It is too late to establish boundaries when your child has drowned in the pool; your teenager has signed up to the wrong crowd, or become a parent too early.
Principals used to be handed down from elders to their young. In an age when discipline was understood as love and not abuse, children had nothing to fear and no reason to argue. Those were the days when experience truly was the best teacher.
But, of what use is your experience when your children are learning from somebody else’s?
Mother’s voice drowned somewhere between the bra burning sixties and the death of Princess Dianna.
I remember the introduction of TV brought with it a bevy of warnings. Traditions were overpowered by the quest for visual communication and learning. The box with a glass window spawned surrogate role models and unleashed sinful fantasies. Wholesome parents limited viewing and lost the loyalty of boundary pushers. One-minute-wonder moms earned their stardom by hosting after-school attractions at the switch of a button. Not to mention Daddy’s little number on the side.
Cowboys and Indians became far less painful when you could virtually shoot somebody and turn off the aftermath. Suddenly smoking was relaxing and it wasn’t anything to do with sitting around the family camp fire telling stories of how Grandpa rescued Granny from the Indian down the road.
When I was at school, we used to play ‘Mummies and Daddies’ in a roofless house of hardboard walls and glass-less windows. We were allowed to pull the miniature curtains and have cosy tea parties with plastic cups and saucers. Teacher was God and checked us out from above, privy to every experiment or conversation. How does that compare to Days of our Lives? Is there anybody watching?
Family values became picket fences of derision. Prudes and nerds went to the top of the class for boredom whilst the cool and loose hit all-time highs on the social scale. Dianna comics and Lego-land couldn’t compete with the Barbie-Ken love affair. The foundations of sanity shook beneath digital dictates of what true love is. Media magnates found financial security whilst their students wobbled into the real world and wondered why they needed to work for theirs.
But what of the fundamentals? How do you reassure a seven year old that daddy really won’t leave home before him? That it is more important to be the kindest than the best. That sexy isn’t a compliment, but an invitation you don’t want to make in your teens. Mother’s love used to be unconditional, not squeezed between coffee with the girls after gym and the TV soapie before supper.
So, when children are allowed to go bungee-jumping with principles, you may as well put their security on the market. They will follow every whim and ‘love’ will be their god. If they don’t drown in the neighbour’s pool, they’ll play house with an addict or mommies and daddies for real.
I applaud those boundary builders who are prepared to sacrifice their popularity for the true freedom of their children. Society will benefit from the stability they offer and find security in their love. The reward of good parenting is when children open the gate on the world and put up their own fences.