2008 by Janice Byrd

Janice Byrd of McKinney: What makes a good parent?

Being there, plain and simple
Friday, June 15, 2007

Parents (those living with and raising their children) have always been, and will continue to be, the most influential forces in their children's lives. No matter how old, educated or changed a child becomes, his parent's software, imbedded within him, will never be erased.

I'm not just talking about DNA. The words, attitude, actions and memories from a child's perspective can reach across generations. That's why I'm still nurturing, involved with and, yes, giving advice to my grown children.

Parents influence their children in the obvious ways of choosing a faith, a career and a passionate pastime. However, many more covert influences abound. Parents' expectations, socialization modeling and conversations with others, which their children inadvertently overhear, affect a child's self-image. I believe the most positive and powerful factor in a child's well-being is the assurance that Mom and Dad are committed to being there for him or her.

I remember when David Williams, a football player with the Houston Oilers in 1993, was docked over $100,000 for missing an away game to be at the birth of his son. Sometimes "being there" as a parent can be costly and inconvenient.

Just the thought of parenting within the context of our current culture is sobering for most people. So sobering, in fact, that many have opted out of becoming parents altogether. Some who are biological parents have abdicated their parental responsibilities in order to become friends with their children. After all, friends don't have to be there all the time.

Of course, being there looks entirely different when children are 3 years old and when they're 13 or 33, for that matter. For a child, love is spelled t-i-m-e, and loving discipline cannot be administered by a surrogate. No matter what parenting techniques you use to discipline, motivate or guide a child, effective methods take lots of face time.

In America today fewer than half of all children will grow up with both their mother and a father living with them. Being there for their children doesn't seem to be a priority for a lot of birth parents. Truly caring for children lost its primacy about the same time that child pornography, divorce, live-in lovers and abortion were normalized.

We can't wait for the government to create policies that allow parents to spend more time with their children. As well-meaning as government agencies, including our public schools, might be, they cannot replace caring parents who put their children's interests ahead of their own.

Recently we heard about the two little boys from Watauga videotaped smoking marijuana given to them in their own home by a teenage uncle. Almost as shocking was the fact that no responsible family member could be found to care for these preschoolers. I cannot even imagine what the future holds for these children without a responsible, loving parent to care uniquely for them.

Being there doesn't require spending lots of money on private schools, the latest fads, or lengthy vacations. It's the simple, everyday things like eating dinner together and laughing at the same silly stories that bond family members together. Encouragement in times of disappointment, "listening with both your eyes," as my own child once admonished me, and working together on a project are some of the best ways to build real self-esteem in children.

"Being there" in a child's world means knowing a favorite song, teacher, color, sport or movie. It's praying for him or her, his or her friends and a future spouse. It's waiting up until the child comes home, and it's sharing your spouse with someone else.

Parenting is hard work. It's constant, and it's forever. But, remember grandchildren are coming, and they make everything worth it!

Janice Byrd of McKinney is library director of the First Baptist Church of McKinney, a book performer and a Voices of Collin County volunteer columnist. Her e-mail address is Janice@JaniceByrd.com.

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