Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why I Torture my Kids

My kids are not having a fun childhood.

I can only image how they must view their home experience in light of all their friends whose parents are much easier on them. Normal households probably don't require as much reading, as much work, as much discipline and as much thinking as ours does. Growing up in our house is likely not the pleasing experience that they hear about at school or from peers in other places. In my more reflective moments, I feel sorry for them.

My poor children... It seems their dad is never satisfied with how much they have read, how clean their room is, how fast they're growing up or how mature they act in public. I come home everyday and ask "What are you reading?" in a transparent attempt to make them 'bloom' sooner than I did. As the "patron saint of late bloomers," I know first hand the challenges accrued by an atrophied instinct to learn. There are so many ways in which I wish for my children a better path of development than I stumbled through. For this reason, I likely have an obsession with them learning at the front end, many lessons that I required life-pain to learn by now. It's unfair and, frankly, kinda mean.

However, as I examine the trajectory of culture, and the world as it was when I was their age, there appears fewer ambient voices calling for them to be strong people of character than there were when I was young. The moral compasses wielded by school teachers when I was in high school are virtually absent from my kids' experience. Television has degenerated as well, with shows extolling virtue and wisdom airing mainly during rerun marathons. It seems that parents have less help from the surrounding culture to grow children into responsible, strong and faithful adults than they did just a generation ago. This does not make it impossible to parent in today's American society, it just seems that to raise children as well as parents of yesteryear did, one must simply work harder than they did.

Working harder (and smarter) as a parent translates into being even more engaged in the church than parents a generation ago felt was necessary; to performing spiritual leadership in the home more than our parents did; to make the home more of a classroom; to being more attuned to children's needs and developmental stages; to taking even more advantage of the teachable moments to connect with kids around important principles. It simply requires greater commitment, competence and concentration from parents today to be as effective at developing the people in their home than was required of parents generations ago when the culture was more helpful. Some acknowledge this and retreat into the Christian subculture, avoiding as much contact with the outside world as possible. Our philosophy has, instead, been to simply take it to the next level so our children can "take the culture by storm."

Our decision has not been easy on our children though. They'd have likely had an easier existence had my wife and I simply resigned ourselves to developing average offspring. The temptation to revert to that is ever present. However, we've received reports that our philosophy is yielding promising results. Others that provide a positive report about our children only encourages us that all this hard work is having a positive effect. My poor children; this does not help them.

When I wake them up at 5:30 am twice a week for "morning PT" (physical training), they feel the full brunt of this philosophy. When we run a mile and a half on the dark, quiet streets I use that opportunity to share thoughts and principles of life with them. It's a special time of influence with them to offer fatherly insights while we struggle and sweat together. Moments like this are more difficult than most "reasonable" fathers might put their kids through; but we're not trying to produce children like most are. We are attempting to develop these children into adults that will be decidedly unlike most - with greater endurance, leadership instincts, character, wisdom and faith than their peers. Such times must seem like torture to my poor children. The average teenager would escape into an iPod to weather such moments of intensive interaction. However, we are not attempting to produce average teenagers either.

My poor children... I 'torture' them by assigning more reading than their school does. I 'torture' them by implementing strange family traditions that differ from the surrounding culture. I 'torture' them by giving all those 'pep talks' while running in the morning. I 'torture' them by helping them develop goals and aspirations that will require more work and excellence from them than perhaps they realize. I 'torture' them making them learn more, get stronger, think longer and mature faster than they would choose on their own.

My children are not having a fun childhood. They have a father that thinks they can grow up to be amazing people, and is working toward that end. I hope they one day make enough money to afford all the therapy. But if they don't need the therapy, hopefully they look back and think that while the childhood experience wasn't fun all the time... it was good.

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