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Several posts floating around on social media propose what kids need these days. They typically lament the fact that society allows a lack of self-discipline and respect, then say we should give kids boundaries, expectations, rules, limits, rewards, and consequences. And, that with these things in place, kids will rise to challenges and exceed our expectations every time.
I generally agree with this but feel the need for clarification because these posts might leave readers thinking of this as a kid problem. I think it’s an adult problem.
Under the topic of “Society,” I would add that kids need many examples of adults doing good work and serving their communities in all fields. Young people need the chance to do tasks appropriate for their age that contribute to their home, school, and community. Also, under “society,” they need to see adults treating others with kindness, especially teachers and community leaders.
I had one burned-out teacher when I was a kid. I didn’t enjoy being in her class, but the experience made me a better educator later on. I never knew of my mother’s negative conversations with that teacher until I was an adult because she didn’t want me to become belligerent and disrespectful toward the teacher. My mother was wise.
Now for “Boundaries.” Boundaries are good, especially if they’re reasonable and appropriate to the child’s age. If boundaries constantly shift because of parents’ emotions, kids are confused. If adults repeatedly violate boundaries appropriate for adults without consequences or apologies, that’s confusing too.
“Expectations” – Yes to expectations, along with the coaching and the gradual building of skills to reach them. I had music teachers, one coach, and one English teacher who were standouts in high expectations. If we underperformed, these teachers felt partly responsible and coached us some more until we got there.
We don’t always exceed expectations. Sometimes we lose the game or play a musical passage incorrectly. Part of striving toward high expectations is learning that we fail sometimes then get up and try again.
“Rules and Limits” Yes, along with rationale for the rules and limits. Rules need to be simple and few in number for kids (or this adult for that matter). Some rules have to be “don’t do this” type rules. The more “do this” rules, the better. Procedures can be more helpful than rules. How do I borrow the car? How do I apologize? How do I speak to others? How do I put something on our family calendar? How do I save my money to buy something? How do I get in touch with my parent during school or work? When do I do my homework, play, and practice?
“Rewards and Consequences” The best rewards cost nothing and are immediate and memorable. Telling a kid that his answer to a question was clear and showed some careful thinking will be remembered. Telling a kid her answer earned an “A” is alright but won’t be remembered.
Consequences should be as natural as possible. Contrived penalties for an infraction build resentment, and the penalties tend to be more dependent on the adult’s mood than the actual violation. My English teacher conferenced with me about something I wrote quickly and without much thought. At the end of the short visit, she told me to rewrite it and that the final grade would be on my final product. That was a reasonable and natural consequence, and it was a consequence that taught me to do better. Just giving me a “C” or “D” would have been easier but meaningless.
As I’m writing this, I feel convicted for my deficiencies in parenting. It’s a wonder our kids turn out as good as they do! When our first daughter was born, my mother gave me a small frame with eight silver dollars to remind me of a mistake she made in teaching me about money when I was a kid. The caption read, “No one said parents are perfect.” My mother was wise.
I’m thankful to have been raised by courageous parents. If Mother didn’t know how to do something, she’d read up and dive right in. She tried to do things right, but often said, “Some things are worth doing poorly.” She didn’t hold others to perfection, often saying, “When in doubt, take a step.” You might learn something new. She practiced this all of her life to the benefit of those around her, especially her children.
When Becca and I had our first daughter, Elsie gave us permission not to be perfect parents. She reminded me of the time she took me to the bank when I was 10 to deposit eight silver dollars my grandmother had given me over several years. The bank teller repeatedly asked if she was sure we wanted to do this. Mother later learned the silver dollars were worth much more than any interest from a savings account would bring.
Following our first daughter’s birth, Mother gave me a small framed set of eight silver dollars with a lettered message: “No one said parents are perfect.” No, perfection wasn’t required but viewed from a distance, my parents were pretty darn close.
My mother died on February 25. During the last few weeks, I visited my mother daily to assist with her evening meals. On one of these visits, I leaned over her bed and clearly said, “You were an amazing mother!” It felt awkward to say something so obvious. Her eyes filled with tears and she smiled. Over the weeks as she became less responsive, I read from a little book of memories she wrote in hopes that she would still hear me.
On February 24, I found some poems in the back of one of her books. I hadn’t seen them before and one caught my attention. It was the response to a writing assignment that she titled A Poem for Jimmy. She called my father Jimmy.
Mother would say it’s not great poetry. I would say it’s heartfelt and poetry at least worth reading. This was the last thing I read to Mother during our last visit.
A Poem for Jimmy
By Elsie Warnock
This is a poem for Jimmy
Who made my life begin.
Who has doubled life’s joys
And halved its sorrows.
We have worked together;
We have laughed together;
We have grieved together.
I will remember always
The marvelous quiet times of our lives.
This is a poem for you.
