The Art of Being Father Or Mother

By Richard Salbato


Who am I to write about being a good father or mother?  I certainly do not deserve the title of  a good father, but at 67 years of age, I can now look back and see my mistakes.  If I have any wisdom, I have learned from those mistakes.  I believe that I will answer to God for my main job in life --- being a father. What mistakes I have made, I must admit to and try to fix.  If I cannot, then maybe I can help others not do the same.  I need not talk of myself here because there are many examples from other peoples lives that I can use. 


After writting, "What The World Needs Now" and "I Love My Phobias", I have received hundreds of emails telling of their problems as a child dealing with the mistakes of parents.  Some of these stories are horror stories and some are just parents who thought they were doing the right thing but just did not know how.  Most are about parents who had extreme views about life, religion, cults, movements, and even sex.  All are about parents who have not grown up but are trying to raise children.


I know few people who are not a little extreme in one point or another.  Some Catholics are extreme liberals and some extreme conservatives and some extreme Traditional.  Some are extreme feminists and others extreme male-chauvinist .  I love and support the home schooling Catholics but some of these can be very extreme and destructive to children.  Some parents suffered so much from their own parents that they become too lenient with their own children, taking to extreme the reverse of their childhood problems.


I know of parents who let their children have sex in their own homes, and I have seen the results of this as the children grew up.  I have known parents who gave their children drugs or paid for them, and I have watched these children grow up and die from drugs.  These parents do not want any conflict and are trying to buy the love of their children by giving them anything they want.  I know of one woman who abandoned her children and then went to such an extreme to win their love back that she destroyed them because she could never say "No!" to them.


I know of parents who let their daughters go live with boys away from home at 15 years of age simply because they were glad to get rid of them.  Some give their children away because they just do not want the responsibility and want to be FREE, whatever that means.  Of course, now we even have them killing their children so that they can be FREE.   In every case, when they get older, all they think about is their lost children.  The children end up with great psychological scars.


People today become parents before they are ready to be parents, and the children suffer.  Psychologists and Sociologists starting from about 1918 have created a society of self indulgent, self interested, self fulfilling, self centered, self everything, except self loving people.  These types of people cannot love, not the type of love it takes to be a father or mother, because they cannot stop thinking about themselves and their wants and desires.  Kids get in the way of their lives.  Most of these people end up in divorce, and there is nothing more destructive to children than a divorce.  Helping people overcome the trauma of growing up in a split home is the hardest thing in the world.


Not much we can say or do about the above people, about 80% of Europe and America today, but we will try to help their children overcome how they were treated by their parents. 


One of the problems with people who really try to be good parents today, is that they just are not ready for it financially or emotionally.  As they are having children the fathers (at least) are out in the world trying to make a living at what they are not yet good at.  Often they think that this is their most important obligation and spend too much time at it.  It is a grave obligation for fathers but not the most important.  Often they are having problems growing up as men, and get pre-occupied with trying to have self esteem as men, and forget that they have children that need the same.  Often women are still trying to be women and forget that they now have to be mothers.   I have seen these psychological and financial problems of parents really harm children at a very young age. 


I do not want to say that in "the old days" things were better, but there are some things I would like to see return to the world what existed in most societies.  One thing was the proper raising of children, not just by parents but by the entire community, the extended family, the Church, the older children and the elders.  In almost every society boys were put to the test for manhood and there would be formal celebrations declaring a boy a man. 


There were programs for girls to become ladies, and then there would be what is called a "going out party" to introduce the "young lady" to the world.  Men were taught a trade, honor, virtues, dignity and how to act in all occasions - with the poor, with the elders, with nobility and make everyone comfortable around them. (Called Etiquette or good manners ) What the "old days" did not do properly was teach people about sex.  Of course, this may not have been needed so much then, since most people had live stock and children at the age of 3 or 4 knew how babies were made.  There was romance, which does not exist today, so sexual education was probably not so needed.  Love, real love, solved some of these problems.  There was frigidity then, and many women did not even know what enjoying sex meant, but the same problem exists today in more cases that you may think.    


What is a good parent?


It is much easier to look back and see what people have done wrong than what people have done right when it comes to bringing up children.  And unless you were St. Theresa of the Little Flower, you can look back at many mistakes of every parent, even the best of them.  We, as parents, make mistakes and have moments of stupidity.  In the end, we can be good parents if we do four things. 1. pay attention, 2. love, 3. take care of, 4. trust our children. 


