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Do we love our kids?

May 19, 2011 - Betsy Bethel
Do we love our kids? I've been asking this question a lot lately, with every horror story I hear. It appears something has gone seriously wrong with the way parents are raising the next generation. Technology has added new challenges to what already is the most difficult job on earth. I don't care how many icy squalls a North Sea fisherman has to endure, it's like child's play when compared to the job of raising kids today.

I'm sure a parent who actually says they don't love their children would be next to impossible to find. Of course, we love our kids! Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say we FEEL love for our kids. But there seems to be, in many cases, a disconnect between how we feel and how we act. Love is an action verb. Some parents seem to be so immersed in their own lives — their adult relationships, their Facebook profiles, their jobs, their entertainment, their image around town — that their children become an afterthought. And then when a child demands their attention by acting out in some way, the parent — not to mention everyone else who hears about the misbehavior through Facebook or the local grapevine — blames the child for causing trouble.

Take this story I heard yesterday. It seems a group of girls in fourth or fifth grade in an Ohio Valley school district got together for a sleepover. We've all heard stories about the poor kid who falls asleep first at the slumber party, right? Maybe the boys paint the sleepy kid's fingernails, or the girls put shaving cream in her hand and tickle her nose so she wakes up with a face full of the stuff. Or, maybe they even go so far as to place the kid's hand in a bowl of warm water to see if he or she will wet the sleeping bag. It can be a humiliating experience, yes, but not altogether earth-shattering.

But apparently at this sleepover, the girls went all "Carrie" on their slumbering "friend" — A party-goer urinated in a cup and threw it in the girl's face.

What puts that kind of thought into a girl's head? What has this 9- or 10-year-old been watching or reading that gives her that kind of an idea? What kind of relationships does a girl who thinks that way have at home and with her friends? How is it possible she has any friends? And why did the other girls let her do it? My hope is that the bully in this case goes friendless for awhile, and that the other girls rally around the "victim" -- a term I use cautiously because I don't want to give the impression that I think the sleeping girl was weak in any way. She was simply tired.

If I were the bully's parents, I would use this incident as a wake-up call, no pun intended. Start paying attention. Does she have a phone with Internet access? Take it away. Does she have a computer or TV in her room? Remove them. She is young! She needs you to listen to her, talk to her, give her direction, provide healthy outlets and activities ... in other words, LOVE her.

Another case this week involves a St. Clairsville 15-year-old who met an adult man online who in the wee hours of Tuesday picked her up and drove her to his home state of North Carolina. I don't know the details. But I would bet that that girl was getting something online from this man that she probably wasn't getting at home: Attention. Maybe she acts like she doesn't want her parents' attention. Most teens act as if they could care less about their know-nothing, idiotic, clueless parents. That's when it becomes even more important to listen, advise and do stuff with your kids. It feels like you're running up a mountain while being pulled backward at the same time. Getting figuratively slapped in the face time and again is tiring, frustrating and demeaning. But remember, YOU ARE THE PARENT. You have to see beyond the behavior of the moment to ensure your child is receiving a message that will last their entire lives, the message that you love him or her, no matter what.

Parents are only human. We make mistakes — lots of mistakes. We sometimes find it difficult to put our children first. That's a normal feeling. I wonder what's wrong with me, for instance, when my child is in pain and all I can think of is how badly I want the whining to end! But it's NOT OK to put ourselves first, just because we feel like it.

Parenthood, I remind myself day after day, is all about sacrifice. Anyone who believes differently is raising a ticking time-bomb that will eventually take down everyone he or she loves. Get enough of those bombs going off, and our communities will be in shambles.


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