I learned the hard way that children hear everything…or rather, children hear everything you don’t want them to hear. Look a child directly in the eyes and give them a specific set of directions and they will act like you’re an alien having just dropped in from another planet speaking a distant language of clicks and beeps, but have a private conversation with your significant other behind closed doors two states away and they not only hear every word, they commit it to memory.
Recently Todd and I were discussing a reading program that had been instituted at Chris’s school, some trademarked No Child Left Behind ridiculousness leftover from George W. Bush’s reign of terror. It involves children reading from a specific book list for one hour every day, including weekends, under the supervision of parents with no distractions, meaning all televisions, phones, and computers in the house are to be turned off during the 60 minute reading period. It’s a noble idea, truly, but to any parent who has other children in the home or is trying to juggle extra-curricular activities in addition to the every day school schedule, it’s a bit unreasonable. And for parents like myself who have children who don’t arrive home from school until after 5 pm and then routinely have 60-90 minutes of homework a night, it’s downright laughable.
But that’s not the point.
The point is we made our negative feelings about this program known within earshot of Chris. The next day at school he told his teacher everything we had said, and while some of our points were valid, others were nothing more than the observations of a couple of bitchy sarcastic homosexual know-it-alls. We admonished Chris (and ourselves) and then arranged a phone call with the teacher where we apologized and she graciously addressed our legitimate concerns. Lesson learned.
As annoyed as we were by the incident, it was unfair to be mad at Chris. He was, after all, just parroting us. And isn’t that what most children do? Aren’t we all just the products of our environment? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if you grow up in a house that traditionally votes Democrat, you will grow up to vote Democrat? If you are raised Catholic, does it not usually follow that you will raise your children Catholic? We may want our children to form their own opinions fostered by their unique experiences, but if we were being honest, don’t we also want our children to parrot us?
As much as I may want my sons to be their own persons, to have their own ideas, to speak in a voice that is not mine — I hope the person I am helps to form the person they will become. In a perfect world my children will follow the path of their parents and embrace the social evolution of progressive liberalism and not the status quo paradigms of regressive conservatism. They will want families like their own and people of all races to be viewed as equal. Would I love them any less if they grew up to be socially conservative Republicans? Of course not, but I would reserve the right to occasionally cry in private.
Recently Chris has been asking a lot of questions about God and religion in general. Where is heaven? What happens if you go to hell? Does God see everything? I, in turn, have responded with, “In the clouds. You sweat a lot. Don’t masturbate.” I’m kidding.
Right now Chris is curious and I’m not going to pretend to have the answers. I believe in God. Todd does not. Who is to say which of us is right? So when Chris asks these questions we are sure to present many answers, a buffet of options. We’ve stressed that not all people believe in the same God. We’ve pointed out that some people, like Todd, do not believe in any God. We’ve encouraged him to keep reading, to keep experiencing, to keep learning. And even in this example, where we are telling him to make up his own mind, we are hoping he will parrot us — follow our example and be like one of us.
The truth is children will listen. They need to listen. They want to listen. They are looking to us for guidance and we have no choice but to provide that guidance. After all, it’s what we signed up for when we agreed to be parents.