- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

In my recent public presentations, I have been pointing out that whereas baby boomers, as children, were afraid of their mothers, today’s mothers — in most cases, grown-up baby boomers — are afraid of their children.

They’re afraid their children will misbehave in public, thereby broadcasting to the world that they have failed at being perfect moms. They’re afraid their children will not feel sufficiently loved. They’re afraid their children will become upset with them. Most of all, they’re afraid their children will not like them.

When I was a child, many moons ago, I was afraid of misbehaving in public. Even if my mother wasn’t there, I was afraid she might find out. If I had played the “You don’t love me” sonata for my mother, she would have ignored me, and I would have been afraid of what might be coming next.

I would get upset at my mother, but I was careful to hide it for fear of the consequences. (By the way, my mother never spanked me, and I cannot remember her ever yelling at me.) Furthermore, Mom didn’t give a hoot whether or not I approved of her at any given moment.

My mother was by no means unique in this regard. Yet, except during moments of childish self-pity, I never doubted that she loved me to the bottom of her heart. I gather I was not unique in that regard.

I asked a recent audience, “How many of you were afraid of your mothers?”

I would say one out of every two attendees raised a hand. I followed up with, “Please keep your hand up if you knew, in your more rational moments, that your mother loved you heart and soul.”

No more than a few hands went down, hopefully illustrating to the moms in the audience that fearing one’s mother and knowing she loves you are by no means incompatible.

Am I suggesting it is right and proper for children to fear their parents? Yes, but I’m not referring to a lose-control-of-your-bladder-when-your-parents-walk-into- the-room sort of fear. I’m not referring to terror. Rather, I mean fear in the biblical sense. Be assured that I am not trying to proselytize — and bear with me, please.

Jerry Bridges, author of “The Joy of Fearing God,” reminds the reader that the Old Testament proclaims “there is joy in fearing the Lord.” In this ancient context, fear is synonymous with wonder, reverence and an admiring esteem for God’s omnipotence, along with the knowledge that this awesome power is the very power of love, a love so strong that it commands obligation.

That, too, is part of the problem. Today’s children, it would seem, feel no strong sense of obligation to their parents. Who can blame them? After all, today’s parents act as if the only people with obligations in the parent-child relationship are themselves. Today’s typical child, therefore, is wanting not only in the desire to please but also in a strong desire not to disappoint. Again, it’s the parent who is supposed to do the pleasing, who is, moreover, downright afraid of not being pleasing enough.

Someone recently suggested to me that this was nothing more than a product of a perpetually swinging “parenting pendulum.” Wait a few years, she said, and the pendulum will begin to swing back.

I think not. If this is a swinging pendulum, where is the evidence it has ever swung before? This is more like something turned upside down, and things turned upside down do not right themselves. They must be righted. Parents can start by helping children discover the joy of “fearing” them and coming, therefore, to the realization that their awe-inspiring power is, in fact, the power of love.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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