Saturday, June 1, 2013

Am I A Good Parent?

My thoughts on this subject arose when I was looking at my own life, and the things I had to learn the hard way.  Could I have done better?  Could I have learned life’s lessons quicker?
Should I have been taught some of these things by my parents??
And so I found myself questioning:  Where is the dividing line of what parents should teach, and what children should learn on their own?  Is there a definition of a good parent?  I can’t change the past of my own life, nor am I searching for weaknesses in my own parents’ teaching of me --- if any.  But what I am trying to do is make things better in the future (Do we have any other purpose in life?), if not for myself, then for others.  And so I set out to answer these questions in the way I know best:  books.  Below are reviews of three of the better books I have read on the subject of parenting.  They answered and went beyond my questions.  They are good reference books for parents, and tools to make them better parents.
I stumbled across the old book “Sins of Parents” (written in 1951).  I liked the title because it implied that parenting is a serious obligation.  The book’s dedication read: “To fathers and mothers everywhere, and to their bewildered and bewildering children.”  I liked that.
The eight chapter titles describe the book’s value.  The first four chapters are headed as covering: Sins of Commission.  The last four chapters are headed as covering: Sins of Omission. 
I think the chapter titles tell much of what the book is about, some of the basics of parenting which, at one time, were thought of as not some “religious” ideals or commands, but just the obvious laws of nature.  How times have changed.
Here are the eight chapter titles:
1.      Broken Homes and Their Evil Consequences
2.      Parents Who Fail at Love
3.      By Their Sins You Shall Know Them
4.      Alcoholic Parents
5.      Parents Who Neglect to Teach the Value of Truth and Honesty
6.      Parents Who Fail to Teach Thrift
7.      Parents – Simon Legrees or Milquetoasts
8.      Parents Who Fail to Prepare Their Children for Life

Some may look at this book as not PC; it pulls no punches.  And some things it points out as facts back then, sixty years later we are seeing as “new” studies, which we read and say: “Gee.  I didn’t know that.”  For instance, Mr Doyle writes: “It is a great disadvantage for a boy to be brought up solely by his mother, without the constant presence of a father.”  I recently noted the study pointing out the huge decline in all aspects of society for men raised by a single parent --- even as I read in today’s paper the “wonderful” progress of women who make up 60% of college graduates and lead exciting work lives (and have “sexual freedom”).   
 Sins of Parents is not just a list of commandments for parents, but is also provides some sources of learning to be better parents.  And it bluntly lists some things as important that are so often forgotten today:
·         One of the finest lessons any parent could teach a child is “Never spend all your income.”
·         Fewer conflicts over discipline would occur if parents would make more fuss over the good deeds accomplished than the bad ones committed by children.
·         Fathers and mothers who cannot control their children are usually those who have never spent one cent of money for, or one hour of time reading, a book on the training of children.
·         Don’t humiliate him in public or before his companions; don’t let him humiliate you in public.
·         As we have often stated, the end of marriage is the procreation and education of children.

Moving up a bit in time (to 2010), Parenting on Purpose by Jason Free is almost as common sense as the first book reviewed, but written in a more conversational tone.  Jason talks to you; asks you questions, and comments on his thoughts and parenting successes --- and failures.  At the end of each chapter he suggests some very simple actions for parents to take.  And, at the end of each chapter, are reflections from dad and from mom.  The structure of the book makes it very personal, as the author talks directly to you.
Sins of Parents chided parents for not reading about how to raise children.  Parenting on Purpose is the type of book that the former would recommend.  It is written for parents and parents-to-be.  It is very much a “how to” book on raising Christian children.  Unlike my usual book reviews, I have no sharp quotes from this book, yet I can strongly recommend it.  ANY parent will find something to learn here, and to build upon.
The final book I’ll comment on here is “Imitating Mary --- Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom,” by Marge Fenelon.  Not being a mom, I admit that I largely picked this book up based on Cardinal Dolan’s back-cover recommendation --- and the fact that I have three nieces who are great (but always could be better) moms.  This is no “how to” book on raising children, but rather a “how to bear up book, while doing the things that a good mother does, willingly and lovingly.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is looked at in this book as a model mother, with the virtues a good mother needs.  From Patience and Trust to Courage and Hope (and even considering a view of the Unwed Mother in one chapter), each chapter looks at Mary’s example of virtue, and then reflects on how that virtue is needed by all moms today.  And, I especially like, it explains WHY that virtue is so important to being a good mother.
At the end of each chapter is a prayer and Thoughts to Ponder, and then a few questions for Reflection and Application.  The questions challenge the reader to see how she already has some degree of the subject virtue, and then this section follows with a final one:  Imitating Mary’s (virtue).  I liked this last section because it lists positive, simple things a mom can do to further her virtuous actions.
Under “Imitating Mary’s Patience” it says:
         Explain things carefully to others, and remember that they’re not necessarily coming from the same perspective as you are.
2.      Allow others the space to sort things out.
3.      Seek counsel from someone older and wiser.
4.      Surrender heartaches and misunderstandings to God.
5.      Realize things aren’t always what they seem.
6.      Ask Mary to help you become a woman of profound patience.

Sometimes we need to see words written down so that we can let them really soak in, or so we can go back to them on occasion.  Those “Do this and that” suggestions can be utilized as sort of an Examination of Conscience.  Every so often you can go back and read them again and say to yourself: “I said I wanted to act that way, did I do so this past week (or month)?”  This can become a checklist for moms to self-help themselves, or even to do so with other moms.
I plan to send these books to my three nieces.  I don’t know if they’ll read them --- they’re very busy people --- or even glance at them.  But I do know that if they are not sitting on a shelf somewhere in their home, they DEFINITELY won’t read them.  And I think these are good reflections, admonitions, and self-help books for any parent.
We need more good parents --- who know what good parents are, and who strive to become ones.

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