1.     Pay attention to your children even if it just is letting them know that you are seeing what they are doing.  Children feel loved if they know you are watching them and like watching them.  They will feel your loving eyes on them and it gives them security.  Even up to high school and college people want to be noticed (especially by their parents) for what they do, sports, talks, plays, music, etc.


2.     Loving children is not just a feeling but an action.  They should be told you love them.  They should be hugged and hugged a great deal, every chance you get.  If you have to correct them, and this is part of love, the quicker you can forget the correction and hug them the better.  Loving is also part of teaching them to love themselves, love God and love others, to be lovable.  Children start out selfish and learn from others to love.  This is a primary job of parents but if the parents do not know how to love, how can they teach it.


3.     Security is a must for children and this never ends.  If you are not ready to feed, cloth, keep warm, house and make secure children, then you are not ready to get married at all.  This is what it means to make a house a home. This home is not yours but it belongs to your children. As long as you live your children, even a old ages themselves, should know that you are living in their home, and they can go to it anytime they want.  Parents must represent security and peace.  Yes! You need to teach them to go out into the world and be independent of you, but this is easier if they know they always have a backup. 


4.     Even after a correction you must go back to trusting them, because if you show that you do not trust them, they will give you reasons.  Children, especially teenagers, are going to do the wrong things.  You did them when you were young and they will also.  If they are not too serious, you might pretend you do not even know, but if they know that you know, you cannot condone sin, and they must be corrected with love.  Even at a very young age, make them think that their opinion about things is important to you.  This helps them become free-thinkers, and not robots of your thinking.  Do what ever it takes to let them know that you trust them. 


There are some things that cannot be tolerated --- ever,  but if you have come to this as a parent, you have done something very wrong in the past.  Tantrums, gross disobedience and general out of control children cannot be tolerated because for them to have a loving household, there must be peace and order.  At teenage level, most important are pornography and drugs. These two things will destroy people at any age and everything possible must be done to correct these sins.  Real crimes, like crimes against civil law, should not be protected, but parents should let the children suffer the penalty for the crime.  I would not bail out of jail my own child if I knew he was guilty.  This is part of love and education. 


The modern man and woman will hate me for saying this, but once you have children, the children must come first in your life.  Not just first, but first, last, everything in between, and before everything else.  Everything you do after having children must be with the children in mind.  Being a parent is now your most important job, and this God will judge you on more than anything else you do. 


Children are not there to make you look good, but for you to make them look good.  Too many people want to show off their children and want them to be mirror images of themselves or what they would like to have been.  I heard a father say to his son, "How am I going to look in the community."  To the child, he was more interested in his own image than in the problems of the child.  Words by parents can cause great and permanent damage to children.  "You make me wish I never had children."  My God, what a horrible thing to say to anyone.  Everyone makes mistakes but no mistake could make up for such a sinful statement as that.  Such a crime against love, that I think God would find it hard to forgive this kind of statement.


Children were not born to be you, but have their own destiny in the world.  You should pray that it is different than yours because then (and only then) will you know that you raised a free-thinker and not a robot.


I am not ignorant of the fact that parents do not raise children alone.  There is the neighborhood, the teachers, the peer pressure, etc.  You can control these things like home schoolers do or teach your children to be leaders and thinkers instead of followers. Teach then well and then trust them.  If they seek attention and love from outside the house, blame yourself and not them.  I think on of the main reasons young girls have sex at an early age is that they do not feel their father's love.  Boys and girls at a young age are not seeking sex, but love.  A parent should ask himself, "Why?"


I want to show how (if possible) to experience the joy of giving your children away in a good marriage or to the Church and have the confidence that they will be happy and good at it.  You know that you have done a good job if your children are happy with themselves and they know how to love God and others. 


Then, of course, you must let go, because you are no longer a father, but now a father-in-law and later a grandfather. You no longer are the head of the house, but just one to go to for advice if asked, and a place to have family things, like Christmas, etc.  Giving up being father or mother is hard.  You are always father or mother, but now having a different role.


What is a bad parent?


