Several days ago, Dan Arel posted a response to a Christian woman who, for some bizarre reason, was advocating for things she would not promise to her children. As Dan was efficiently able to point out, her goal and thinking behind it was rather silly and counterproductive.
Instead of making such silly promises to my own children, I’d like to offer what I can, and I would hope others could as well, promise to them.
It was your mother’s and my choice to bring you into this world, so we will make you the best persons we can.
Here’s what I mean by this:
My personal life philosophy is to make the world a better, more habitable place for those who come after me by doing everything in my power to make it that way. Part of that, by having children, means sharing the knowledge I have acquired and modeling behavior that I wish others to exhibit.
This means teaching my children critical thinking, asking questions if they don’t understand something, challenging beliefs and opinions that don’t match other areas of study, and speaking and/or standing up when the wrong thing is being done. I have already started some of this with my oldest son.
I was giving him the birds and the bees talk and, once it was relevant to the conversation, I made sure to let him know that “no” means “no”! He does not have permission to make contact with a person, or use another person’s body, without them giving him permission.
Once my daughters are of the right age, a similar conversation will take place. However, my sons need to know, first and foremost, that women are people too and should be treated as such. If they would not want someone to touch them without permission, they should expect to treat others the same way.
This extends to all people in every walk of life; my children are privileged and will not know the struggle of others. If they can at least grasp that idea, and be open to the idea that they have it better than others, then maybe I can get them on board to doing work to help change that when they are able.
I will do everything in my power to keep you from harm. All parents, one might assume, keep watchful eyes on their children. We do this because we don’t trust anyone. When, statistically, a family member is more likely to cause harm to our children than a stranger, not knowing people, and the few stranger situations that happen are enough to put any parent on edge, creates anxiety. But it’s not just enough to be watchful of other people; we need to be careful ourselves. What I mean is our words and actions impact you, our child, just as much, if not more, than if someone intentionally caused harm to you.
This goes into my above promise; if I intend to make you the best person I can possibly raise, that means that I will not teach you to do harm to others by harming you myself. I will not teach you to deal with situations you don’t like by harming the person committing the act. That means I will not spank you, hit you, or be forceful with you in any way shape or form. I also will teach you how to use words effectively without being hurtful. If you are happy, that is what matters most to me. Your weight, appearance, choice in music, activities, or friends is all up to you. Again, if you are happy, then I am happy. I will be sure to speak with you if I am concerned, but I will never make a judgement call on you because of those choices.
This promise will be difficult for me, but only because it was a factor in how I was raised. There was a family member that physically hurt me; there were spankings, I was punched repeatedly, held down and pinched on the face, thrown against the wall or on the floor when I stood up for myself. I was belittled for my weight, made fun of for the changes my body went through as I experienced puberty, I was called stupid, I was looked down upon for the music I listened to, the people I hung out with, and clothes I wore.
I witnessed my siblings going through similar, and sometimes worse, things which scared and angered me even more. Even today, because of all this, comments are made towards me, my wife, and family. And I have a hard time standing up to this person because of the fear they put into me. Another side effect of this is the inability to establish healthy boundaries or ask for what you want. You will likely feel, whenever you are asked for something, that you are to drop everything and put the other person’s needs above your own. Don’t. If a car’s fuel light comes on, it can only go so far before it needs to be filled. If it can’t get you there, that’s because the car didn’t get what it needed. The same goes for you.
You make sure your needs are met, and only give or do what you feel you are able to. If a request is something you can’t do, don’t agree to take it on. If it’s something that seems reasonable but a little more than what you can handle, ask for help. In fact, ask for help in each situation that you feel unprepared for. Don’t assume you know. Make sure you do. Ask for help. Put your needs first. And don’t let people walk all over you. Always ask, before agreeing to something, how it will benefit the person’s (and your) needs. If I keep you out of harms way, and I teach you to only do what you are capable of doing (and not care how other people’s feelings affect you), then I’ll have done the largest chunk of my work as a parent.
The saying goes “It’s easier to raise strong children than to fix broken adults,” and I am an example of the latter. I never want you to experience what I did, to feel the way I have, cope with things the way that I did, and to look at me the way I look at this person that harmed me. That means I will do everything I can to ensure you are free from the harm that I experienced.
You will never owe me anything in return. Ever. I get sick of hearing my friends’ parents react to their children with demands of grandchildren. I get sick of hearing from people how rude they think it is that certain family members don’t visit. I also think it’s incredibly frustrating to have someone feel that they are deserved something because they did something for another person so long ago.
Here’s a clue:
They don’t do it because they don’t owe you a god damn thing. Remember what I said before? About how it’s my duty to raise responsible, sensible children? To raise them into positive members of society? That is my duty. That is my responsibility as a member of society. I owe society a responsible adult that makes the world better. I impart my knowledge and values on to my children so that they influence others positively and create a safer environment for others. You know what though? There will likely come a time where my children and I part ways on certain subjects.
My children will face a struggle I’ve never experienced. Something will happen where I will desire something from them (likely a visit or a phone call) and they will not deliver. But they are not my slaves. They do not exist to make me happy. I will be happy, as I am today, because they do exist, but their existence is not to serve me.
This coincides with promise number two, but ultimately deserved this separate category. I don’t care what I’ve done to help raise my children, I did it because I cared about my contribution to society, which ultimately is my children, and that meant doing all I was capable of to produce quality individuals with quality characteristics. I don’t care if a situation emerged and they have to move back home after living independently for some time.
If I bring them into my home, it is because I want them to know they can depend on me (because they can), and I had the capability of doing so. If I could not, I would not. If I did or do not want to, then I certainly do not have to. Regardless, even if I do something for my children to support them in their adult lives, it will be because it was my desire to do so and I had the means to see it through. My children will not ever be required to do anything to pay me back for what I saw to be the best resource I could provide for my children to be successful.