My father died in January at the age of 91, so this is our first Christmas without him. I was going through some letters and found one that I mentioned during my dad’s funeral to illustrate his wisdom in parenting.
He would be quick to say he wasn’t a perfect parent. I’d be quick to counter, perfection isn’t required. He wrote this letter (one of only a few) following the birth of our first child, Christen, in 1984. I pulled out an excerpt that stuck in my memory the first time I read it over 30 years ago. I often say, “With parents like mine, I should have turned out better!”
The photo was taken by my mother as my father and I moved some dirt in our backyard. Wish I still had that little wheelbarrow!
Note: I would like to clarify that I never noticed the discipline slipping with my dad, but I did see evidence of unconditional love throughout his life.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a poem about my dad while thinking of how we spend years around someone and only scratch the surface. Part of the poem is below:
He was quiet, concrete, strong, and deliberate,
But often sang happy songs with a clear tenor voice.
He read slowly but knew what he read.
He was honest, even when it cost.
He loved his wife and kids, maybe imperfectly,
But he loved with his best understanding at the time.
Some have sad memories of their fathers.
Mine are not.
My only sadness? I barely knew him.
A familiar pungent vapor suddenly burned my nostrils. I stopped and raised the hood to see gasoline spattering onto the motor of my riding lawnmower. I quickly shut off the engine and stepped a few feet away to fill my lungs with fresh air, thankful that there was no fire.
I stood motionless, staring at the hot gasoline-covered engine crackling in the sun, waiting for it to cool. When would I find the time to make two trips hauling that mower to and from the repair shop as my grass continued to grow?
Then, I thought about Saturdays from my childhood while watching my dad repair our old riding mower I’d nicknamed “Death-Trap” because of the way its single steel blade threw rocks and limbs from underneath the deck. It’s a wonder I still have all my toes.
Maybe I should at least make an attempt at repairing this much newer machine. I decided to remove the offending parts, one of which I couldn’t identify.
When I got to the mower shop, I presented the parts to Rick, the expert behind the counter. “I need a fuel filter and this other thing,” I said, thumping my finger against the black plastic casing. He raised his eyebrows at my little display. He was crisp and clean in his dark green company overalls, but it was early in the day.
“Oh, you need a fuel pump.”
“I thought a fuel pump would be bigger.”
Rick bent the connecting hoses to reveal small cracks and said, “I’ll throw in a piece of new hose, too.” He stepped quickly away to retrieve the parts and returned in less than a minute.
I moved to the cash register and said, “My dad could fix anything, but I didn’t get that trait. Do you charge double for repairs gone wrong?”
Rick laughed and said, “My whole family sings beautifully, but I can’t carry a tune. When I was 12 years old, our preacher said something about the joys of singing and my mother elbowed me and said, ‘Not you. You can’t sing.’ She wasn’t trying to be mean, but I got the message.”
I tilted my head, frowned, and said, “You should go ahead and sing anyway.” I didn’t mention to him that I was a musician.
He smiled and said, “Hope the mower repair works. If you get into a bind, just bring it in, and we’ll take care of it.”
While getting in my truck to leave, I felt a tinge of sadness at Rick’s comments about singing. I thought about how different my life might have been if my parents had pointed out things I couldn’t do. Daddy never said I couldn’t fix things or that everything I touched ended up broken even though I showed little evidence of being handy with tools and was sometimes accident prone.
When I got back home, the engine was cool to the touch. After installing the fuel filter and pump and making the hoses match the picture I took with my phone before removing them, I cranked up the mower. I watched the golden gasoline begin flowing through the clear fuel filter housing. Nothing was spewing from that little black fuel pump, and the motor was running normally. I smiled, thinking of how proud Daddy would be.
As I began cutting our tall grass, I thought about how I dreaded those childhood mowing days with my father. Back then, what should have been a two-hour job often took most of the day, because old “Death-Trap” often broke down. Now, I’m thankful for those Saturdays spent watching Daddy repair that riding mower. Both of us were unaware of the lessons being taught. I wonder if he knew how those lessons would be remembered years later at a lawn mower shop, by a much older son who is still in awe of the man whose example he still tries to follow.
My mother turned 87 on Wednesday, August 8th. When I see her, I see the total of who she has been throughout my life.
I see a loving mother, a committed wife to my dad, and a devoted member of her extended family. I’ve seen her strength in the face of tragedy, illness, and loss. Her small frame stood firm through any challenges that came her way.
When I look at my mother, I see a teacher with an amazing work-ethic who invested herself in the lives of children throughout her career. I see someone dedicated to her faith and church. She could write thoughtful and beautiful stories. If a community group needed a directory, she’d organize and type it up. If her church needed a play or program, she’d write and direct it. The little lady got stuff done!
