Love kids unconditionally, teach them to obey, let them fail
By Clay Perkins
Saturday, March 23, 2019
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” — Ephesians 6:4 (The Bible, New International Version)
Recent headlines have been highlighting well-intentioned but highly dysfunctional parents taking whatever action they could – even unethical and illegal action — to get their children into the “right” college. Some of these are “helicopter parents”: parents who hover over their children, overseeing every aspect of their child’s life to ensure their child has a favorable position or outcome. Others are “bulldozer parents”: parents who plow down anything that would cause short-term harm, struggles, or failure for their children. Some parents do not want to be helicopters or bulldozers and so have adapted to become “tow truck parents”: parents who allow their child to experience the failures of life but are always there to pull them out of the ditch of failure.
The truth is that none of these is a wise approach to parenting.
Now that I am looking in the rear-view mirror at raising children and at serving a dozen years in the president’s office of a private faith-based college, the recent headlines of college admissions scandals grabbed my attention. I have sat in my office or been on the phone with a loving, sincere, but completely inappropriate parent of a college student. Such encounters caused me to add an intentional speech each year at freshman orientation, one in which I would tell the parents: “Most of you will receive a call or text message in several months. It will go something like this. ‘This college sucks.’ Or ‘this professor is not reasonable.’ Or ‘the coach does not recognize my talent.’ And you will have a choice to make.” I encouraged them to decide now how they will respond when that call comes. While my words of warning did not stop these exhausting parent meetings, it did slow them down.
I agree with a mentor of mine, Dr. Bravard, who said, “My best advice on parenting was long before I had children.” Now, as a grandfather, I will offer some thoughts.
Love your children unconditionally. Love them with no limits or conditions. Not every child achieves straight A’s. Not every child can, or should, go to an Ivy League college.
Be a role model. By the time your children are ready to go to college, they should know of your successes and failures in life. They should know how to cope with both good and bad people, especially those in authority over them. I know I frustrated my children when I did not rescue them from ill-behaved or unfair adults in authority over their lives. But now, as I see them deal with inappropriate peers or bosses or their own employees, I smile.
Allow them to fail. I mean to absolutely fail. When you are young is a good time to learn that there is life after humiliation and shame, that life does indeed go on after pain. The sooner we learn life is not fair, the better.
Teach them to obey. Obedience is underrated, and that is a shame. I observed too many college students that never had to obey. They skipped classes. They did not do their work. It was not that they did not have the intellect, it just was that they did not obey. And then they were absolutely befuddled when they failed a class.
So much more could be said. And I must be clear — the vast majority of students and parents I encountered were simply the best.
Be careful. Parenting is difficult on a good day. Remember that your primary purpose as a parent is to point your children to Jesus.
Clay Perkins is an adjunct professor at Mid-Atlantic Christian University. The opinions expressed in this column belong to the author and may not be those of the university.