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May 29 2014

Our Kids Could Stand to Feel A Little Shame

By at 10:50 am

shaming-teenagers

One Sunday morning I found myself at a mandatory parent workshop during my daughter’s religious school titled “ The Magical World of Talmud.” I must be honest, I usually head across the street to the local coffee shop during these sessions and have what I refer to as “independent study with a latte.” However, my husband and partner-in-crime was at home and the rule-follower in me took over, so here I was.

As the rabbi proceeded to read and discuss different passages from the Torah, I sped ahead and found the following passage from Deuteronomy:

If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not head his father or mother and does not obey them even after they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the public place of his community. They shall say to the elders of the town, “This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us. His is a glutton and a drunkard.” Thereupon the men of his town shall stone hime to death.

I could not get past it. I scanned the room to see if others had found this and could grasp the enormity of it. SO back in whenever BCE, when children were naughty, this was actually talked about ? With others? In public? It took a while for that to sink in as I pondered the idea of not only sharing these shameful moments of my child’s bad behavior with my partner, but with the town elders. And neighbors. And other parents. And in-laws.

I live in an era–and for that matter, in a mostly Lutheran Scandinavian state–where almost everything and everyone is always fine. I think “fine” is the most often used word in Minnesota when asked about one’s children.

“Really?” I often ask as I am watching another sporting practice with a group of parents. “Even your 13-year-old? They haven’t started that sassy eye rolling thing yet?”

I yearn to share my woes. Can anyone relate? Society tells us teenagers are sassy, non-communicative hormonal humans yet no one I talk to seems to have heard this. Replies range from, “Oh my son is usually very respectful,” to, “ We as parents are strict about that stuff and none of that flies at our house.”

I overlook the part that implies I am not strict and my child’s new sarcasm and eye rolling are a result of my less than perfect parenting style, but wonder can this be true? I try my best not to point out that I do know their “respectful son” had detention last week at school; who knows, maybe he never told them?

 Why is it so hard these days to admit our children are less than perfect?

Now to be clear, I am not a proponent of publicly declaring our child’s dirty laundry for the general public to hear. But seriously, when you are waiting at a game for your kid and someone asks you a question, you can’t admit for one moment your kids are less than perfect? That they might be having a hard time in school? That they have, heaven forbid, a learning disability or some other challenge? Issues on the playground with friends? Occasional rudeness? Anything?

Back in good old Deuteronomy both parents brought their actual child to the town center/public place (nowadays maybe a coffee shop? Grocery Store? School lobby?) and announced for all to hear, “This kid here, he does not listen to me about appropriate things to download on his computer. When I told him no he actually lied to me and then did it anyway. Then when I caught him he lied about doing it in the first place!”

 I’m not sure about stoning him to death–these days that seems a bit drastic–but isn’t there something to be said for bringing back a little public humiliation? Kids nowadays think they are the only ones getting in trouble, because their parents bend over backwards to never let anyone know. What if they knew tomorrow at homeroom a list would be read over the loudspeaker stating who misbehaved the night before at home? I am not actually advocating this. I am just pointing out our culture has drastically changed over time and it might be nice to come to the middle a little bit.

I have been experimenting with this. When people ask me how my kids are today sometimes I answer, “Dreadful. Would you like one or the both of them?” You would be surprised how when I open the door, even a crack, people act like a load has been lifted and it almost becomes a confessional when they tell me what their house was like last night. It is like a little secret just waiting to get out.

So on your next particularly challenging day, think about your response to the question about how you or your children are. Fine? Challenging? Difficult? Demanding? Trust me, other people are going through exactly what you are; they just aren’t admitting it in the town square. Let’s take the pressure off and admit to each other: some days are hard, some days are harder. There are days when I have not wanted to put either child on eBay or at the end of the driveway with a “Free” sign–those are the days I smile and allow myself the luxury, when asked how they are, to say, “Today they are just fine.”

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