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Dr. Ray Guarendi answers your questions on Catholic childrearing.
BY Dr. Ray Guarendi
I guess I read too much. I’m always worried that I’m going
to do something wrong as a parent — something that will cause my children
serious emotional problems later on in their lives.
Your question underscores what may be the most haunting fear
among good parents today: the fear of making a childrearing “mistake” that will
lay the groundwork for psychological damage.
What’s more tormenting is that you can’t know when or where
the damage is going to surface because it’s buried deep within a youngster’s
psyche, festering for years until rearing its ugly head. And when it does, you
have to wonder helplessly what you “did wrong.”
Seventeen years from now, is your daughter going to be
sitting in the middle of some encounter group, along with seven other
ex-embezzling parolees — she’s their leader — talking about you and the turning
point in her life?
“I’ve never shared this with anyone before. I was barely 5
years old. My mother was screaming my full name over and over from the garage,
along with words I couldn’t understand. Then she started throwing my Care Bears
under the truck tires, driving back and forth over it, laughing hideously and
promising that she’d never buy me anything ever again if I couldn’t keep it
where people wouldn’t trip over it. I was never the same after that.”
How can you possibly parent, much less enjoy it, under such
a black cloud? Under the constant fear that if you miscalculate, misjudge, lose
your cool or make any other human miscue, you run the risk of setting into
motion an unseen chain of emotional events that will culminate in a social
Charity hates to share with her brother. If you maker her do
so, will she grow up hating men? The only way to get Newton to do his math
homework is to require he finish it immediately after school before he goes
outside to play. He hates this rule and fights it. Is he eventually going to be
so turned off towards numbers that he’ll become a sixth-grade dropout?
Day-to-day parenthood requires so many decisions and
judgments that you could keep yourself in perpetual turmoil second-guessing
every move you make.
The experts have done a lot to scare parents.
I saw a “family specialist” on national television tell
parents that the absolute worst thing they could do to their children — it
would lead to all manner of addictions and psychological imbalance — was to be
inconsistent. What parent isn’t? In fact, what is the defining characteristic
of human beings? Inconsistency.
There is not one of us who is even close to consistent in
parenting or anything else. We may strive for that goal, but we’ll never get
there. And now we’ve just been told that because we are what we are, we’ll ruin
our kids! One parent said to me, “Reading all this stuff makes me feel like the
worst thing for a child is a parent.”
Parents must allow themselves to be human. Good parenting is
a process of learning from good and bad moves alike. You’ll make plenty of poor
decisions. You’ll say things you shouldn’t. You’ll overreact.
Two other realities make it likely that, in sum total, you
will make more mistakes than your parents did, even if you’re a better parent.
The first is: Childhoods are getting shorter. Nine-year-olds now face
situations that, two generations ago, kids didn’t have to reckon with till they
The world is fast becoming a tricky, seductive place. If
it’s harder for a child to grow up, it will be harder for a parent to grow up
with her. More mistakes will be made along the way.
The second reality is that, while childhoods are getting
shorter, parenthoods are getting longer. In the past generations, after 18
years or so, the kids left to try life on their own. Nowadays, 26 or 27 years
after birth, they’re still hanging around. They might leave for a couple of
years just to tease you, but soon they’re back — just as needy and demanding as
Parenthood is not for the faint of heart. It’s as demanding
as it is rewarding. In the end, the whole picture is what counts. And for most
of us, the good moves far outnumber the bad.
For more of Ray Guarendi’s wit and wisdom,
visit the redesigned DrRay.com