When There’s No Father Around
by Lori Barkson
I was visiting a friend recently when her teenage son cursed her and slammed out of the door after she told him he couldn’t go out. As I listened to her lament about her problems with him and how she felt he would be a better kid, if he had a father in the house, I shook my head sadly.
She had created a monster and didn’t know it. Since infancy, she had failed to teach her son right from wrong. She considered herself a mother of modern-day thinking, who felt children should not be suppressed from expressing themselves or corrected for “every little mistake.” He had no household chores, and no curfew to speak of and he was accustomed to doing whatever he wanted.
His mother failed to understand that all behavior is learned behavior and most kids imitate what they see. We have been friends since high school, and I had witnessed her on more than one occasion curse her own mother.
Like most mothers who raise children alone, she tried to over-compensate for the lack of a father in the home. She bought him everything he asked for and that which he didn’t. Because there were only two of them, he also functioned as a son and a companion. On one hand, she’d chastise him for bad behavior and then converse with him like an adult on inappropriate subjects.
Unfortunately, she is not alone in this. Many single parents today are having some serious challenges with child-rearing because character development does not take place in the home. Kids today receive a lot of distracting moral messages, but firm parental guidance is essential to increasing the probability that these children will grow into responsible adulthood. Having a father in the home is a great asset to rearing children, but with over 61% of single mothers in this country doing this alone, the struggle for good parenting is a real one.
Meanwhile, children must be taught right from wrong, but instruction alone is not enough. Children must be actively engaged in their own character building. Allowing children to make their own decisions on real matters that affect them helps affirm good values. Children learn to make good decisions by making some poor ones and reaping the consequences. Children learn by doing. Character development requires involving them in activities that affirm good values. For instance, if the family has worshiped in the home, even little children can offer a prayer, share an experience, or discuss the meaning of a Bible story. Outside of the home, they may accompany you to give food or some other aid to a person in need, sing for a shut-in, read to an elderly person, or rake leaves for a disabled person.
A big part of being a principled adult is accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. We help the moral development of children when we give them specific responsibilities, (such as household chores) appropriate to their ages and skills and then hold them responsible for those tasks. Children need to know that they are not just consumers, but a vital part of the family operation.
However, if we wish to see our children become examples of good moral fiber, we must set the example and emphasize the benefits of having a good character. And though it’s hard raising a child alone, it is never an excuse for allowing a child to fall short of his expected potential as an upstanding human being. It is also important to elicit support from friends, other family members, and neighbors when you’re rearing a child alone. The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child still stands true.