Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rules For Your Parents, so That They Don't Misbehave

Dear Ellie,

Parenting has a lot of rules involved.  Parents tell children how they must behave in society, what they should aspire to, what is right and what is wrong, and they typically aren’t afraid to employ punitive measures to correct deviations from these rules.  All of these rules make a lot of sense, because when anything is constructed it is usually done so with some degree of instructions.  Constructing a person--- their body and mind--- is no different.  However, in the relationship between parent and child, there is a distinct direction for those rules: from parent to child.  When a child does not behave the way that we believe they should, we have rules to correct them.

I wonder whether it should necessarily be so one sided.  Yes, we adults have accumulated more knowledge which we must impart, but we are by no means beyond misbehavior.     

I’ve always sympathized more with children because I notice that parents have a tendency to misbehave just as much, if not more, than children.  It’s easy to overlook because a child never has the authority to critique their parent or criticize them for their misdeeds (or, perhaps, they aren’t old enough to recognize their parents’ faults).  

Very often I see parents carelessly using harsh tones or austere words where they aren’t warranted.  I see them setting bad examples.  I see them doing things that they would never recommend to their children, then conceal those deeds as best as they can.  And of course, adults are so frequently dishonest.  Yes, children are dishonest, but adult dishonesty is far more pervasive and far more opaque.  One would expect that a parent’s insistence on maintaining certain standards of behavior for their children would make them look inward to correct their own faults, but that is rarely the case.

I don’t want our family to be like that, Ellie.  Our family shouldn’t be about the creation of just one person.  It should be about the creation of three people.  Your mother, myself, and you.  Yes, there will be many rules which you will be expected to follow and yeah, sometimes we’ll put our foot down despite all of your best arguments and protests.  But there will be many rules which we, your parents, will be expected to follow as well.  Trying to make you a better person will remind us that we should be making ourselves better people.  Your childhood will be filled with growth and discovery, and I want to grow and discover right along with you.   

As of now, we will start making rules for ourselves, the parents, and as you grow older, you can help to make them with us.  For now, we’ll start with some of the rules that your mother and I had once made for each other:

---It’s never okay to raise our voices in anger just because we’ve been frustrated by a long day at work.

---It’s never okay to use a harsh tone just because we feel like it, especially if a kind one will do better. 

---The best feelings of the day should be saved for family.  The people that you love the most should be treated the best, not treated exclusively as a dumping ground for the day’s irritations and anxieties. 

---If we hold you to a standard, we will hold ourselves to that standard as well.

---Our home is not a place to escape from.  It is a place to escape to, and we must always try hard to make it that way.

---If your parents ever misbehave and break these rules, you have the authority to correct us. 

As I’ve written these letters, I’ve always imagined that you’d read them later in life.  As a rite of passage, in your late teens or early adulthood.  These rules for your parents, though, will be a thing we will hold ourselves to from the very beginning.  I suppose in a way this will be a letter you’ll be writing with us for a very long time.  

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