What kids need from parents
Last Friday night, our fifteen-year-old daughter went to a Valentine's masquerade party, hosted by the parents of one of her friends from school. They owned a roller-skating rink in a nearby town.
The party started at 10:45 p.m. -- after the rink was closed and the customers went home. It was slated to end at one in the morning.
About eight in the evening it began to snow. So now we left earlier to pick up the friends she was providing with a ride, and drove well under the speed limit the whole way.
When the part was over, by the time we had dropped off her friends and returned safely home it was two-thirty in the morning. We all fell into bed, exhausted.
Here's the amazing thing: The next morning, our daughter was talking to her mom at breakfast and she said, "Last night was wonderful. I'm so grateful that you and dad were willing to stay up so late to drive us there and back."
Yeah, that's right. Eat your hearts out, parents of Teenagers of the Ordinary Kind.
I remember, years ago, sitting at a restaurant table with a group of teenagers. I was paying, so they had to let me stay.
One of the girls was going on and on about how awful her mother was. "She's known about this prom for four months and she still hasn't even begun making my dress! I can't believe how lazy she is!"
This was so outrageous I could not keep silence. "Your mother is going to nursing school."
"That's why I gave her so much advance notice, but it didn't do any good!"
"And your mother has a chronic illness. She doesn't feel well most of the time."
"I still have to go to prom, don't I? And thanks to her, I won't have a dress!"
She was completely impervious to my attempts to get her to see things from her mother's perspective. Sadly enough, that is how we cynically expect teenagers to behave. Ungrateful, because they assume that parents exist to serve them.
(By the way, this same girl was extremely kind to my children, and has grown up to be a productive human being; most teenagers do. I'm betting that she has a very different attitude toward parenting now that she has children of her own!)
I rather imagine that in places and eras where slavery was morally unquestioned, that's how people felt about their slaves, simply taking them for granted and impatient when they did not perform exactly as wished.
In our time, with so much wealth (even our poor are usually rich by third-world standards), most teenagers grow up with a sense of entitlement, which leads not so much to ingratitude as to obliviousness. It doesn't occur to them that things could be any other way.
And isn't that what we try to provide for them? A life without want? Isn't that how we measure out success as providers?
They'll learn soon enough -- because when they leave home and start to try to live from their earnings, and even more when they marry and start to have children, it won't take long for them to realize just how hard it is to earn a good living and provide for children as their parents -- we! -- provided for them.
There's one thing we provide for them -- or should -- that they may never be grateful for, because it's so easy to miss.
In teaching seminary, my wife got to where Alma was writing to his son Helaman (Alma 36-17). He tells his conversion story, and also gives Helaman numerous commandments and lots of good advice.
Helaman was an adult by then, and was expected to succeed his father as head of the Church. But Alma certainly didn't start teaching his son in this letter.
My wife asked her students what things their parents were continually -- even annoyingly -- trying to teach them now, in their youth. Here's a partial list:
"How to do the laundry."
"How to jumpstart the car." (Others then added many things about maintaining the car and driving properly.)
"They prepare us to go to the temple."
"They give us allowances so we can learn to pay our tithing and manage our money."
"They're always pointing out young men and saying, 'You could marry a boy like that' or 'don't you think of marrying a boy who acts that way."
The kids were all laughing -- sometimes ruefully -- because it was obvious that they had all heard these teachings so often they thought of them as a joke -- or an annoyance.
My wife reminded them how, when Alma was going through his great trial, suffering the most terrible agony for his own sins, he remembered the words of his father talking about Christ (Alma 36:17-18). That was what saved him, the memory of his father's words -- and judging from Alma's rebelliousness, perhaps he thought he had heard his father's advice way too much.
My wife then asked, "So when you're on a date with a jerk, don't you think you're going to hear your father's voice saying, 'Don't marry this guy'?"
They looked over the list of repeated parental teachings, and decided that if they actually leave home with the knowledge of how to do laundry, how take care of their cars, how to manage their money, how to prepare for the temple, and how to choose a good mate and start a marriage well, then their parents will have done an excellent job.
And then it would be their turn -- to annoy their own children with repeated advice about how to live good lives and be happy.
On that day, for that hour at least, and years ahead of schedule, these teenagers saw their relationship with their parents from the other side. And you know what? They got it -- they understood just what it is that good parents do.
And we who are adults, trying to be good parents -- we must remember that parenting is the way we learn just what it is that God is trying to do for us.
Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card
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