- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Parents are spending too much time listening to so-called “experts” and not enough time trusting their parental instincts, says syndicated columnist Betsy Hart. A divorced mother of four, Mrs. Hart writes in her new book, “It Takes a Parent,” that parents should stop bending to the will of their children and start having a will of their own.

The following are excerpts from an phone interview with Mrs. Hart:

Question: What is wrong with today’s parenting culture?

Answer: The way I define the parenting culture is not really just parents; it’s the experts and the folks on high who tell us how to bring up babies. They intimidate parents away from their instincts, and the result of that is children who are on pedestals and parents who are discouraged from disciplining their kids.

[Experts say] we have to give [children] choices all day long. We have this exalted view of the nature of our kids, and I don’t think that helps them. We’re crazy about our kids, but when we put them on a pedestal, we don’t do them any favors.

Q: How can we change this?

A: I encourage, in my book, parents to regain their parenthood. There’s nothing wrong with the experts, but it’s only the confident parent who can make good sense of it. …

I’m just encouraging the parent to get out of the culture, realize they’re the parent and to let themselves be the parent. Our kids need us to be confident parents. We really do know better than they do, and we need to communicate that to them because it’s kind of scary if you are a kid and have to make choices all day. It gives a child a lot of freedom to understand that they are the kid and don’t have to make choices, so they can be free to be what they are.

Q: Did becoming a single mom change your views on the importance of being a confident parent?

A: I don’t think it did. I think I was always comfortable with that. It certainly shook me up in the sense that I did not want my marriage to end and the fact that my husband left was shocking enough to both me and his friends. It made me think that now the world is different. But this is what God has given me to handle right now, and in some ways it’s helping me have confidence and deal with this devastation. I’m trying to help my kids work through it.

Q: Has being a single mom made you a more confident parent?

A: Probably. I think that I’m trying to give them a real sure foundation that this family is not going anywhere and that I am not going to leave them and that I am committed to them. I want to give them a really rock-solid foundation in a very turbulent time.

Q: How were you raised?

A: It was somewhat different. There might not have been quite as much communication, which I think was very typical of the day. But I also sensed a tremendous amount of confidence. I felt very secure in my family. I thought, “Wow, my parents really are handling things.”

Q: What would you do differently?

A: I probably would tell my kids a little bit more why we are doing things. But I would still give the sense that we’re the parents, you’re the kids and let us take care of you.

Q: How did parents learn to be, as you call them, “pushover parents?”

A: It’s a combination of things. We have a more egalitarian culture today. It’s tough for us to say that people have authority over us. The closer the authority is in our human relationships, the more we get nervous about it. That trend has led to some of this. We don’t like to talk about fallen human natures anymore — that’s not fun. [We are told that] people are perfectible and we can all do self-help so that must mean our children are born good. There’s been a change in the general view of human nature. And there’s smaller families, [so] the parents can afford to put all their eggs in one basket.

There’s lots of times that I fall into it, too. We love our kids, we want to see them happy, it’s easy to get sucked in by our kids. On the one hand, I’m encouraging parents to be a little more self-confident. On the other hand, I think we need to lighten up a little bit more and have a little more fun at this.

Q: How do you think parents should go about having fun with parenting?

A: I think there’s so much more enjoyment to be found in parenting. But I see so many parents who are not sure of themselves, and that leads to parents constantly questioning themselves. If you are confident, you are free to enjoy being a parent more.

Q: How do you learn to have this confidence?

A: I really think that a lot of parents deep down really have these instincts. I’m very positive about what I see in so many parents. I think with some of the right influences saying, “Hey, step back and think about how you raise your kids.” I think with a little encouragement parents would be able to find it. It’s deep down. I’m just encouraging parents to get a hold of it.

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