National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Parenting on the Fringe

Childrearing wisdom served up warm and witty from dad and doctor Ray Guarendi.

BY Dr. Ray Guarendi

April 15-21, 2007 Issue | Posted 4/10/07 at 10:00 AM


My sons, ages 12 and 13, accuse me of being more strict and giving less freedom than any parent they know. I think they may be right. I worry about being too far out of the mainstream.

Since when does the mainstream define “good”? Do you want to be like most parents or do you want to raise great kids? The two goals are not compatible.

Back when I was a child — the low Middle Ages, according to my teenage daughters — we kids also accused parents of not following the group. Isn’t it amazing how teens assert their individuality by being sheep in a flock? And they think parents should do likewise.

There is a profound difference between parent comparisons then and now. At one time, most other parents did hold to similar standards. Nowadays, as more parents are surrendering to the declining mores of the culture, kids are looking around, doing some personal polling and concluding, “Yep, I did get one of the extreme ones.”

Just as peers pull hard on teens, so too do peers pull hard on parents. All too often, the pull is downward. Many is the parent who has lamented to me, “Sometimes I say Yes when I really don’t think it’s wise, or compromise when I shouldn’t just because I seem so different from other parents.”

To use the favorite word of my sister during kid arguments: So?

The critical question is not “Where does my parenting fall on some sort of group permissiveness scale?” but “What kind of kid do I want to raise?”

If you want a child similar to most children, parent like most parents. If you want an exceptional child — a one-in-a-thousand kid, if you will — in morals, responsibility, maturity, compassion, then you’d best be ready to be a one-in-a-thousand parent.

True, you give your youngsters less freedom than what 74% of other same-aged kids get. You require more respect than 98% of parents require. You enforce standards and discipline better than 81% of families do. In the end, what will all of this most likely get you? Not a young rebel without a cause, counting the minutes until he can rip free of Attila the Hun’s suffocating restraints. Oh, he may make those kinds of noises for a few years — but, ultimately, what you’ll behold is a young man or woman who reflects your “fringe parenting” in the most positive sense.

An axiom of statistics is: The real good and the real bad are real uncommon. They’re far out of the normal range. Apply that to parenting: The better you strive to be, the less “normal” you are.

One more reassurance: Your home is not merely a place of strict rules, unyielding limits and arbitrary dictates. Or, at least, I hope not. Your unusually high standards are within the context of love, warmth, togetherness and stability. These soften and eventually eliminate any lingering teen resentment and resistance over your extreme way of raising children.

Just as your discipline falls in the top 10% of parents’, so too does your love. Great parents have lots of both, and they are an unbeatable combination for raising an abnormal kid, in the best sense of the word.

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