A LOT OF GIVE AND TAKE

Marriage relationships lend themselves to many jokes and banter, like “There’s a way of transferring funds that is even faster than electronic banking. It’s called marriage” [James Holt McGavran] and the one from Rodney Dangerfield: “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Joey Adams also chips in: “Marriage is give and take. You’d better give it to her or she’ll take it anyway.”

The latter quotation may also help us to understand the relationship of parenting. Many children think that they have a right to be given what they want and if they do not receive it they will take it. Be that as it may, it remains vitally true that parenting is indeed a matter of “GIVE AND TAKE”

Firstly, crucially, parents must take full responsibility for their child. Parents are always very keen to take credit for their children (achieving excellent results or being selected for national teams) but regrettably not as quick to take responsibility for them. They will leave them on their own (literally and metaphorically), to make decisions they should not have to make or to experience things they should not be experiencing. And all the time, many parents hide. There can be no excuses – for example, parents writing out an excuse note for their child to get out of sport, as many do. Nor can there be exceptions – “His big brother is really good” – as if raising one good child is enough.

Ethan Crouch was a sixteen year old who killed four people, while driving under the influence of alcohol three times over the limit, at 70 mph in a 40mph zone. However, the young man was not sent to prison because he had ‘suffered’ from “affluenza” – the condition that his lawyers argued he had whereby he could not tell right from wrong, having been given “freedoms no young person should have” after being molly-coddled by his wealthy parents. Yet the parents’ lack of responsibility went even further when the mother assisted her son to flee the country to avoid the bail restrictions he had been given on probation. Parents must take responsibility for their children’s behaviour.

Parents must take full responsibility, and not aim for sympathy, blame others or claim ignorance. Maria Sharapova recently declared that “I take full responsibility” for having taking illegal substances but then spoiled it by claiming she did not know anything was wrong. That is not taking full responsibility. We must ensure that we all do take full responsibility for what our children do.

However, parents must also give responsibility to their children. Parents are often guilty of giving too much to our children (whether it is money or freedom) but far too little responsibility. As a result children begin to believe that all these things are their right. In giving responsibility to their children, parents must ensure their children take responsibility for their own actions and assets (talents) – so if a child is in trouble at school or forgets a book, kit or lunch, the parent must not go straight to the school to bail the child out (with threats, demands, excuses or the forgotten item) but rather make their child accept the consequences. If Ethan Crouch could not tell right from wrong he should not have been driving – he was still responsible for his actions. As Drew Barrymore, the famous actress who went through a troubled childhood, said, “You can’t live your life blaming your failures on your parents and what they did or didn’t do for you. You’re dealt the cards that you’re dealt.”

Equally parents must ensure their child takes responsibility for the welfare of others. Martin Luther King wrote that “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” So children must learn the crucial lesson that none of us can say “it has nothing to do with me.” They are responsible for their friends’ actions as much as their own. “It is the responsibility of leadership to provide opportunity, and the responsibility of individuals to contribute.” (William Pollard) A chain is only as strong as its weakest link – so youngsters must accept responsibility for that weakest link.

Our children are very keen on their rights – and they have their bill of rights. However, as Bill Maher points out, “We have the Bill of Rights. What we need is a Bill of Responsibilities.” Along with rights comes responsibility and we, the parents, are the ones to give them the Bill of Responsibilities – if we do not do so, we will end up picking up a much heftier bill. Parenting is no laughing matter. We must not be guilty of ‘affluenza’ but of ‘influenza’ whereby we influence our children to take responsibility for themselves and for others – fast!