- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 26, 2007

The term “parenting,” which did not come into vogue until the late 1960s, obscures the fact that raising a child is no less a leadership activity than running a major corporation or commanding a tank battalion. That simplifies things considerably because the principles that define effective leadership do not change from one context to another. If one understands how to lead in a corporation, the military, a church or an agency, one understands how to lead a child.

Effective leaders delegate responsibility so as to bring out the best in the people they lead. They create boundaries between themselves and the people they lead, knowing that intimate relationships neutralize leadership. They possess a functional vision of the future and move resolutely toward it. More than anything, good leaders are decisive. They mean what they say, and they say what they mean.

This gives more than a glimpse into why modern parenting is so ubiquitously stressful. Today’s all-too-typical parents do not delegate responsibility well; instead, they micromanage. A boundary in today’s parent-child relationship is virtually nonexistent; an intimate relationship obviously is what most parents are striving to build. The tip of that iceberg is represented by the growing number of parents who sleep with their children.

Where vision is concerned, today’s parents generally are nearsighted, more concerned with helping their children get perfect scores on the week’s spelling test than developing character, which has nothing to do with good grades and will be of far, far greater value in the long run.

More than anything, however, today’s parents are not decisive. Like politicians, they often do not say what they mean or mean what they say. They equivocate, hem and haw, negotiate, compromise, argue and change their minds more often than meteorologists change their predictions.

I’ve asked numerous audiences lately: “Raise a hand if your children absolutely know that you mean exactly what you say; that when you say yes, you mean nothing short of yes, and when you say no, you mean nothing short of no.”

In a recent audience of nearly 200 in Fort Wayne, Ind., five or six hands came up, and a couple of folks looked less than certain. In some audiences, even much bigger ones, no one has raised a hand.

“Now,” I said, “raise your hand if your parents would have raised their hands to this same question when you were a child.” More than 100 hands came up.

“That’s what’s been lost in one generation of American parents,” I said, “and if it was possible to ask your parents about your grandparents, I’d venture to say that all of your parents would have raised their hands.”

By all accounts, raising a child was associated with considerably less stress, anxiety and frustration 50-plus years ago. That dating refers to parents who understood, intuitively, that one accomplished the goals of raising a child through leadership, not relationship, and their goal was to raise children of character — children in solid possession of respect for others as opposed to high self-esteem.

“What’s the difference?” someone is apt to ask. The answer is that respect for others is acquired by serving others, while self-esteem is acquired by being served by others. Needless to say, too many of today’s parents are found serving their children, and too few of today’s children are required to serve. Either perspective speaks to a general collapse of parenting leadership. Thus, full circle we have come.

Next week, I will answer the question: “What is discipline?” Stay tuned.

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

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