I disagree with you. My son was a straight A student in high school, a college graduate and came out as gay with no family angst. My nieces and nephews, however, the boys are in jail and the girls are making babies before 20. I think they were raised the way their parents were raised. I live with my mother and she loves babies but not children.
My keys to successful parenting were: recognize and nurture your babies’ inborn personality. Observe, listen and learn. Give your child choices so he or she can practice making decisions and bear the consequences. Don’t stop being your own person. Limit unsupervised time and know who their friends are. Tell them the learning is more important than the grade.
Our family was “Do as I say, not as I do.” Kids are clean slates. Adults know better. So hell yes! Parents, you reap what you sow. Shut up and listen. You might learn something. — D.Q., Las Vegas
You refer, of course, to my March 3 column about parents and adult children who attack and blame those parents for the circumstances and difficulties of their own lives. For those of you following along at home, you can read the column here: http://www.lvrj.com/living/parents-can-t-shouldn-t-take-blame-for-children-s-faults-194617341.html.
Let me say again, D.Q., what I often say in this space: When people write to disagree with me, it seems they often end up making my point. I think some version of that has happened in your letter. Allow me to clarify:
My column said three things, essentially. First, parents and surrounding family dynamics fundamentally shape the psyches of growing children. Second, this fact does not make parents perpetually morally responsible for any and every behavior and/or character flaw in their children as adults. Third, not all shoddy, incompetent parents produce psychologically deformed children, nor do all ordinarily good, competent parents produce psychologically healthy children.
So, I’m unclear about what, exactly, we disagree. What jumps out at me is the way your life experience so clearly confirms at least the last of those points.
You laud your son’s competence in life. He excelled in academics. You’re proud, it seems, of the seamless way your family accepted his sexual identity. Your nieces and nephews — the progeny of your siblings — did not fare so well. You say your sibling(s) raised your nieces and nephews “the way (your siblings) were raised,” by a mother who “loves babies but not children.” That is, you are critical of their child-rearing, and hers.
So, you make my point. Your mother — a not-stellar mother — raises children, including you. At least one of those children grows up to be a not-stellar parent, producing your not-stellar nieces and nephews. You, however, raised by the same mother, manage to become a stellar parent raising a stellar son. So, in your case, your mother did not “reap what she sowed.”
The converse then, is also true. Not all ordinarily good parents produce psychologically healthy children. Do we disagree yet?
Now, here’s something about which we definitely disagree. You say children are blank slates. Modern science doesn’t support that conclusion. If you read the column I referenced by Mark Sichel, you will get a brief overview of the variability in the human brain. The brains of some children, for example, have less capacity for empathy than average brains. Children aren’t blank slates. They are predisposed to personality styles and, in some cases, severe personality problems. Conversely, some children are born with a remarkable capacity for resiliency in the face of really lousy parental influence.
I’m saying that Freud was right about the powerful influence of the parent/child relationship, but that fact does not explain everything about each individual human being. And, based on your own words, you and I both know that neither good parents nor bad parents necessarily reap what they sow.
By the way, on a separate subject, I was fascinated by your description of your mother as loving babies but not children. I’ve met parents like that. Likewise have I met parents who love children but not babies. Or they love children but not adolescents. Etc. Probably all of us mothers and fathers have an affinity for a particular developmental stage of a child’s life. But, in some cases, a mother or father has an inexplicable antagonism for a particular stage. And no child deserves this antagonism.
I’m happy for you, D.Q., that you survived it, overcame it, and then found such redemption in becoming a competent and loving father.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Sundays. Contact him at 227-4165 or email@example.com.