It’s Not A Matter of Good or Bad Parenting

When Girlie was first born, within a couple of hours, as I was nursing her tiny little body, skin to skin on my postpartum belly, the thoughts of all the things she’d have to face in this world as a woman began to crawl into my head. Tears silently poured down my face as I knew I would have to discuss rape, her safety, and the importance of vocalizing herself as a woman. I thought of the inequality that she’d face because of her gender, and the broad brush strokes that she’d already be painted with because she was a girl. With the lights dimmed in that hospital, I promised her that I would make sure she knew every day that she was a girl, but she was a girl with power. I would do my best to arm her with the tools she needed to protect herself in a world that is still incredibly anti-woman.

Of course, the discussion with my son has been different. I try not to focus on gender too much, but in our society, there are lines that are drawn even if we don’t want them to be. There are these cultural expectations placed upon each, some incredibly backward and disgusting, others just plain stupid. I noticed quite quickly with Potato and his sensitive, cautious demeanor, that the world expects him to be aggressive  unfeeling and powerful in all the wrong ways. There is very little room for a boy who wants to discuss his feelings and seizes up at the first sign of pressure.

I refuse all of that. My goal as a parent, even on the days when I’m not doing my best job to guide my kids is to help them grow up into successful, contributing members of our society. I want them to be happy and of course, I want them to have all the morals that I teach them daily.

Don’t lie. Be nice to others. Apologize when you’ve hurt someone. Share. It’s okay to feel your feelings, mad, sad, etc. Voice your opinions respectfully. Treat others how you want to be treated. 

You know, basics. I will keep on keeping. I will keep on repeating those mantras, teaching them about loving themselves, serving others, and being a respectful part of our world. A parent is always a parent, even when our kids stop letting us guide them as much as we do when they are little.

This weekend, I watched as the verdict came in on the horrifying Steubenville rape case. I listened as the media idolized the rapists, and shamed the victim. Twitter was a hot bed of amazing links, incredible discussions on rape culture, and what we can do to stop rape. All of these show the urgency that is beginning to rise up to make sure we stop seeing these sorts of stories in our media. Not because they stop reporting on them, but because raping is something that is rare and unheard of.

In among those tweets, were the occasional ones blaming the parents. They were absent. They shouldn’t have allowed them to drink, they should have stopped their boys from participating. There were accusations about what they did or didn’t do for their kids, and how their children raping was somehow a direct indication of their parenting ability.

Yes, sometimes bad people who do bad things come from bad parents. Sometimes. However, sometimes, kids do bad things because they choose to do them. Not because their parents told them it was okay, not because their parents gave them that sense of entitlement, but because eventually, even little five year old boys who listen to their parents, grow up to be sixteen year old boys who think they know better than their parents.  Sometimes, even though you wish that they wouldn’t, your kids grow up and make choices that as their parent, you know they are better than.

The way these kids were raised is irrelevant. What we should be focusing on going forward is how the parents are reacting now. Are they making excuses for their children? Are they claiming they have been wronged? Are they shaming the actual victim? Or are they, as a parent, standing by their child? When you are a parent, a good one, you don’t get to pick and choose when to stand by your child. Furthermore, standing by your child doesn’t mean you condone their actions; It means that you are still their parent and you are there to help them, in this time of consequence, however that might be.

When I was seventeen, a young man at my school, sexually assaulted me repeatedly. I reported it to the school cop. Instead of charges being laid, the school intervened because his parents were “outraged” at the accusations. A meeting was held. The cop sat on my side of the table, because, as he told me later, he knew I was telling the truth. For two hours, I looked at my attacker’s smug face, while his mother accused me of being a liar, an attention seeker, and trying to ruin her child’s life. The principal told me my school attendance and poor grades were an indication I was lying. He got away with it because he was the star student and his parents refused to believe that he could do something as bad as sexually assaulting a girl.

Those parents aren’t even bad- they are blind, they are clueless. Believing that your child is so good that they could never make a bad choice, even a choice that involves violating someones personal space, and sexual rights. That’s when the actions of the child indicate that the parents have developed the inability to see the truth in human nature. They forget what they were like when they were a teen. We all made choices; some of us made normal ones. Some of us made risky ones, and some kids made terrible decisions. Ones that impacted their future, and others. They forgot that while we want our kids to not be the ones they report on the news, that there is a chance that one day, they could make a choice that lands them in the middle of a world we never wanted them to get into.

Those choices are not a reflection on their parents being bad parents (unless, of course they did tell them that they could rape a girl and lie about it);  it’s a reflection on themselves, as growing humans in our society. When you decide to divert your eyes from the actual facts? The fact that your child made a choice that was terrible and hurt someone? Then you are clueless, in denial, and possibly a bad parent.

I can’t control my children forever. I can’t teach them every single thing that I want them to know before they become old enough to make their own choices. Will I drill it into their head that drinking and driving is stupid, that respecting others in every from, including sexually is mandatory? Yes, and I will teach them that by sharing my own experiences, and by communicating. Yet, I still recognize the imperfection in humanity, the same imperfection that exists in me.

One day, they will go off into the world alone, and I will grit my teeth the same way I do when I sit on the bench at the playground and let them just play, worrying that they might fall, that they might not listen to me when I’ve explained that they should stay away from the edge. Sometimes, no matter what they’ve been told, kids go to the edge, and they fall. Sometimes there is another influence, someone pushes them, or the wind gusts just so. Sometimes, they even choose to fall.

None of that is a reflection on my parenting.  When we continue to find excuses for poor behavior in young children, we continue the cycle of entitlement. If someone is willing to tell them it was not their fault, directly or indirectly, then we cannot expect them to own responsibilities.

In Steubenville on that night, they chose to rape that girl. They chose to brag about it via video and social media. Unless their parents told them to do it? They are not to blame for Jane Doe being raped. These boys need to own their responsibility and we need to let them- they raped Jane Doe.

They made that terrible choice, not their parents. Did their parents know they were drinking? Maybe. Did they know they were at a party? Probably, but maybe they had no idea. Did they know their children were raping and sexually assaulting a girl? I doubt it. Certainly, I’m giving these parents the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t ever encourage such atrocious behavior from their children. I’ve never met a parent who would encourage such acts.

Let these boys take the full responsibility of their hideous actions. Until we stop giving them these excuses for how it’s not their fault, they will not understand how it was really their choice, and that they deserve to be punished for this horrific, violating, unnecessary crime.

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