It sounds stupid, right? “Parenting is not about parents.” Why don’t you tell me that gaming is not about games, or that painting is not about paint, or that spackling is not about spackle? But seriously – parenting is not about having children, or about being perfect parents, or about getting your kids to be your friends, or really anything that centers on the parent. Parenting is about children. The whole concept of parenting is child-centered. Here’s a newborn baby. He can’t really eat, walk, protect itself, or put on his own pants without help. He’s a vomiting lump of vulnerable, powder-scented meat. If parents were focused on themselves, they probably wouldn’t be parents.
I was cruising around online today (looking for hilarious cat pictures, of course), when I stumbled upon one of the most absurd advice columns I’ve ever encountered. It’s a parent complaining about their son, who is homosexual. Now, just for all you haters out there, I’ll add this disclosure: I’m not here to say whether this kid is right or wrong for his life decisions. Frankly, from this letter, I don’t know a thing about the kid. What worries me most is the parent’s attitude toward his or her child. Check it out:
I’ll take the liberty of translating the parent’s portion of this exchange, just to clarify my point. Here’s what I get from reading this:
Dear Amy: my son just told me he’s gay.
I’m so worried this is going to humiliate me.
He probably just hates me because I ignore him.
Please make him stop. He’s getting on my nerves.
Now, let me give another disclosure here. I’m not a parent yet. So really, all the advice I have on parenting is from the child’s perspective. I recognize that parents need their own lives, and all that. I’m not advocating parental servitude here. But when a child is going through a life crisis, he needs a parent’s support – not shame. What this parent probably thought he or she wrote was something like this:
I believe homosexuality is wrong, and my son’s decision troubles me. I’m not sure how to handle this, and I want your help and advice.
But what the parent actually expressed was that their convenience, social group, church network, and work schedule are way more important than their child, and what he’s going through. If I had just admitted to my mom or dad that I was homosexual, I would be worried about the way they viewed me, the way my peers viewed me, the way my own church group viewed me, the way the neighbors viewed me – in short, it would be a major life decision, a huge challenge in accepting myself for who I was, and an incredible leap of faith to tell my parents.
If my dad promptly looked at me and said, “Are you trying to embarrass me in front of my friends?” I would be shattered.
I’m religious. I have a church group. I believe that living a homosexual lifestyle is wrong. But if any of my friends came to me and told me they were homosexual and worried about being received by others, you can bet I would be the best support network in the world! Why? Because they need it! This parent seems to have forgotten that parenthood is about serving your kids, not hoping they’ll make you look good. This kid is making a huge life decision. Even if his parents disagree with it, they can at least do him the justice of acknowledging that it’s a difficult decision to make, and try to understand his point of view. Writing to an advice column for help resolving a dispute? Acceptable. Writing to an advice column for validation when you brush off your kid (for 3 years)? Nope.
I think Amy’s response here is spot-on. Her first paragraph puts the parent in the child’s shoes, and says, “Hey. This is hard for him. Stop thinking about yourself.” Then she tells this parent to take a more active role in their child’s life. Then she suggests support groups that will help them understand one another.
Is her rebuttal a little harsh? Yes – but I think it’s necessary. If someone can write a letter that’s this self-centered and not see it, they probably need a good shaking before they’ll recognize they’re being selfish about “their” crisis, and finally see the conflict their child is going through. I sincerely hope I’m never this parent – but knowing there will be some days that I am, I also hope I will have friends and neighbors who are willing to give me a rebuke like this and help me realize I’m being ridiculous. Nobody’s perfect, and this may have just been a bad day; I hope this letter isn’t typical of the parent who wrote it, and I hope they took Amy’s advice to heart. If they did, there’s a good chance their son will realize his parents care enough to do hard things – and to help him through hard things. ◊