Don’t be afraid to go against the grain when raising kids — it usually pays off!
Whether it was our tight curfews, limited media options (even before the internet/mobile device age), regular chores, or how little we were allowed to roam freely (even at the mall), there were certainly a number of boundaries placed on our behavior. It seemed rather restrictive, and at times, we found ways around the limits. (I should have carried a 200+ average given how many times Todd, my friend, and I went “bowling.”) No doubt my siblings and I had our own views, and even these days, each of us finds ourselves as parents making our own decisions, some of which differ from the way we were raised.
But beneath any critique we may have (or had) of my parents’ specific decisions, early in life I quickly realized the wisdom of their decisions — even if I kept that to myself for some time. As I was becoming more independent, and able to eventually drive on my own, I began to see how my parents’ tight behavioral control (with encouragement of independent, critical thinking) not only made it easier to avoid pitfalls that many of my cohort did not, but also gave me a built-in excuse to sidestep many of the pressures that were all around me.
For starters, high school was full of alcohol use, and at times it was hard to find a party or gathering that didn’t include alcohol. Frankly, I had no desire to drink, whether it was because I thought beer tasted horrible, or I didn’t envy the hangovers my friends described, or because I wanted to avert legal sanctions before I reached adulthood. But just as much as I wanted to avoid it, I lacked the social fortitude to simply say “no,” so I needed a built-in excuse, or excuses.
The first excuse was that I didn’t want to get caught and risk being suspended from my athletic endeavors. But even more effective was that since my parents carried the rep they did, I simply said I didn’t want to lose my social life for a long, long time, as I knew that when I walked in the door there was a good chance one my parents would be awake enough to discern just what “I smelled like.”
Whereas others with more lax parents could find their way around this (or, of course, some simply had parents that didn’t care much about early drinking), I knew my parents actually took this issue seriously, as they did with other illegal or illicit behaviors. And my friends knew it, too, and although that didn’t mean no pressure came my way, my “true friends” generally respected these limits (with a little razzing at times) and we all went about our way.
By the time I got to college, I found others that felt a similar way, and although we periodically indulged in a few adult beverages, we spent much of our time taking care of the drunks and finding sober ways to have a good time. Having seen 30% of my freshman class in college go on academic probation, largely because they partied more than they studied, I was so glad to be on a course where fun and scholarship could peacefully coexist.
Fast forward more than two decades, as our oldest kids quickly approach high school, and I have come to realize the genius by which my parents reared us, and it didn’t start with the individual details. It was the overarching, abiding commitment to provide a safe, stable sanctuary in which we could develop, a home in which we knew that decisions were first and foremost based not on what was trendy or friendly, but rather what they felt was truly best for our health and well-being and our future.
I don’t remember a lot of the reasons given for these counter-cultural decisions, nor do I remember my parents providing a ton of justifications. But what I most remember is the sense of confidence they exuded in doing what they felt was best for us, and learning to live with whatever (parental or societal) pressure they may have felt in the process. It wasn’t that they didn’t make punitive or misguided mistakes at times. It was just that their wisdom came from knowing that we would eventually understand the source of their confidence and the purpose of their decisions even if we didn’t always like what they were doing.
Decades later, that spirit lives on. Like them, I know I do (and will) make mistakes. But I can still feel their parental resolve in making decisions based on what is best, not what’s easy or trendy. I am blessed that I have parents who paved a clear for road for me so I don’t have to navigate alone.
But even for those who didn’t have this pathway laid out in front of them by their own parents, it’s always possible. In addition to seeking out support from other parents who share similar values, the key is to really take the time to envision your kids growing older, days and years at a time. When you do, it becomes much clearer what you desire for them, and how difficult decisions right now can make all the difference in helping that vision come to fruition. Maybe, then, you will become the North Star for generations to come.
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