My kids are grown. It pains me to write that, as I wish I could turn back the clock and re-do some of it, re-live some of it, and simply hang onto a fleeting joy that slips through your fingers no matter how tightly you try to grab it and hold it still.
And now I watch the new crop of young mothers sometimes skipping, sometimes stumbling along that same trail. They do the same thing I did: They congregate at the park with other young mothers and compare notes about teething, walking, potty training, the gambit.
It’s ironic that people who know nothing are consulting with other people who know nothing. Nowhere else do you find this. Well, sometimes in Washington, D.C. But when you need financial help, you consult a financial advisor, someone trained and licensed. When you need medical aid, you consult a doctor, someone trained and licensed. But when you need parenting advice, you often go to others your age who also have no idea what to do, and no experience whatsoever in this most important field.
If we had been smart, we would have made friends with moms whose kids were grown. They could have told us to stop worrying about potty training; it will happen in good time. They could have warned us not to bribe kids to get them to obey, but simply to follow through with the rules. They could have told us not to run our kids ragged chasing around to every ballgame, gymnastics class and music lesson, in a quest for perfection. They could have told us it won’t kill them to have ice cream for dinner once a year.
I have the great fortune of knowing a number of women in their eighties, some of whom I consider dear friends, gals I go to lunch with on occasion, now that I’m old enough to realize we’re all basically the same. And one of them, Jean Frioux — a particularly brilliant woman I have phoned as my lifeline when playing “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” with my family — recently shared some of her wisdom on parenting.
She feels the biggest mistake parents can make is not holding kids accountable. Too many parents today jump in to rescue their kids from suffering for their mistakes. They unwittingly create demanding kids who feel entitled, who never face the music for their actions, and who cannot craft healthy marriages, careers, or even friendships.
You see it everywhere: Moms whose kids are rude in public, and when someone mentions it, they attack the messenger instead of correcting the child. Dads who wink when their son cheats in a game or at school. Parents who march into the principal’s office to complain that their child was punished for sassing when this is a free country and he has free speech.
Rare is the parent today who makes a child apologize for hurting someone’s feelings, or retracts a privilege, or denies a gift. Today’s kids run the show and they know it.
This reward-them-at-all-costs mentality is also responsible for the tables loaded with trophies (one for every player) at the end of so many kids’ sports seasons. It also spawned the notion of no kid ever flunking or being held back, lest we hurt their self esteem. Today, kids are matriculated up the ladder in grade school and beyond, many graduating high school completely illiterate, because no one wanted to point out that the emperor had no clothes (and couldn’t read).
A particular peeve of mine is when I see parents trying to be their kids’ buddies — moms dressing like their teenage daughters and flirting with their boyfriends, dads who criticize the “uptight” policeman who escorted their drunken son home, spineless parents who’d rather be liked on their kid’s Facebook page, than make them clean their room.
I think of the great story about Spencer W. Kimball’s mom who wrote to his principal that her son had chosen to follow the crowd, rather than do the right thing. She didn’t excuse him; she assigned him the appropriate blame. And a hard lesson was learned.
My 19-year-old daughter, Nicole, and I were sitting in an airport watching two lawless toddlers wreaking havoc, yelling, tromping over other passengers’ feet, and basically running wild. An overly mild-mannered grandmother was trying to rein them in without a shred of success, and Nicole said, “Watch. They’ll have a hot mom.”
Sure enough, within a few seconds a woman in short shorts, stiletto heels, a low-cut top, and enough makeup to constitute a year’s supply, wandered onto the scene, completely unfazed by her kids’ behavior. She offered no word of correction, not even a reproving glance. Clearly her priority was something other than teaching her children how to behave in public. And I have witnessed this same scene replayed in at least a dozen other places. Good call, Nicole.
Some girlfriends and I were out to lunch not long ago, when a scantily-clad mom, out to lunch in another way entirely, walked by with a whining, controlling child and another one in a stroller. My friends all commented on the cute baby and then, when the mother had gone on her way, said, “Why are you always so happy to see someone’s little dog, but not an actual baby?”
“Because,” I told them, “the dog is going to be a wonderful, loyal companion, but that kid is a Future Delinquent of America who’s going to be living off our tax dollars by the time he’s fifteen. I am not going to coochy-coo a child who’s going to steal my car one day.”
Heartless? Or realistic? Hey — somebody has to fill tomorrow’s prisons. Who do you think it will be — the kid whose parents make him accountable, or the kid whose parents are so desperate for his approval that they let him have a drinking party while he’s in high school?
I wish I had surrounded myself with more older women when I was a young mother. I wish I had picked their brains for the wisdom that comes with experience and a wider perspective. There were a few, but not enough. I could have saved myself a lot of grief, a lot of worry over silly things, and a lot of unnecessary chasing after the wrong goals.
We’re lucky, as church members, that we have so many lessons on parenting, and opportunities to Visit Teach and mingle with older sisters at Relief Society events. It gives us an edge, this tight community of caring sisters that we have. Even if we live thousands of miles from our actual families, we have a family of caring women who know it takes a ward, not just a village, to raise a child. And the same goes for the brethren.
This association with experts is a tremendous gift for new parents. Wise ones will utilize it, and ignore the current trends in favor of old-fashioned values that have proven successful. They’ll hold their kids accountable, they’ll remember that kids can have dozens of friends but only one mother, and they’ll stop letting the monkeys run the zoo. They’ll embrace their role as a parent and not try to be an overgrown teenager. They’ll pray about their kids and actually follow inspiration.
They’ll talk with parents whose kids are grown and who can pinpoint exactly what worked and what didn’t.
Or, there’s always the local park.
Cruise with Joni and her husband, Bob, to Spain, Italy, and France May 12-19, 2012. Double occupancy starting at only $659.00 per person! See jonihilton.com for more information.
Joni Hilton has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. Her latest book, Funeral Potatoes — The Novel, has just been scheduled for publication by Covenant Communications. She is also the author of the As the Ward Turns series, The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club, and The Power of Prayer. She is a frequent writer for “Music & The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society president in her ward in northern California.