I see a mother who was patient with my reluctance to read and obsession with drumming and all things music. She gave me space to explore and follow my interests. She was interested in what I was doing but didn’t hover, or try to control the outcome of everything. Ironically, music led me to greater learning in all areas. She seemed to understand that both of her children were unique and would grow healthier if given love, emotional safety, and the freedom to travel their individual paths in life.
Someone recently lamented the fact that I hadn’t been on any long hiking trips lately due to my parents’ health. I said with a laugh, “They let me live through those rebellious teenage years. The least I can do is help out now.” I’m thankful for the times I’ve been able to serve and assist her during physical struggles. I need the chance to give more than she needs the assistance.
When I see mother today, I do see her loss of mobility and declining eyesight, two things that she finds frustrating because they limit her ability to serve and stay connected to others. More importantly, though, I see a person of dignity in the face of physical challenges. Her humor and kind words for others still brighten a room. Her commitment to my dad is still on full display.
I’m thankful for my mother and grateful for the memories and and vibrant personality that weave into the image I see when I’m with her today.
There are a number of things you never did….and for these I’m thankful.
You never argued in my presence. If you had disagreements, I never knew because you resolved things in private and presented a unified front as parents. Two parents on the same page is a force to be reckoned with and simplified my younger years.
You didn’t speak critically of each other. You had a genuine appreciation for each other’s talents and skills.
You never struck me out of anger. Oh, there were a few spankings along the way, but the carefully thought out discussion in preparation for a spanking was where the real teaching occurred.
You didn’t yell at me in a harsh way. You spoke to each other and to your children in a respectful tone, even when you were disappointed or upset.
You never discouraged me. You tended to encourage my interests even when you might have liked to shape them in another direction. Sorry about the drum related headaches.
You never dropped me off at a school music performance and picked me up later. You stayed and watched the performance. Any criticism was mild. “Why did the drummers keep talking during the performance?” Your message to stop talking was received.
You never acted as if you were sacrificing anything for us even though you were. I remember daddy’s early morning departures for work and years of shift work so he could provide for our family. I remember mother grading tests and spending time reading to prepare as a teacher.
You never lost commitment for each other. I remember hearing your late night conversations and knowing that you were committed for the long haul.
You never fail to recognize each other’s strengths. I remember daddy saying on several occasions, “It’s amazing what your mother can do.” I remember mother bragging on and thanking daddy for the work he did.
You didn’t make unreasonable demands on each other or your children. You depend on each other in a healthy way. This has become even more pronounced during recent years. You both confirm that the other has strengths that complete you and make it possible for you to continue to thrive as you do.
You never worried about having the “best” of everything. You taught me it is what you do with what you have that matters. Used or secondhand is just fine if it works. Note to Daddy: One exception I take to this lesson relates to lawn mowers. After spending so many Saturdays of my childhood watching you patch up mowers rather than mowing, I now own a very nice mower.
You never belittled what I said even when I was a know-it-all teenager. You listened even when you probably wanted to show me the irrationality of what I was saying.
You never tried to “go it alone” in life. You built friendships through your work, church, and your community. You tended to hang around other good people, sharing your strengths and learning from them. You made everything you were involved in better.
You didn’t criticize my wife. You treated her like a daughter and accepted her as a true member of your family.
You never rejected friends or family. You were understanding and showed love for others even when they made mistakes or seemed distant for a time. You’ve shown a tendency to forgive and move on with others.
To be continued….
Congratulations on sixty-three years together. That is an amazing accomplishment. I’ve been around to see fifty-eight of those years and have some credibility on the subject of your marriage and your parenting. I give you highest grades on both areas.
Thank you for your continuing commitment to each other, your family, church, and community. We are all blessed by your influence.
I had great parents but didn’t realize this until around age 25. They’ve become more impressive to me with each passing year. What made them great parents? I’d like to list a few things that stand out to me.
They were there… My parents made an effort to attend performances and sporting events I was involved in. More importantly, they were there emotionally at home. We had conversations and they let me know that I was an important part of the family….not the center of attention….not the center of their universe, but an important part of the family.
They had expectations of me. They gave me jobs around the house and expected them to be done. They expected me to do well in school. They expected me to work and earn a living. They expected me to respect others. The list goes on but you get the idea.
My parents treated each other with respect. They may have gotten a little cross or edgy on rare occasions but always in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
My parents loved me unconditionally but also let me experience negative consequences. They never cared less about me because I made a mistake but they did require that I face the consequences of my actions. Consequences could be unpleasant but I knew they loved me no matter what.
Parenting is a difficult task! My parents have often said they weren’t perfect but I don’t think perfection is required. Giving yourself to the job of parenting and doing the best you can each day is the key.
As an educator, I’m thankful that parents are willing to trust us with their most precious possessions, their children. Children will someday recognize the good work their parents and teachers do and we will have the satisfaction of seeing their continued growth and learning.