Parents Are People Too


Have you ever felt that your parents wanted children just so they would have someone to do the dirty work?

You probably already know more about parents than you’d like to. When they were kids, they walked through three-foot snow drifts to school and home again, uphill both ways. They never had an allowance, or asked for one. They always did their homework and chores, and they never missed a church meeting.

And now they work their fingers to the bone so you can enjoy all the luxuries they had to do without. And are you grateful? Do you understand them?

Maybe.

Sometimes.

You try, anyway.

I’ve been a kid, and I’ve been a parent. And while I know it’s not easy being a kid, I think it’s even harder being a parent.

When I was a kid, I was convinced that the only reason Mom and Dad had children was so someone else would mow the lawn, take out the garbage, and wash the cars.

When my parents weren’t busy telling me what to do, they embarrassed me in front of my friends. They were too old-fashioned. They were always overprotective. They just didn’t understand me.

Now I realize that there were probably some things I didn’t understand about them.

Mark Twain said it this way, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Parents can be kind of hard to put up with while you’re a teenager, so here are a few suggestions that might help make life a little easier for you—and for them.

You’ve probably noticed by now that your parents aren’t perfect. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, they’re human, and none of us, no matter how hard we try or how smart we become, can be perfect in this life. Second, your parents haven’t had much practice or training for being parents. Sure, they are well aware of how important their responsibility is, but they’ve never been parents before, so they’re bound to make a few mistakes.

A few years ago your mom and dad were just two young people who fell in love, got married, and wham—suddenly they were parents. They learned their job by trial and error (and if you’re the oldest child, you may think that many times it was more error than trial).

Our guinea pig was Christy. When Christy was two years old, a little girl in our town was kidnapped. Trying to be wise parents, we spent a lot of time role-playing with Christy what she should do if approached by a stranger. We even showed her pictures of the kidnapped girl and reminded Christy what had happened in the case.

Our efforts had mixed results. Christy was never kidnapped, but she was also unable to sleep alone for three months.

Discipline is another tough area for parents. As kids get older, discipline gets more difficult. A friend of mine, a father of two teenagers, explained it. “When those two were little, I’d tell them, ‘No, don’t do that,’ and they’d obey. Now if I tell them no, they answer with ‘Why?’ or complain ‘You don’t trust me.’”

Your teenage years are hard on your parents because you are changing. Mom and Dad are the same old people who have raised you for the past 12 years, but you’re suddenly a pre-adult. The discipline tricks that worked when you were little are now obsolete, so your mom and dad have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to deal with the new you. More hit and miss. It would be quite remarkable if they didn’t make some mistakes. But it might make you feel better if you realize that their strongest motivation is concern for you.

And now that you’re older, life is a much more serious game. A few months ago, for example, I looked out the front door and saw my four-year-old son lying belly down on the sidewalk, using his tongue to lap water out of the gutter.

“Jonathan,” I yelled, “what are you doing?”

“Getting a drink, Daddy,” he answered. “I was thirsty.”

My boy could have been poisoned slurping sludge out of the gutter, so I told him not to do that anymore. The whole episode was kind of cute, really, and I got a kick out of telling it to friends. But when Jonathan gets to be a teenager, some of the things he may get into won’t be so cute because they’ll have long-lasting spiritual and physical consequences.

As he gets older, the value of obedience will increase proportionally. It’s the same with you and your parents. The consequences of your actions increase as you get older, and your parents have the responsibility, not only to encourage you not to slurp sludge out of the gutter, but also to teach you to avoid friends, language, reading material, and anything else that comes from the gutter or may drag you into one.

There may also be times when you’re in some difficult situations and your parents won’t help you. You may wonder why they don’t care enough about you to spare you the trying moment. Well, it’s not that they don’t care about you or that they don’t love you. Perhaps it’s that they know you need to work some things out on your own. As much as your parents love you and want to help you, sometimes they know they shouldn’t—or they can’t.

Here are two final tips for understanding your mom and dad. Follow the Golden Rule and treat your parents, even though they may not be perfect, as you will want your children to treat you, even though you won’t be perfect. If you do that, your relationship with your parents will improve immediately. And perhaps most important, always remember that no matter what you or your parents say or do, they have loved you from the time you were little more than a bundle of blankets and diapers. So be patient with them, and maybe some of the trials you endure now will prove useful to you later on as a parent. Who knows—maybe the snow drifts will be four feet high by then.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Scott Snow