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10.25.2010

Do No Harm

There’s a huge gap in understanding responsibility and being responsible. Nowhere is this more obvious than in parenting. It’s one thing to put clothes on a kid’s back and give them a daily bowl of grub and quite another to make sure they feel secure, loved and respected as human beings.

Parenting doesn’t come with a handbook and since every person is different, every challenge to parenting is different. What shouldn’t be different are certain underlying principles. For me, one of the most important is: “Do no harm”. Every decision you make as a parent should be tempered with the question “Will this harm or set my child back?” Most of us know the answer to that without asking. But too many don’t. They lash out in anger, they neglect, they abuse, they belittle, and a host of other not so obvious things that are harmful.

Parents are gods in the eyes of their children. Helpless and ignorant, they can be molded in a million ways. It’s up to us to determine how. When a parent isn’t grown up enough themselves to manage their children, they act like one of them, reacting with jealousy, retribution, and callousness. Their own needs come first and they lay the blame for their own shortcomings at the feet of anyone but themselves. Children who grow up like this harbor resentment and anger that may never be resolved, unable to become emotionally mature adults themselves. They have difficulty in relationships and, quite often pass these traits on to their own children, keeping the cycle alive for another generation.

How do we break this cycle? How can a parent know they’re causing harm if they can’t see themselves doing it? Treat children with the same respect you would wish to be treated, even if you never were. Surprisingly, this isn’t as easy for many people to do as it sounds. Too many parents never graduated into adulthood themselves by the time they have children. This puts them in direct competition with their kids for attention and resources. You can see it when parents don’t want their kids to be more successful than they are and insult or tell them they’re no good. It shows itself when a parent spends more time and money on themselves than their kids or controlling parents who completely restrict their child’s movements. There are a thousand manifestations of this kind of behavior and it stultifies the child.

Parents need to respond to every situation with the best interest of the child first. Everything else will follow. Of course we all screw up and behave badly, say and do the wrong thing here and there. You have to catch yourself, learn from it, apologize and do better the next time around. Nobody said it would be easy.

Just do no harm.