There’s an old Chris Rock bit where he explains that his only job as the father of a girl is to keep her off the pole. The joke itself is a tired one, incredibly sexist with a dollop of slut-shaming on the side. Yet at the center of its warped core is something many parents can relate to: the immense responsibility that comes with raising children.
I’ll let you in on a little parenting secret. While there are times that I question the smaller, day-to-day parenting decisions, the one thing that freaks me out the most is that overall I am responsible for helping to raise a good person. And, what if I fuck that all up?
I’ve written about this before: last year, I looked at Steubenville and how no parent wants to raise a son who ends up a rapist, and yet obviously, some parents do. That scares the shit out of me. How did they drop the ball so poorly? I discussed my own responsibility and desire to teach my son not to rape and what all of that entailed. I owe it to my son to provide him with the tools and skills needed to make good, safe decisions, regardless of the situation.
I want to raise a son who succeeds, is happy, empathetic, and above all, is a good person. I know I’m not the only parent who has these desires for their children. Most parents want a bright future for their children and do everything in their power to ensure they help them along.
My son is growing up privileged. He wants for virtually nothing and lives a rather comfortable life. And frankly, that frightens me. While I champion his successes, I also don’t want him to grow up thinking that he is entitled to whatever he wants. A recent case hit this home for me tenfold.
A 16-year-old boy from North Texas was recently sentenced to 10 years probation for killing four people while driving drunk. While prosecutors sought the maximum of 20 years behind bars, those closest to the case feel that the boy’s wealthy background helped him escape any semblance of actual punishment.
Shaunna Jennings, a widow of one of the victims, said in regards to the teen, “You lived a life of privilege and entitlement, and my prayer is that it does not get you out of this. My fear is that it will get you out of this.”
Jennings’ fear was proved right. A psychologist who was called as an expert witness for the defense said that the boy suffered from “affluenza,” a socio-economic “affliction” of growing up rich and privileged, and passed the mark of responsibility off to his divorced parents who had somehow failed him.
Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated one. There are kids growing up to believe that the world revolves around them and that they are not responsible for their actions. I’m sorry, but I can’t get on board with creating a supposed challenge like “affluenza” to excuse children from their wrong-doings. If anything, these kids need to learn more that their choices have consequences — sometimes life-altering ones — and they need to be cognizant of them.
The task of raising kids to be good people is a powerful one, so we need to take that charge and run with it. We are the ones that need to teach our children about respect, both for themselves and for others. In an age where “revenge porn” exists and our behavior on social media has very real consequences, we need to ensure that we are laying the groundwork so our children make smart, safe decisions.
There are many, many factors that go into who our children become. For some, parents only play a fraction of a role. But for others, a parent’s influence can go a long way. And I will do my damndest to ensure that my son grows up taking responsibility for his actions, understands wrong from right, grasps the concept of respect, and truly absorbs the message of the “golden rule” (do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”). What he does with all of that is up to him, and I accept that. But I can only hope that I provided enough guidance and framework to send him off in the right direction.
Avital Norman Nathman is a blogger for The Mamafesto.
[Image of gorilla mom and baby via Shutterstock]