Parent Babel, Part 1

blah-blah-blahIn our modern era, no one questions the authority of the experts. But someone should. Because when it comes to parenting, the one thing the experts lack is expertise.

We are surrounded by a bevy of academics – psychologists, sociologists, educational consultants – who have researched legions of children. They attend conferences about the development of children. They write studies about children. The one thing they often haven’t done is to raise children. Which makes it hard to be an expert.

The word expertise speaks of prowess, proficiency, competence. Which means that the true experts in child-raising are those who have actually raised children well. Most of these people don’t write books or speak at conferences. They’re too busy reading with their kids or building Lego towers with their grandkids.

But wait – isn’t it taboo to talk of raising children well? If it’s possible to raise them well… doesn’t that lead to the conclusion that it’s also possible to be incompetent as a parent? Answer: Have you ever seen a 4-year-old collapse in a heap on the grocery store floor while his mother tries to cajole and bribe him? ‘Nuff said.

The academic-style “experts” came to prominence in the 1950s and 60s. We are now two-going-on-three generations deep into the social experiment they championed – not quite enough distance to mark its demise, but enough to recognize where it’s trending. Ask yourself: do we live in a more courteous, civil, and virtuous society than we did 50 years ago? No? God forbid that we’d step back and ask what got us here.

Any teacher, day care staffer, or social worker knows what’s changed. Raising children used to be the primary job of parents – a job reinforced by societal expectation. Society (schools, families, neighborhoods) expected children to behave, and frowned upon children who didn’t. Respect, courtesy, and obedience was the norm. Did this mean every kid was respectful and obedient? Of course not. Were some kids forced to behave by overbearing and authoritarian parents who lacked love and gentleness? Sure, just like some athletes are forced to perform by overbearing and authoritative coaches, and some grad students are forced to re-write their theses by overbearing and authoritative professors. But we must not confound the what with the how. It’s possible to achieve the proper what (a respectful and obedient kid, a premier athlete, a top-notch thesis) with an improper how (harsh parenting, coaching, or advising). The obvious answer is to repair the how. Instead, the child-psychology “experts” created a whole new problem by rejecting the what.

Buoyed by the work of key figures like Sigmund Freud and Benjamin Spock, academic “experts” began to assert that children should not be raised in an environment of authority and discipline, but rather in an environment of permissiveness and “positive self-esteem.” They should pursue individual self-expression rather than being expected to conform to behavioral norms. And parents, too – especially mothers – should bow the knee to Almighty Individualism, pursuing their own career goals rather than settling for the old-fashioned role of raising children.

As a result, child-rearing has largely become the job of teachers and daycare providers and government institutions. Parents have outsourced the task of parenting – partly because of their own apathy and confusion, and partly because of the government’s creeping incursion into the family. And the results speak for themselves. Our culture desperately needs parents to return to the high calling of parenthood.

And that won’t happen by consulting the academic “experts.” Rather, it will come by seeking mentors and models who have actually raised good children. Virtuous ones. Courageous ones. Respectful ones. Kids you enjoy being around. They’re out there. Go find them. Their parents are the true experts you should be listening to.

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