Do We Love Our Children Too Much—Or Not Enough?

March 12, 2020 Updated: March 16, 2020


Headlines can only be so long, so let me place this article’s headline in a particular context: When one of our children receives a low grade or a bad report from a teacher, whose side do you take? Do you take the teacher’s report seriously or do you “know” that the problem is with the teacher and not your child?

Similarly, when a coach plays someone other than your child in a sports contest, do you think the coach is an idiot?

Here’s another setting in which parents may disagree with someone who is supervising their child: high school theater. Recently, my wife and I attended a high school musical. It was exceptionally well done—a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience in which all the actors “nailed” their parts. It was a beautiful example of what my wife, a retired theater director, calls “ensemble acting”—the star was the show itself, not a single performer. And that was the problem.

The mother of the lead actor accosted and berated the director of the musical in the hallway outside the auditorium—right in front of multiple shocked witnesses. She was irate that the show had been directed in such a way that the spotlight was not trained on her son more than on other members of the cast. Her son, apparently, was upset about this, and so Mom ripped into the director so aggressively that school security had to intervene.

So, what’s the problem here? The lead actor did a fine job in his role and his work helped the entire production to succeed. He had had key and lead roles in the three previous annual musicals, so it wasn’t like he had been shortchanged of stage time during his high school career. And he’s a good actor. One problem, though, is that he thinks he’s a great actor. He doesn’t have the experience and perspective to understand that he’s a big fish in a small pond, and that there are young people as talented as he in most of the high schools across the country.

The other problem is that Mom is convinced that her boy is a national treasure and that the director, rather than recognizing his greatness and paying tribute to it, desecrated her son by treating him exactly the same as she treated his peers.

Mom clearly loves her son. She should—that’s what mothers do! But she didn’t have enough love for her fellow man left over to teach him to be willing to graciously share the spotlight with other cast members and to spread around the joy of a well-performed production.

Nor did she have enough love in her heart to show respect for a professional lady who had brought much happiness to her school community for many years by producing excellent shows—a woman who had given the boy several juicy roles; a woman who worked 12- and 14-hour days teaching a full load of classes at the high school while also pulling together the musical.

Even if Mom had a legitimate beef, she should have had enough recognition of the many contributions that the director had given to the community and approached her in a respectful manner.

Such aggressive behavior seems to be becoming more common in our society. Adults increasingly criticize, argue, ridicule, and abuse other adults who have supervisory positions over their children—teachers, coaches, officials in sports contests, theater directors, etc. It didn’t use to be this way. Over the last 50 or 60 years, it has grown progressively worse.

We boomers may have been spoiled in some ways, but when we were in school, if we got a bad grade or a teacher’s report of unruly behavior, our parents wouldn’t sympathize. They told us we had better shape up. We were taught to respect the person holding the position, even if we didn’t like the person himself.

I shake my head when parents complain about a teacher giving junior a low grade. My old junior high school teacher, with whom I went to see “The Call of the Wild” last month, gave me a D+ on the very first paper I ever wrote for him. I had always gotten A’s in elementary school, but in the seventh grade, the standard was uncompromising: If you want an A, then write correctly (i.e., like an adult)—youth was no excuse. Whew, English class was hard, but by the end of 8th grade, after writing a theme a week for two whole school years, Mr. Walters had me writing at an adult level—something which benefited me greatly.

By contrast, about a decade ago, a bright coed wrote a paper for me that merited a “C.” Like several of my wife’s college students, her reaction was one of incredulity: “I’ve never gotten less than an A before. How dare you!” Her mother even wrote me a letter extolling the virtues of her daughter’s paper while commenting on my apparent blindness. It never escalated from there, but when the student later asked me for a recommendation, I politely declined.

In my coaching career, which included a state championship in girls’ softball, I preempted any temptation for a parent to lobby for his or her daughter to play a certain position or more innings by announcing a policy to both players and parents at a team meeting before the season started: If anyone tries to influence my personnel decisions, the player being lobbied for will be benched. I had to make it clear that the squeaky wheel would not get the grease from me.

Frankly, I’m worried about our society today. I know that not every teacher or coach is absolutely top-notch, but what are we teaching our children when we blatantly scorn and disrespect teachers, coaches, directors, etc.?

Are we really loving our children if we assume they’re always right? Or would we love them more by teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them, that they should respect their elders, that they should work harder to improve themselves, and they should try to see some value in what their elders are trying to teach them? Are we really loving our children if we take their side whether they are right or wrong? I think not, but I suspect many of you will disagree.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.