If we're so clever at raising kids these days, why are there so many little monsters in the schools, in the stores, and everywhere? Yet what is more important than how our children become adults, and what kind of adults they become?
The thing about the current orthodoxy is that it is never current for long (though you are punished severely for violating it). So of course there is growing public discussion that is questioning the high levels of attention that we show our children these days.
My children attend a private Christian school in the metro New York area, and I attend the parent orientation night, the open house, the Christmas program, the spring play (I put my foot down at attending all three nights), and the "moving up" ceremony at the end of the year. I have begun to wonder how necessary all of this is. I don't remember my parents attending all of these things. If they attended any (I'm sure they were at some), it doesn't register with me now. This got me thinking.
You can read my reflections in "Figuring Out Kids" (Worldmag.com, July 20, 2011).
At one time you could fall back on the wisdom of the surrounding culture and perhaps not go far wrong. But today everyone else is at least as confused as you are. To complicate things further, both kids and culture keep changing as well. ...Take something as simple as how much time to spend with your kids. How much of your attention should you give them?...This emphasis on quality time and bonding is new. Is it necessary? Is it even good? Are boys becoming better men because of it? Are we who are men messed up for want of it?...A friend of mine whom I mention described his emotionally distant but faithful and admirable father to me also put me on to this article. Essayist and Weekly Standard contributing editor, Joseph Epstein, wrote this account of his childhood which in some ways echoes my own and many others, it seems: "Kindergrachy: Every Child a Dauphin" (The Weekly Standard, June 9, 2008).
Of course, there has to be time and place for wisdom-transfer moments between a father and his children that we see in Deuteronomy 6. But the Deuteronomy 6 father did not trail his kids throughout their childhoods. If anything, they trailed him.
Children also need their father’s approval. Our heavenly Father bolsters us with unbreakable and oft-repeated promises and with assurances of his sustaining presence. He will greet the faithful at their journey’s end with “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:20-23). We were created to be satisfied in our heavenly Father’s approval and communion. Yes, fathers in particular are important to children’s development.
But some distance is good. It stokes longing in the souls of the young. It’s unwise to flatter and sate them. Forgetting this, fathers in particular have gone from unapproachable to irrelevant. How about adopting the stance of an important and busy guy (which you are, dads), an object of admiration whose sincere expressions of love at reasonable intervals lift your children upward and drive them onward to at least comparable levels of achievement.
Also, have a look at this interview from the Atlantic.
Amy Henry mentions this Atlantic story in her own Worldmag column on this topic, "Being TOO Good a Parent?" (June 23, 2011). She cites many other books that no doubt fill out the subject for anyone looking to study it, including Wendy Mogul's The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and Jean Twenge's The Narcissism Epidemic.
One reader in the comment thread fears that this train of thought will just give license to lazy, negligent fathers to shirk their responsibilities as dads. Of course, you don't remedy the extreme of child neglect with the extreme of child-centeredness.