Sandi Thom at Timbre, Substation + Parenting
It was the usual thing in the angst of teenagehood to think about how unreasonable and behind-the-times one’s parents were. (i didn’t wait till then, having, at the age of 5, written to my older self and kept in the little box of ragtag treasures of exotic bottle caps and intriguing stones, a list of things i would not do when i grew up, the first of which was never to marry and have children.) And of course, post-what-anyone-could-understand-of-Freud, it was the fad to blame every neurotism on one’s upbringing and relationship (including lack thereof) with one’s father and mother.
We were laughing about this on yet another day and considered what we would say if our children whined about our parenting. Replies ranged:
- well, you’re looking for the perfect parent but i’m not perfect. i did the best i could. (Forgive me.)
- you’re looking for the perfect parent but i’m not perfect. And you weren’t a perfect child either. Ha!
- i had no role models. Blame your grandparents.
- hey kid, fuck you. i brought you into this world. I don’t owe you, you owe me.
- i only have one life to live and i’m sure as hell not going to spend it looking after you. Afterall, you won’t look after me even if i’ve wasted the best years of my life on you.
Now that many peers are parents, they can be observed to fall into several (indistinct) categories (as i suppose parents have always done):
- parents for whom children are an investment for later life – people to take care of them when they are old and need shelter and food; so that they won’t die alone and un-noticed only to be found in a decomposed state after the neighbours complain of a foul smell;
- parents for whom children are everything – every bit of energy and time is devoted to the child, every decision is made with the child’s interests and preferences as priority (what and where to eat, how to spend weekday nights and weekends, how to spend money, where to live). They can’t meet people because of darling’s feeding times and naptimes, and instead demand to know why working people haven’t visited them at their homes;
- parents who have no boundaries for their children. Children are allowed to interrupt them just to get some attention when they are chatting with other people or even when they are giving a talk to an audience; in fact, sometimes, the parents themselves will interrupt meetings to coo unnecessarily at their babies, so the children are encouraged to think that the world revolves around them and that they are the most important people in the world;
- parents for whom children are yet another status symbol, an extension of their ego – they have to go to the most prestigious schools and socialise with the right crowd. Parents usually love compliments about their progeny but these accept even those over-the-top comments about how advanced the child is for her age (if you say that about almost everyone in that age group, lack of base reference renders comment meaningless), how she could be a genius in music or maths or a great musician, artist in the future;
- parents who keep hovering over their children, fearful that something might befall them, giving them toys that are out of the their reach, always stopping them from going here or there, being anxious about every sniffle or cough, or of them eating anything that might not be organic and processed in a place free from nuts, shellfish etc;
- parents who go into fits of parenting – lenient sometimes, and then when they are not too tired or when they realise their children are going wild, enforce discipline sometimes, quite indiscriminately.
Add to this the parents’ friends and relatives, who, in their interaction with the children teach them to be even more self-centred than they already are. Most of this involves emotional manipulation:
- they learn that if they say “I hate you”, close relatives will cry and give them what they want – obviously, in their relatives’ eyes, their approval of said relatives is all important, therefore they are all important;
- if Auntie S says “Tell Auntie S that she is your favourite auntie, and she will let you play with her iPhone”, because the child’s opinion is the most valued thing in the world to Auntie S, they quickly learn that they can up the ante if they give some sort of art work or drawing and say that it has been painted specially for auntie.
“It’s quite pointless trying to talk to a parent about his/her parenting”, was the general consensus amongst singles, “first they will say that we don’t have kids so what do we know, secondly they will claim that it is their kid not ours so we should mind our own business, and in any case, they are so besotted with their progeny they love those who spoil their kids and hate those who don’t pander to them.”
And yes, it is the parents’ responsibility to bring up their kids; God is quite unequivocal about this, especially in relation to His people teaching their children about the LORD their God:
- Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)
- Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
- When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 32:46)
- He decreed statutes for Jacob
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even the children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds
but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors—
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
whose hearts were not loyal to God,
whose spirits were not faithful to him. (Psalm 78:5-8)
- Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
- Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
(HT: Rory Bell, Teaching and Training (TnT) Ministries, 100% Real Parenting Workshop, Bethesda Church Bukit Arang, Singapore)
This isn’t just about reading the Bible with them, but about disciplining them. It’s interesting that though most Christian parents acknowledge that everyone is under the burden of sin, they cannot imagine that their precious bubs are anything but a little naughty:
- Discipline your children, for in that there is hope;
do not be a willing party to their death. (Proverbs 19:18)
- Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline will drive it far away. (Proverbs 22:15)
i suppose in our inevitable interaction with the children and their parents, we-who-are-not-the-parents will have to encourage the father and mother in question to act rightly, eg. by not saying “never mind, don’t scold him” in front of the child, not contradicting the parent, and not encouraging bad behaviour either directly or indirectly (by giggling or cheering on their wrongdoing). (This assumes that everyone has the same understanding of right and wrong!)
At some point, the guitar-wielding, harmonica-playing, blues-singing Sandi Thom did finally come on and it was a greatly enjoyable rest of the hour.
I wish i was a punk rocker (with flowers in my hair).