Great Expectations: Holding Children to Higher Standards than Adults
I once said in a book, “So often, children are punished for being human. They are not allowed to have grumpy moods, bad days, disrespectful tones or bad attitudes. Yet, we adults have them all the time. None of us are perfect. We must stop holding our children to a higher standard of perfection than we can attain ourselves.” This quote has gone viral, being seen by millions around the world, and has received mixed reactions by people who love and understand the meaning of the quote and by those who misunderstand it to mean we should let children by with being disrespectful.
I, of course, believe in teaching children to be kind, considerate and respectful. I believe in coaching them to have positive attitudes, and to be aware of their emotions and how to manage them. I also happen to believe this is best done by providing an example, and if I’m honest, when I listen and look at many of the adults around me, I’m just not seeing it.
We generally expect children to be on their best behavior at all times, yet this is a feat we can’t accomplish ourselves. Who of us has never lost our temper? Who of us doesn’t get grumpy or have a bad attitude from time to time? I’d be a hypocrite if I said I was always perfectly well-behaved, and I dare say most readers would as well. It is not possible, in our human condition, to be perfect, and if I, in all my nearly four decades, haven’t managed to attain perfection yet, why should I demand it of my children who have only be here a very short while?
Consider the way we behave toward children in contrast with the way we expect children to behave toward us. We tell children “hands are not for hitting” but the majority of Americans still spank their kids. We tell them to use “inside voices” but we yell at them when we are frustrated. We tell them to be patient but quickly become irritated at backed up traffic or other daily annoyances. We demand respect but humiliate them on social media. It seems to me that adults aren’t upholding the many values we try to impart on our children, and we aren’t behaving in the excellent manner in which we expect them to behave.
When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I see name-calling and rude behavior. When I watch politics, I see much of the same. When I run errands, I hear cashiers being fussed at and bank tellers being yelled at. I worked in banking for more than a decade and was on the receiving end of many adult tantrums. I am not suggesting we are all bad people. It’s the opposite, in fact. We are mostly good people who, on occasion, behave badly.
As a parent, I’ve lost my temper and yelled at my kids. I’ve ran to my room and slammed the door. I’ve yelled at my spouse, hung up on telemarketers and said negative things under my breath to the person who cut me off in traffic. I’m not a bad person. I’m a human person. Our children aren’t bad kids. They’re human kids. They make mistakes. They get angry. Sometimes they’re rude or grouchy. It’s never OK to treat others badly, and of course they should be taught that, but when we correct them, let’s do so bearing in mind that we, ourselves, are sometimes guilty of the things we are correcting them for.
My opening quote isn’t a suggestion to lower the standard we have set for our children so much as it’s to raise the standard for ourselves. It’s a call to rise up to our own fullest potential as people and parents and behave in a manner suitable to be imitated. And it’s also a call for understanding and compassion because being a kid is hard sometimes. Being a person is hard, sometimes. We all need a soft place to land. As parents, let’s not fail to teach our children all the right things, but just as importantly, let’s not forget to wrap them in arms of grace and say, “I am your safe place. Here you will always be loved.”