8 Oct

As parents we are continuously making choices that affect the lives of our children. These choices can range from relatively simple choices about food, clothes and toys to earth shattering choices (for the child and the parent) like separation and divorce.
The problem with choices that we as parents make is that the price for that choice is often paid by the child. Sometimes immediately and sometimes years afterwards… But there is always a price attached to every choice. We know today that nothing we do with our children or to our children is only for this moment. Everything, whether it is the autocratic way we decide which clothes a child should wear, or allowing children to look at unsuitable TV programmes, influence their lives.

To be a parent is not easy. I raised my children in a relatively simple environment in the 70’s. The influence of social media was not present and indeed the world around us was safe and child friendly. This is in stark contrast with the educational landscape of today.  Raising your children to be independent and responsible has always been an educational goal for every parent. However, this is not so clear or easy today. It is a truism to talk of the small world and the global village. The ills of the society spread like a contagious disease almost at random in this global village.

One of the choices parents make that influences the child and the teenager profoundly is the decision to divorce. Parents often feel that continuous bickering and fighting, infidelity and instability are worse than divorce. Adults that endured divorce as children disagree with this. They feel that nothing in the world is as bad as your parents divorcing.

Very young children blame themselves for their parents’ divorce. They feel that it happened because they were not good enough. This is an almost general feeling even though parents reassure their children that it is not their fault. These children would sometimes try to manipulate their parents to remarry and they keep hoping for years that their parents will get together again.

Older children and teenagers feel neglected and a great anger at their parents. This often leads to behaviour that could be quite devastating for the future of these children. I always compare the road of life with a road full of huge potholes. The problem is that sometimes these potholes are camouflaged with friends that can make you feel better about yourself. There are also holes that provide substances that can dull your pain and anger and of course there are also those things you can do to show your parents exactly how angry you are; things like having unprotected sex and getting pregnant. That is really the ultimate revenge!

Of course not all young people fall into these holes. It has nothing to do with luck though. Their parents provide a solid security. A place where you know what is expected, where you are allowed to make mistakes and take responsibility for your mistakes and especially a place where you as a child are allowed to develop a strong sense of self and hopefully a reflective thinking style that will help you as young person to think for yourself and make choices that are responsible and respectful of yourself.

To raise a child to become an adult with these characteristics is not easy. All of us who marry with stars in our eyes very soon come to earth and realise that marriage is a lifelong building project. It is not easy and often we do not have approved building plans. When we decide to have children this marriage becomes even more difficult. Often people feel that a child will help keep a shaky relationship together. Think again; a colicky, teething baby is enough to drive even the most loving parents to temporary insanity. All of these decisions impact on the child and the child pays a huge price for the decisions of adults in his or her life.

What do I say? That we need to put our own needs on hold because we have children? That is exactly what I am saying. Choosing to have a child has the automatic attachment of choosing to be a parent. Parents are people that have to do things that they do not like (repetitively) at times that do not suit them (all the time), and they get very little payback! Why do we do it? Your child puts her sticky hands around your neck and gives you a sticky kiss; your teenager turns around while walking with his girlfriend to the prom and he blows you a kiss. When your children become parents and they make the right choices when they have children, that is like winning the lottery!

The best prize is that as a parent, putting your children first and making the right choices with your partner, ensure that it is not only your children that grow up. You as a parent also change and become the real person you were intended to be.

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