Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cat's In The Cradle

Back in the 70s, Harry Chapin performed a song called Cat's In The Cradle, that seems to have many listeners in tears when they hear the song. The song is still resurrected from time-to-time as a message for parents to spend more time with their kids.

There's another, more subtle, message: By the song's end, the man's grown son becomes (paraphrasing) just like him, where he recognizes that his son has essentially followed in his footsteps. This is the important message that parents today seem to lose sight of. I frequently hear adults griping about things that "the kids today do." They complain that the kids are spending too much time "texting" to their friends. They're aloof to what's going on in the world. They smoke. They drink. Why in the world would they do this?

Instead of sugar-coating the answer and putting it to song, the answer is that they learn it from us -- adults. However rebellious kids are (or not), deep inside they are longing to emulate the attributes of adults that they find to be "cool." They look at how we behave in movies, on TV, and most of all, in real life, and emulate that behavior. Likewise, if the relationship between parents and their children is strained, the kids may effectively take the antithesis of the parents' behavior, learned through what they see around them as providing the attention they crave. (side note: it's not the TV's fault, it's the relationship with your kids that needs attention...)

If we want our kids to behave better, then we have to do better ourselves. If your entire life is spent acquiring material things to give your kids everything you couldn't have, then your kids are probably going to equate your love and guidance with acquiring things, and will behave in kind as they become adults. If you spend your life on the cell phone or Blackberry interrupting family events to communicate with your friends and coworkers, then don't be surprised when your children follow suit. If you smoke and drink, and you want your kids to respect you, then you're encouraging them to do the same thing. In essence, in order to raise children to be polite, productive, happy, and nurturing people, as parents, you need to act in that way. You need to be a role model for your kids. If your philosophy is, "Do as I say, not as I do," then you'll find your offspring being as you are, not as you say to be. You can never tell your kids how to be. They will be what they are. They need good role models to develop their individual traits in a positive way.

Now those of you who have read what I've written over the past few years already know I'm not a parent, and never plan to be one. "So why," you ask, "do you have any right to say how I, as a parent, should raise my kids?" Even better, "What do you know about raising kids? You've never done it and never will!" I've never been a parent, but I have been a kid. I also have a knack for seeing things that are happening around me, and noticing trends. I encounter adults and kids every day, and the actions of parents is exactly what I'm seeing in the kids. If you don't like how the kids today are behaving, consider them a mirror to adult behavior, because that's what it is. Maybe you didn't have Facebook or twitter or cell phones when you were a kid, but really those are all just technological doodads, and we all had our own versions of those technological doodads as kids. My generation tied up our phone line talking to our friends, while my parents had to share a "party line" with several families when they were kids. The thing is, though, that everything got to where it is not because kids hired an attorney and brought about a class action lawsuit demanding that their parents provide them with cell phones and other sundry things. It got this way because they were emulating what they saw adults do, they took it to the next level, and as parents you condoned it.

My point? My point is that I see adults behaving badly every day. When a lane of traffic ends, there are people who purposely get into that lane and cut in front of the patiently waiting traffic. There are people who walk through the supermarket with their cell phones and/or MP3 players completely ignoring the person they are about to walk into. There are adults who walk slowly across the street or through a parking lot ignoring the oncoming traffic with the attitude, "They won't hit me." I see adults in restaurants completely ignoring the people they have joined for lunch/dinner and talking on their cell phone or punching buttons on their iPhone. Congratulations -- this is the role model you've established for your kids. If you find an excuse to be this way, then expect your kids to do the same thing, even better than you do. You may not think your kids see you being this way, but they do, and they're learning. I don't have to be a parent to see that.

The reason why I come back to Cat's In The Cradle and how parents behave is that, when all is said and done, no matter what, kids watch their parents very, very carefully, and are constantly learning from them. The things you do/value and the results obtained from those things are what leave the most lasting impression on your children. While it's still a good idea for people without kids to act in a courteous, considerate, kind, and productive way, at the end of the day the parents that are most important.

Think of this, too, the next time you hear that song...

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