Confusion About a Parent's Job
The single most common and serious obstacle I see for parents as they are learning how to love and teach their children is a confusion about what their job is. It’s really that simple—which is not to say that the job is easy.
When we don’t have enough of the Real Love we need most—which is simultaneously true for both parents and children—unavoidably we feel emotional and spiritual pain. No exceptions.
And we can’t live with pain, so we attempt to minimize it with praise, power, pleasure, and safety—in an infinite variety of flavors and combinations.
Most efforts to minimize pain, however—like anger, victimhood, entitlement, addictions, and much more—are NOT loving or responsible. By definition they are selfish because we use them to reduce WHOSE pain? Ours. Right, selfish.
If we don’t love and teach our children in a way that eliminates those selfish behaviors, usually they will suffer with the consequences of them for the rest of their lives. The price is very, very high: personal misery, existential angst, terrible relationships, conflict at work, a feeling of separation from God, and on and on.
So it’s not just a good idea that we love and teach our children. It’s our JOB. It’s OUR job. We MUST do it, or we cannot claim to genuinely care about them.
So first we love them, and I’ve described that extensively in the Parenting Training. Then we teach them, always while loving them.
Unavoidably, on many occasions when we teach them that a given behavior is NOT compatible with happiness—like anger, whining, complaining, snottiness, being irresponsible, electronic over-indulgence—they do NOT want to hear it. After all, these are the behaviors that give them pain relief. But we still have to do the job.
What a Parent's Job IS NOT
I have discovered that it helps many parents a LOT to understand what their job is NOT. The following are NOT your jobs as parents. These are two big lies that really interfere with our parenting:
- It is NOT your job to make them comfortable. Nope. In the process of learning to be loving and responsible, in fact, difficult choices and even sacrifices are always required, and in the short term, our children may not particularly enjoy them. They would rather eat chocolate in bed than clean the toilet, for example, or go to school. Tough.
- It is NOT your job to get your children to LIKE you. If you need ANY degree of approval from your children, or need them not to disapprove of you or be irritated at you, you are dead as a parent. Ineffective. Disqualified. You can’t love them unconditionally while you need something from them, and if you don’t love and teach them, any number of peers and people on the internet are only too happy to step in a teach your children for you—without the loving part.
You Are the Trainer
So let’s make all this practical by using a metaphor, which will be useful for your own perspective and to share with your children as you teach them. You’ll have to remind them of it more than once.
Let’s imagine that you approach me and ask me to train you to run the marathon in the Olympics. After making sure that you are serious about this goal, I agree.
Such training is grueling, to say the least. And we’ll assume that you’ve never run competitively before, so the beginning of the training is especially trying. After a quarter mile, you sit down by the side of the road and complain that you’re tired and hot.
You’ve gone about 1% of the length of the race, so too bad about your discomfort. Sitting and complaining isn’t one of your choices because YOU told me that your goal is the marathon.
So I simply say—knowing that you’re not genuinely injured or threatened with injury—“Get up, kid, keep going.”
Sure, I could say, “Oh, that’s okay. You need your rest. Can I get you a blankie and something cold to drink?” But it should be obvious that if I continue to “train” you in this fashion, you will never qualify to run a race anywhere.
Or I could drive up in a car and say, “Get in, I’ll drive you the 26 miles. There’s no sense in you being uncomfortable.” I could volunteer to run the day’s training for you, to spare you any exertion or discomfort. I could do any or all of that, but I don’t.
Why not? Because I CARE about you and your stated goal, in this case more than you do. You didn’t ask me to be your spa director or “feel good” supervisor. You asked me to TRAIN you, and I agreed.
I have no need for you to LIKE the training. I won’t pick you up when you stumble, although I will train you to run so that stumbles are less likely. I won’t stop your training because you have cramps or blisters, but I will help you with running technique and foot care and medical first aid so you can prevent and treat these common problems.
If you are a parent, you are the TRAINER for your child. They don’t know what they need most. You must learn what they need—need, not want—and then help them get there, even when they complain, stop to rest, fall to the ground crying, tell you that you’re a monster, suffer from cramps, and more—emotionally speaking.
You are NOT there to provide comfort or ease. You can teach them how to do things with less difficulty, but running a marathon is inherently not comfortable or easy, so “comfortable and easy” are incompatible with the primary goal of winning the marathon.
An Example of Training and Determination
I’m going to describe in words an athletic event, and it might help you to watch the race on video.
In the 1984 Olympics, a runner named Gabriela Andersen-Schiess competed in the marathon, and she finished way back in the pack, long after the winner had crossed the finish line.
After running for 26 miles, she entered the stadium and headed for the finish line in a state of nearly complete collapse from heat exhaustion. The officials tried to help her off the track—insisted, really. She refused.
She finished the race, despite being unable to walk a straight line, despite suffering from pain and delirium, and looking as though she were suffering from cerebral palsy or a stroke. She had every reason on earth to stop. But she didn’t.
At the end, everyone in the stadium was weeping, cheering, clapping, or silently standing in awe. Nobody cared one bit what her finishing time or position was. They admired her courage and wept to be privileged to witness her determination. She was a hero.
No Hesitation in Training Your Child
There are some qualities we cannot develop while we’re comfortable. We MUST be challenged. We must suffer, although the suffering is not the goal, just part of the growth.
If you hesitate in teaching your children, especially in administering consequences where those are required, your children will become more fearful, selfish, weak, and eventually crippled.
They will suffer from your weakness for the rest of their lives. We cannot stand by while that happens.
Your children are running a marathon. There is no choice about that. Life is a marathon, whether we like it or not, complete with hills, cliffs, mountains to climb, rivers to cross, deserts, jungles, falls, hunger, thirst, and much more.
And our children are IN it, but they cannot COMPLETE the marathon, nor enjoy the exhilaration of it, without a skilled trainer. And you are it. Be a trainer, not an enabler. Be a coach, not a cruise director. Be a parent, not a peer.
Great love, patience, and skill are required to be a good trainer. In the Parenting Training and many other resources provided, you have an opportunity to learn to acquire these qualities. What a relief.