Thomas Griffin 3/15/21 (For Crisis Magazine)
All great parents discern what is best for their children by weighing what keeps them safe and what is best for their development into adulthood. This has been a year when countless families have spent more time together than ever before. An opinion column for The New York Times entitled “I Hate the Mom That Covid Has Made Me” sheds light on the casualties inflicted on the family, particularly parents, over the last year.
Lockdowns involved parents being around their children more often which, in many cases, results in heated tension over spaces in the house and the craving for privacy even amidst the cabin fever. The author of this piece is a psychotherapist named Kristen Howerton who dials into the negative mental impacts of COVID-19 on her children, and children in general. But she overlooks the negative consequences of her very own words and actions: pandemic parenting has created worse parenting because their obedience to the mainstream media has imprisoned them.
The questions that consistently come across Howerton’s mind and the minds of countless parents who allow their children to leave the house are: “Are they really leaving those masks on? Are they going to be responsible, or will they bend to social pressure? Am I doing the right thing letting them go? Is this really safe? Am I going to catch Covid because I let them go skating?”
Crazed states of questioning are normal for parents who are concerned about their children’s well-being and safety. The true question is from where are these doubts arising? Is there more than just a possible illness in the background? Parents have been worried for their families’ health since the beginning of time. Taking care of our health is never a negative. However, paranoia which becomes controlling and debilitating is never healthy.
At one point, Howerton humbly admits that she found herself “stealthily driving to the skatepark to see if my boys were, in fact, wearing their masks…and then screaming at them in front of their friends because they weren’t.” She is not happy about what she did, and she writes this very column with the label that she does not want to be this type of parent but that the pandemic has made her this way.
What comes across here is truly a relinquishing in parental guidance, except for COVID-19 precautions. “I’ve relaxed my standards on grades. We’ve redecorated every bedroom per their specifications. I’ve loosened up on bedtimes and screen-time limits and other rules, trying to find the ‘yeses’ where I can in a season of saying no.” These former non-negotiables in the parent-child structure have collapsed because COVID-19 has won out as the single most important teaching weapon of our time.
We do not trust the stranger in the grocery store or the elderly man at the checkout counter because they might infect us with their dirty germs. The cost for human interaction has been deep and profound. However, now there is an even deeper wound found in how parents refuse to trust their children at all; but they will believe anything they hear concerning COVID-19 on the television or in the media. Then we become upset when our kids do not follow every law we make in our homes.
The truth of the matter is that this comes down to obedience. Psychology Today published a piece by Dr. Laura Markham entitled “Do You Want to Raise an Obedient Child?: It may be dangerous to raise a child who automatically obeys,” which highlights the fact that obedience is a good thing, but too much of it leads to weak and irresponsible adults. Merriam-Webster defines the term obedient as “submissive to the restraint or command of authority.” Therefore, if the command is illogical or not good for us, or if the authority is corrupt, the command may be flawed.
Obedient parenting is a virtue when it is authentic and character-based because a child realizes that his or her parents have their best interest at heart even if they are not fond of the rule. Parenting has collapsed, though, because we only force kids to follow the pandemic restrictions rather than balance out other pivotal learning habits. Listening to the arbitrary commands of parents is not always the best route to maturity. Dr. Markham notes that “it may even be dangerous to raise a child who obeys automatically, who swallows his objections and does what he’s told without question.”
How can one say such a thing? Simply, because “obedient children grow into obedient adults. They’re less likely to stand up for themselves and more likely to be taken advantage of.” Perhaps the adults who desire their children to have unequivocal allegiance to their countless COVID-19 rules (which are based in the media) were once children who did every single thing their parents asked them to do, without question.
Obedient parenting is needed for the proper development of children into adults, but we can never confuse unquestioned authority with the correct dose of obedience to what is true and good for us. Maybe parents need to be less reliant on and obedient to the media and more trustworthy toward their children and families. Maybe, just maybe, we are called to make more decisions for ourselves which are founded in a proper obedience to what is right, even if it is not popular.
May pandemic parenting curve upward toward the light of the truth, and may obedience be fostered, when it is good for us. Then somehow, some way, COVID-19 will not make us worse but better—not more dependent but more free to prosper in the America we know and love.
Thomas Griffin teaches at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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