There is only one thing that I fear failing at in life: successfully raising my child to become decent human being. In my nine years as a mother, I have envisioned many frightening scenarios, most of which were derived from the media: Teenager Guns Down Classmates; Father Slaughters Wife and Children; Five-Year-Old Brings Pocket Knife to Kindergarten. My fear is deeply rooted in my observations and interactions with kids in communities all over these United States (and in a growing number of cases, worldwide). Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten how to raise morally conscious people, and the repercussions of that are evident in every news report across the world.
There is much speculation on the causes of societal ills ailing children in contemporary times—separation of Church and State, especially in the school system; the stigma attached to disciplining children; the influence of the media; peer pressure. Whatever your thoughts are on the problem, or a solution, the fact remains that as humans we are born with a fundamental sense of morality. Our juveniles need to be taught the same values, (as intangible and complicated as they may now seem) which made previous generations learn never to talk back to their parents for example. As a Generation Xer, I am fully aware that there are certain elements in the way I was raised (i.e., spanking, by both my parents and my teacher!) that may never (and in many cases should not) again be considered acceptable in today’s standards. At the same token, I still strive to pass along to my child the principles that were instilled in me, which have redeemed me on many occasions from my bad judgment.
But how would I promote ideas like honor, respect and dignity without my child feeling like or being viewed as a social pariah, or labeled by his peers as “uncool”? Stripping away all the layers of political-correctness and discarding certain rules of engagement, I uncovered the bare essentials that I could implement into my child-rearing task. And as I found my way around the maze of motherhood, I discovered that these values exist in us naturally—I wouldn’t have to glamorize them to make them palatable to my child. Have you ever noticed why we feel inherently uneasy and quite uncomfortable lying or stealing? It is because we are born with a sense of right and wrong, and the problem is we are encouraged to ignore it in order to get ahead in our world. Learning to nurture and foster the natural moral code we are born with is essential to providing my child with the artillery needed to battle his demons and come out victorious–-a good man with a clean heart and conscious.
In order for my son to become this evolved man I so desperately hope he will be, he will need to me to hone and nurture the primordial virtue that exists naturally in him. As best as I can, and in terms he will be able to relate to, I will let it be known that respect and being “cool” is not putting in high regard the senseless acts of violence and sugar-coated misogyny committed by people he sees on TV or listens to on the radio. Most celebrities, for example, are not the role models I want my son to look up to. But how do you teach a tweener, and eventually a teenager, to listen to the words of a song or watch TV and not hold in esteem the actions of a character devised by media moguls who rarely consider the effect they have on children?
The secret lies in the kind of relationship we have with our children. We know that children imitate and absorb–-this is how they learn–-and unfortunately some of what they learn can be the foundation of their societal problems. If we are role models for our children, and they bear witness to our actions (and their consequences), they will emulate our ways, and this may counteract a lot of damage that society does. It’s really that simple. The hard part lies in how well we follow our own teachings. Once a child sees (over and over again, since children thrive on consistency) that we practice what we preach, they eventually learn that their natural expressions of deference towards us is in fact the true definition of respect they so readily and sometimes undeservedly give to celebrities. And eventually, they learn to show respect to other people in their lives that live up to these standards.
Impregnating a child with a general respect for life ultimately results in his or her respecting authority. Perhaps religion can show a child that there is a greater power than they; but, to me, this Western way of practicing religion doesn’t seem to hold the same promises to our youth as worldly things do. They see us attend church and repent our sins and pray for forgiveness to a God they can barely fathom, and then they watch us turn around and lie to our bosses or get angry enough to spew curses at the idiot driver in front of us. And then we go back to church next Sunday to empty our hearts. But nothing’s changed. Come Monday morning, we are still the same selfish, self-centered people we were last week. Our children need to learn to access God’s natural spirit that lives inside each of us. Only then will they realize that they, and only they, will have to answer to that higher authority when they’ve made their choices, be it right or wrong. They will learn through spirituality that those authority figures, and not only God or Mom and Dad, but also teachers and even strangers who are elders, can guide you in your daily activities. And out of that respect of authority, will emerge the natural act of humility.
In these days and times, I think one of the best gifts we could teach our children to find within themselves is patience. It is said that patience is a virtue. Patience is an invaluable tool that seems the hardest to apply, even for grown-ups, so imagine how difficult it must be for a child to naturally invoke the act of patience. Demonstrating patience in the presence of our children will teach them the value of time and may some day save their life. Need I say more?
With these very basic standards of conduct on their side, I think our children will learn through intuition–and with patience–-that the best things in life come from and are created with love and tolerance. Love, our display of it, our exhibition of it in everyday life, is what will make our children hold on to other valuable social principles throughout their lifetime. As they mature, they will comprehend the truth about love; that with it comes growing pains. When they decide to live righteously, oftentimes stumbling along the way, they will learn how to separate the authentic from the fraudulent. As life reveals to them its opportunities, they will detect a new confidence within them so as to accomplish anything. When they become independent, they will strive for a positive way of life and will be prepared to suitably deal with the negative experiences that are sure to come. And they will do all this, in love.
In knowing this, my fears have been somewhat abated. It seems easier to fathom how we can change the direction our youth are headed. We, as adults, must live out the values that were infused in us before our children can even begin to hear our pleas to repossess godly ethics. I know now that the only way I will be able to appropriately raise the child God has blessed me with, is to live my life the way I would want him to live his. It’s time to toss the old adage: Do as I say and not as I do. And while even I still have a lot of growing to do, I can only hope that with every opportunity that arises for me to show my son my true colors, I’ll be a wise enough parent to tell my child the truth.