Bad parents are mostly self absorbed, where everything must revolve around their wants, beliefs, needs and insecurities.  Of course, most often these people end in divorce and raise children from a distance or without much care and without the help of a second parent.  Even those who manage to stay married, never have enough love left over from their self love, to show children love and affection.  The example, and not the words, is what makes a bad parent.  Some sleep around and the children know it. Others bitch all the time, giving no peace and harmony to home life.  Some are so extreme in religion or modern trends that they actually embarrass their children.  Some look always for faults and never love or trust children, making them so frustrated that they want to do bad just to get back at them or get some attention.  Most self absorbed people do not really like themselves and take out their frustrations on children.  Most often, however, they are so busy trying to find self love, they just do not even notice their children.


Of course there are abusive parents, who beat their children, and in some cases, these should be locked up in jail.  But I most often hear about verbal abuse and to me this can cause more permanent psychological damage than physical abuse.  Where is the soft spoken, kind parent who gives correction with love?  Other abusive types of parents are those who are cajoling and flatter their children even when they do not deserve it.  Condoning sin without correction is a very abusive type of parent because the child will go out into the world thinking right is wrong and wrong is right.  But the greatest abuse is bad example because there is a strong relationship between parents and children even if the children see the faults.  Children, even more than parents, will make excuses for the faults of their parents and end up doing the same sins.  Correction, as essential as it is, must be done in such a way that the child knows that he or she is loved.  Often this is very hard to do, but effort must be made to do it as quick as possible after correction.  It think maybe the greatest failure of parents today because of psychology is the failure to correct.  


Why do children loose belief in God or the Church?


The truth is that children do not loose believe in God, because they are born with it and cannot loose it.  What they do loose, and sometimes say that they do not believe in God, is the perception of God presented to them by their parents and/or the Church.  God is love and God loves each and every person more than all other creation put together.  At a young age that must be taught and nothing more.  When a child matures, proof of God must be given, and I will give a special Newsletter to help people with this.  But even with a poor religious education, people do not loose faith in their being a God, unless parents and/or the Church make God appear to be stupid. 


What people do in the name of God is sinful.  Children can be very smart when it comes to God, and when parents go to extremes, they seem to know it.  Both the extremely liberal and the extremely strict parents can destroy the logic of God in the minds of children.  I have seen great psychological problems with children who were actually more religious (in a right way) than their parents were. 


Some extreme parents are so caught up in rituals and fear of sin, that they even suffocate good and logical faith.  Forcing vocations unto people makes bad vocations.  I know of parents who wanted to force marriage on children with a religious calling and parents who wanted to force a religious calling on children with a calling to marriage.  Both are wrong.  When a child cannot talk honestly with parents, then that child will stop talking all together and will seem anti-religious when, in fact, the child is just unable to communicate with opinionated parents. 


I may seem extreme to some simply because I go to Mass everyday, but if my children were still living with me, I would not demand that they go everyday.  I have a good friend here who has 10 children, and she goes to Mass everyday.  Sometimes the children go with her and sometimes they do not because she does not even invite them.  She just sets the example for them, but they go if they want to and do not go if they do not want to. Sunday, of course, being the exception. 


When very young, every religious activity should be made to be loving and even fun, or it will not last.  Sunday Church should be something that children look forward to and not dread.   There are many ways to do this but now is not the time for that.  When parents get involved in extreme movements in the Church (right or left) they should not expect Children to understand these extremes because they are just that, extreme from the norm.  Even good extremes are hard to understand and people should come to them by extremely free wills.  I know someone who has more virtues than the parents but because of their extremes, they consider their child a heretic.  This person will someday teach Catholics how to be real Catholics.


What can you do to correct your mistakes as a parent?


Every parent makes mistakes and sometimes they are very serious, like divorce, adultery, violence, or long absences.  Sometimes they are just ignorance or immaturity.  Most of the mistakes of parents are the result of not having matured enough to raise children properly and only after years of mistakes do they finally grow up to see their errors.  What Now?


For the psychological sanity of your children, you must forgive yourself and then admit these faults to your children and seek their forgiveness.  They know what you have done wrong, but they must know that you know your errors and you are not going to justify them.  You must admit them and seek your children's forgiveness of them.  Sometimes the child after becoming an adult and looking back perceives things that were not so.  It does them no good and you no good, to admit to faults that did not happen.  Truth, only truth, is the only cure for the past.    


