you say “no” when they are too young for things like cell phones and dating - and will you mean it?
I don’t think anyone who has children starts out by saying, “I think I will have some kids so I can ruin them with poor parenting skills.” But parenting is approached so casually - and sometimes the assumption is we can learn it all as we go. In some aspects of it, I agree people can. But looking at the overall gigantic picture of parenthood from the creation of a life to the point where that individual makes an entrance into society and hopefully makes the world a better place, brings a much-needed reality check. Sometimes we put more thought into carefully considering which car or house to buy than we do bringing a child into the world. And I have been observing for a long time. It makes me sad to witness some of the outcomes I see. Especially when I know it is possible to learn great parenting skills if we are willing to put the time in. Lots of people do it!
Having a child is different from being a parent. PARENTS are what our society needs.