College coaches live and die by it. The Armed Forces do it through a relentless barrage of energetic commercials. Major corporations use it to vie for top candidates. And parents (you sometimes weary souls in the trenches) ought to get in on the act as well.
I’m talking about recruiting. Not children, of course, since they’re granted God-sanctioned reserved seating in your family. Season ticket holders for life, that’s what they are.
What parents must recruit are voices, voices to coach children along life’s path. Raising kids is too hard for any parent to do alone, and we all need a hand or 10 along the way.
So we have grandparents and uncles, teachers, neighbors, church leaders, soccer coaches, police officers, and even other kids. We count on them to teach our kids solid principles of human decency and to be living examples of responsible citizens.
To get the most out of raising kids, parents must be active recruiters; passive recruiting is an oxymoron of the worst sort, tantamount to neglect.
As a parent, I pursue voices that will reinforce the principles and ideals I’m trying to teach my children. I actively seek out those who will encourage my children to be honest and responsible. I want my children to rub shoulders with kids who respect authority (and their parents’ authority in particular). I do my best to expose my children to voices that teach that kindness to the underprivileged is expected, that compromise and cooperation are desirable, and that temperance and self-restraint are normal.
Am I always successful in recruiting the best voices for my children? Not a chance. They’re exposed to tons of countervailing forces that I can’t control, but I can live with that. Like your kids, my kids are strong, they’re resilient, and love will see them through. And even if they choose to go a different direction with their lives that I’d want, I can live with that, too. All I can do is all I can do.
I often have parents tell me, “Dr. Gentry, many of the things you tell our 16-year old daughter in counseling are the same things we’ve told her a hundred times.” I explain that, given their emotional history with her, their voices are easily drowned out by the din of their repetition and her defensiveness. My voice is new, albeit strangely familiar.
And so I encourage them to begin aggressively recruiting. I suggest they (for instance) contact the aunt their daughter has always adored, her dance coach, a couple of church leaders, and a stable peer who might befriend her. I also urge them to tap into voices that have been around the longest: the elderly.
Perhaps the most underutilized voices of all, the elderly have tremendous wisdom and experience to share. I try to make a point of involving my children with an elderly person or elderly couple for an evening once every couple of months. Additionally, my wife and I seek out families that personify a way of living we advocate to our children. We recently shared an inspiring evening with a Tongan couple and their two teenage boys. Our children were moved to tears as the older boy, a high school senior and muscular football star, cried as he voiced his feelings regarding the evening’s topic: The importance of showing respect to your mother.
Old time values. Active recruiting of voices that matter. Striving, enduring, never giving up . . . if for no other reason than because the alternative’s no good.
I, like you, am the best parent at times and the worst at others. Truth is, I’m never as good as I believe nor as bad as I fear. I’m there along with you, somewhere in the middle.
And because my voice isn’t as strong as I would have it be, because my kids have selective hearing just like yours, there’s always more recruiting to be done. Like you, I’ve got to do all I can to keep my season ticket holders in their seats.