One of the earliest and most important things we figured out was that in parenting, as in life, you generally hit what you’re aiming for. This bit of wisdom must be tempered of course by the inconvenient fact that children sometimes have the tendency to develop trajectories of their own. While this can be most unsettling, particularly when they spring it on you after long periods of flying in formation, their excursions often help highlight areas where we need to readjust our sights. Let me give you an example.
Church has always been a part of our lives, and our boys all grew up going to Sunday school. We didn’t need any special rules for behavior in Sunday school; it was just understood that they were supposed to be respectful and obedient there, just like at home. It was also understood that we would be chatting with their teacher when we picked them up, to find out how things had gone.
We liked this part. A lot.
You see, the Burke boys were fairly well known in Sunday school circles. They were friendly and outgoing, and they participated in class. They demonstrated solid knowledge of Bible stories. They were respectful to their teachers. All the things a parent loves to hear about when picking up their child.
Of course they were also boys.
Not uncommonly, the report would also make mention of “someone” talking a bit too much, or entertaining the class with his jokes. But these revelations were almost apologetic, and were nearly always accompanied by immediate assurances that the teacher knew the “someone” in question was really a “good boy.” In fact, they might not have mentioned it at all, except for one thing.
“The other kids seem to be taking their cue from him.”
I would raise my paternal eyebrow and assure the teacher that we would take care of it. Usually just saying so was enough and more weeks of glowing reports would follow. The Burke family reputation was still secure.
Then came the Sunday when Philip’s teacher revealed (through tears of laughter) that our son had spent part of the hour tipped back in his chair, entertaining his Sunday School class with a rousing chorus of “I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie.” *
Apparently our strategy needed some adjusting.
Our aim had been to produce good boys, and we had been pretty successful at it (“big butts” aside), but we were starting to realize that there was more at stake. They weren’t going to be boys forever, and we needed to start preparing them for the time when there wouldn’t be any teachers around to impress, or parents to report to. And they needed to learn how to wield this innate, if not always welcomed, power to lead.
We had to stop trying to raise good boys. We needed to start raising men.
*Disclaimer: This song appears at the end of the movie “Shrek” and our son’s familiarity with it should not be taken as evidence of parental indiscretion in his home environment. That being said, through the years we have enjoyed responding to the embarrassing antics of other people’s children by shaking our heads and saying, “They only do what they see in the home…”
originally published 8/22/11| next post: The Other Side of Experience