Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Fine Line

To keep my sanity while I work out on my elliptical machine early in the mornings, I watch old movies on the VCR attached to our color television set from 1990. The set is still in terrific shape as is the VCR. We've tried to update to a DVD player this Christmas, but the technology didn't match up. So, in addition to dozens of years of home movies which I've written about before, I've begun to attack our collection of Hollywood movies we own on VHS. This week I've been watching Dead Poet's Society about a group of boys in a boarding school in 1959/60 who are introduced to independent thinking by their new English teacher played by Robin Williams. The movie is good, the acting the same, but the story line culminates in a tragedy due to one family's stranglehold on their son. As a parent, the first time I've watched this movie as such, this horrifies and scares me. What is the fine line between raising a child responsibly and clipping his wings?

From my earliest memories I can recall being told by my father that I can be anything I want to be, from President of the United States to a hair dresser, as long as I was the best at what I did. He tried to instill in me working my hardest to accomplish my goals. He also told me to go to college. In fact, I never considered that not to be an option. College was a part of my life. Period. Being the third child my life under my parents' roof was filled with boundaries, guidelines, and advice, but was also more relaxed than my brothers' way of life in the same house. What I know now and probably understood growing up, was that I had free will, choice, and my own decisions to make about the direction my life was to go. This is the most fortunate of circumstances. I know Hollywood can use hyperbole to make a point and create conflict, but I'm also convinced that there were and are families like the one depicted in the movie that don't allow children to reach for and follow their own dreams.

I became a teacher at the secondary level and taught history initially in high school, grades 9-12. and ended my formal teaching career in a middle school setting, grade 8. I was, in my most humble opinion, the best at what I did. I was perhaps not the best history teacher, although I was excited about and loved my subject matter, but I was the best teacher to these children/young adults. I listened to them, encouraged them, inspired them, and talked to them. We had a rapport unlike any other. I was always their teacher, we never crossed the line where I imagined myself their friends, but now that I've been away from teaching for over 8 years, I'm finding my students, who are now adults, as friends on FaceBook. And they still remember me fondly, telling me I was, without a doubt, their favorite teacher.

In my time teaching I saw some students who were too free - disrespectful not only of teachers, administrators, or other authority figures, but to their own parents. They were unable to identify when to reign in their obnoxious behavior; a problem I pinpoint to the parents' lack of discipline at home. Yes, I am one of those people who feel children need boundaries and when they test the boundaries they need to be disciplined so they understand the boundaries are non-negotiable. This starts in infancy/toddlerhood and continues through college-aged young adults who may still be dependents. I believe, from research and observation, that children desperately want, nay, crave, perimeters. They feel safer knowing what the rules are and what happens if they should be broken. I'm not the first to state this notion, I just feel it needs to be revisited by many of the parents I run in to on any given day. Parents today seem to feel their children rule the roost. Johnny and Janey decide when and what to eat, when they'll sleep and how they'll spend their days and mom and dad simply pay for it, drive them to and fro, and simply wish not to be disturbed too much. I cannot abide by that. We are turning out rude, disconnected children who feel entitled to too much in our society without earning anything. They have little to no compassion and have no manners nor respect for others. Am I generalizing? Sure. But in my daily travels and with a teacher background, I can sadly report that I see more of this type of parenting than the kind where the parent is a parent, setting a positive example for their child to live.

So being too lax with one's child/ren is disturbing to me and detrimental to society. On the other hand, not allowing your child to have free thoughts, independent decision-making skills, and a chance to live his/her own dreams is also despicable. Some parents still try to live vicariously through their children. Offering better opportunities is wonderful and noble, but keeping perspective that one's child is a separate entity from oneself is utterly vital to both lives.

My husband and I adore racing as a hobby, actually participating as well as watching. Our boys and now little girl get taken along with us as they joined our lives, not the other way around. Once our children are old enough they will be given the choice to continue to accompany us, or do their own thing. We hope they like the same things as we do, but we know that everybody finds their own passions. If they find different hobbies, sports, or interests, we are more than willing to learn what they enjoy. They do not have to pigeonhole themselves into our lives forever.

We raise our three children as best as we can. We are not perfect and neither are they. What we do try to do is instill a moral code, a set of manners, and a love/lust for life. We stress the importance of education, both formal and informal, the necessity of physical health in exercise and healthy diet, and the joy of fun! We tap interests, expose them to as much as we can, and encourage their talents. As they grow into young adulthood, I pray we can accept their choices and allow them to fly freely from our nest.

There is a fine line between clipping their wings and taking their voice away and allowing them to fall out of the nest on their faces because they are not prepared. Parenting is the hardest job on the planet. Period. End of story. Navigating the rough waters, rocky terrain, and hairpin turns is exhausting, treacherous, and stressful. But it is a job I signed up for and take quite seriously. I brought these children into this world and now it is my duty to make them productive, caring, positive and kind people in society. My job will not be done until that happens.

I'll step down from my soapbox now. I usually keep things a bit lighter, societally, on this blog. But children are a subject near and dear to my heart and always have been. I was blessed with great parents. They, like I, are not perfect, but they love me perfectly. They provided for me in all ways perfectly. Hopefully I honor them in my life's choices and pursuits. Hopefully my children will feel the same about me when they are adults. I'll know, like my father instilled in me as a child, that at least I did my best.


  1. Wow! Way to go Chief you'll be writing speeches for the White House next !

  2. Chief, I wonder if you've heard the most recent episode of This American Life about children making some very grown-up decisions.

    The episode ends with a story about a school in Brooklyn where the students are given the power to make the rules for the school. I don't want to ruin it for you by giving away too much. But I was left feeling that children are not always able to make the best decisions for their own well-being. But also learn very important life lessons from being allowed to fail.

  3. Sadie - there was such an experimental school in the UK in the 90s... now closed.

    Chief - thank you for expressing what I'm sure is in a lot of people's minds. Of course, the quiet majority have earned their reputation by not expressing themselves but I'm SO GLAD you do/did/have! Awesome. (Love that film, too!)

  4. Stephen I think two such schools might still exist one, just down the road from my own long gone secondary school, is called Frensham Heights and the other is called Summerhill School.

    Legend had it that students set their own agenda's not sure that is or was the case, I was never able to fully verify it but I do remember a former Frensham Heights student once telling me she found it very hard to fit in with the world after she left.

  5. Dead Poet's Society is one of my all time favorite movies. It is then when I fell head over heels for Robert Sean Leonard (Neil).

    My theories about parenting right now have been turned upside down along with many other facets of my life so I wouldn't be able to coherently express my thoughts on the subject.

    Fabulous blog though. :)

  6. You and Racer are spot on, dead serious, no holds barred parents, and I love that!

    One of my creteria for finding a person to spend the rest of my life with, had to have the same beliefs you and racer have. No buts, no bull.

    Students, especially know spend more time with there teachers than they do with there parents. It was different when I grew up.

    I thought I had a difficult position until what I have seen the past decade.

    I have one daughter and I'm very proud of her, she works in law and she was like you Chief. College was a must and I was soo jazzed.

    Keep doing what your doing and your kids will thank you later. JN Iceman

  7. I haven't seen the movie you watched Chief because the topic sometimes angers me. I will make a point of watching it when I have spare time.