The Task of the Child


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


If questioned as to what parents expect from their children, most parents will indicate that they want their children to be happy and they expect them to be or become responsible individuals. Most parents will even go so far as to say that they try to put their children first. Most parents will sacrifice so that their children can have the things that they never were able to have as children themselves.

This is all well and good but as I watch children respond to the sacrifices that parents make it becomes more and more obvious that when parents sacrifice for their children, their children conclude that, as children, they are entitled to a world of happiness and ease. Children also seem to conclude that happiness and ease are not the lot of their parents. Parents, from a child’s perspective, exist to meet the children’s needs.

This may be a nice idea in a world where children become adults overnight and as a result appreciate the sacrifices that their parents make for them. It may even be a good idea in a world in which children are unselfish and willing to imitate the behavior of their parents and will also sacrifice to make sure that their parents live a relatively happy life also.

But alas, such is not the case. It is therefore necessary to build a more realistic model of expectations for the child and the parent. Let me propose a new way of thinking that I feel will put priorities where they belong and help the child gain the right perspective. This new way of looking at the parent-child relationship will help children learn to be responsible and caring citizens, and at the same time assure that parents remain very happy as children discover how they need to behave in the “real” world. Here is my idea:

1.    Parents should stop trying to make sure that children are happy and spend a lot of time trying to make sure they remain happy.

2.    Parents should not feel it their job to make the child happy, rather it should be the job of the child to make the parent happy. As a result a common question asked by every parent to their children each day should be, “What are you going to do today to make sure that I remain happy?”

3.    When children misbehave, parents should spend little time trying to control the child or make sure he or she does the “right thing,” rather parents should spend a lot of time deciding what action they now must take to assure that the child’s misbehavior does not interfere with the happy life they themselves deserve.

4.    Communicate with your children and let them know that you will not allow their behavior to bring unhappiness into your life. Their behavior may bring unhappiness into their life because of the choices you may have to make should their behavior infringe on your decision to have a happy life.

Let me give some practical examples of this change in thinking. Let us assume that your teenager says that they feel it is time that they obtain a car. Tell them that they can have a car as long as you remain happy. Tell them that you will be very happy with their new car as long as you do not have to put out any money for this car. You will also be very happy if they can drive you to your appointments on occasion so that you do not have to be inconvenienced because your spouse needs the family car. Tell them that you will be very happy if they drive carefully because you do not want to worry about their safety and the safety of others. Let them know that you are happy when they keep you informed of their whereabouts so you do not have to worry. Let them know that when they pay for their own insurance and gas that this also makes you happy because there is no burden on the family resources. Let them know that to assure that you can know for sure that your happiness will not be jeopardized by a teenager with a car that you expect respectful and responsible behavior for six months before a car is purchased. This behavior will give you the assurance that happiness will be yours when they are on the road. In other words, if your teenager can assure your happiness then a car is a nice idea.

Another example might help. Let us assume that you are going on vacation and your children are going with you. Let them know that you will be willing to make the trip a happy trip for them by driving, paying for the motel rooms, paying for meals, and being pleasant on the trip. Then ask them how they plan to make you happy on the trip. This may be a new and novel idea to them. But it seems fair to me that if you want to be happy and enjoy them that their job is to do the same for you. Let them know that if they make the trip to Disney Land miserable for you that baby sitters can be hired so they can stay back at the hotel, assuring you that you can have a fun time at the Theme Parks. It is really up to them. You plan on having a good time. Let them know if they can’t make your trip happy then you will not spend all your time nagging at them rather, you will have the good time you planed. If they are old enough you may even let them know that you have saved enough money for a plane ticket home from Florida if it looks like their presence is going to make the trip miserable for you.

I know this thinking may sound a little radical and I am proposing these ideas with some tongue in cheek. But, there is some merit in assuring that children are not allowed the power to make your life miserable. There is some merit in taking care of you. There is also some merit in letting your children know that you are not “slave material” but a human being with feelings and emotions that should be considered. There is some merit in the idea that parents and children should respect the rights of each other.