When I had kids, I made a conscious decision to raise them differently than I had been raised. I called my program, “Making a Different Set of Mistakes.” Actually, I thought I was improving on my parent’s performance. There’s a book I’m reading that has me questioning some of my methods. It’s called “Big Russ & Me” and a Forest Park principal loaned it to me.
I’m only halfway through broadcaster Tim Russert’s book about his dad, but Big Russ reminds me so much of my father and his generation. I couldn’t help admitting they had some good ideas after all.
For instance, my parents emphasized good manners. They made us greet adults respectfully with eye contact and a strong handshake. They never let up on table manners. Polite communication was demanded, until we were saying, “Yes, mother” and “No, mother” in our sleep. And, if someone sent you a present, you thanked them in writing.
Naturally, I thought good manners were nonsense. My kids have turned out OK but I think they would have profited from some of these lessons. I was also misguided in thinking I could “give” my kids self-esteem. As Russert’s book makes clear, self-confidence only comes from accomplishment. All the parental praise in the world is not going to help a kid feel better about themselves. In fact, it may give a child an inflated view of himself: not all kids are geniuses, star athletes and master musicians.
Parents like Big Russ backed authority. I have mistakenly questioned schools and other authorities, because I hated seeing my kids punished. Also, “helping with homework” ” big mistake. I had to do my own homework and I should have let my children do theirs.
It never fails that when we try to save our kids from pain, or make their lives easier, it backfires. They become dependent and there goes the old self-esteem. When we let them struggle and find their own way, they discover their inner strength and resourcefulness.
I liked how Big Russ cared about everyone in society. He carefully disposed of garbage, because he didn’t want to cause trouble for the haulers. My dad had the most elaborate method for throwing out fluorescent bulbs because he didn’t want anyone getting cut by broken glass. Big Russ also told his kids to be nice to the crossing guard, because she had a tough job.
Many of my parenting techniques really were new mistakes. And I wasn’t alone. People like me have produced what is called the “entitled generation.” These were kids who received trophies just for showing up, didn’t have to do housework and weren’t held accountable for their screw-ups.
I didn’t understand fathers like Big Russ when I was growing up. They were providers above all and I couldn’t figure out why they worked so hard. They were sticklers when it came to honesty. They hated false pride and had sympathy for the underdog.
All those crazy things they taught, like finishing your plate, now make sense to me. I’m looking forward to finishing the book. But I learned another parental lesson today at Circle Lanes. Bowling with your young son is way more fun without the bumpers.