Sometimes the harm is so great that children will never forget and never forgive.  Most likely it is because you were not a forgiving parent when they were young, and in turn, they have picked up this unforgiving characteristic from you.  Unable to forgive is a very grave psychological problem in people and every effort should be done to undo this trait, but in the end there might be nothing that you can do, except pray for them.  God forgives anything and everything asked, but people do not.  People who are unable to forgive and forget can only be called, revengeful or hateful.  Pray for them.    


How do you overcome bad parents?


I talk a lot with children from 16 to 50 who have religious or psychological problems.  One of these children I have been helping from 15 years of age until 21 years of age.  Of course, her problems were not bad parents but the death of her mother, and having to be a mother at the age of 15.  She is a better mother than I was as a father over those 6 years.  I think I learned more from her than she learned from me, because her questions made me reflect on myself.


Overcoming the faults of parents fall into two different problems: 1. if you are still living with them, 2. after you no longer live with them. 


1. Under 18 years. If you are still living under the roof of your parents there are pragmatic problems that you must live with.  I am not talking here of the extreme physical or sexual abuse, which should be turned over to the police as quick as possible.  I am talking here of parents who simply cannot handle properly loving a child.  Sometimes this comes from people who cannot love unless loved or love for sale.  But whatever the reason, a good and logical child, even if he or she has made mistakes, may find it a very difficult problem to deal with parents that do not give up their anger at something that they perceive as a grave violation of their concept of "My" child.  They shut off love and any trust from that moment on.  Instead of forgiving and forgetting as God does, the parent just will not let go.


Under these conditions all a child can do is fake it.  Pretend to be what the parent wants him or her to be, but at the same time working to develop their own ideas on things in a systematic and logic learning path.  At any age, people know that you cannot force ideas and thinking down someone's throat.  You can force actions but not beliefs.  Just as in all society, people know that logical persuasion is the only way to change people's thinking and not force.  When a child starts thinking for himself but still under the roof of his parents, and he cannot talk these things out with his parents in a calm and logical way, he is forced to keep them inside and hide them.  The results of this is that he or she develops firm ideas without input from others.


When the child pursues education in social things that parents do not want to talk about, they create the appearance of being distant and anti-social with the family when in fact they are thinking things that cannot be talked about with closed minded parents.  Love, feelings, acceptance, sex, homosexuality,  friendships, vocations, and the million "why" answers that never came up before the age of reason are all thing that parents should feel free to talk about but seldom do.  These things are going to come up in the teen years and should be faced with ease and love, but when they are not, the child has to deal with these things alone or with the wrong people.


2. Over 18 years The problems of overcoming psychological problems after one is no longer living at home are entirely different.  Now we are dealing with psychological harm, from rejection, lack of trust, extremes of faith or social ideas, etc.  The pains of any of these things are hard to overcome because we all have a need for loving parents and it never goes away.  To overcome the constant thinking about these things so that you can get on with your life, you must mentally face them for what they are.  After at least 18 years of age, you should be able to think things out without the help of others.  When you look back and face thing with an open mind, you see your mistakes and your parents mistakes.  It is easy to excuse your mistakes and logical to do so, because you were a child.  It is harder to forgive your parents mistakes because they were not children, and should have had more common sense. 


It is hard to face and admit that you may have had stupid or selfish or abusive or unloving parents.  But this must be faced or you will continue to put the blame on yourself for the past.  You and you alone are responsible for the now, but you can reflect and look at the past with honest reflection on the truth of what happened and why.  No matter what happened in the past only you can be who you are today and you cannot blame others for it.


Should you point out the mistakes of your parents?


Love is wanting to do only good to others and wanting the best for them.  Sometimes love is correcting as when a parent stops a child from playing with fire.  All sin is like playing with fire.  If your parent has sinned or is sinning still in regards to their social actions with others, then you should find a way to point it out to them in a loving and careful way.  I am not talking here about bad habits that are not too socially offensive, but real problems.  First reflect on if this fault is not your own self perceived ideas of how things were or are.  If they are real obvious faults that should be corrected for any unity and harmony in the extended family, then for the sake of charity you should point out the faults. 


You must make up your own mind if this is or is not a total waste of time and energy.  If they just will not accept any criticism of their actions and you know it, you are wasting your time and only going to make it worse.  Under these conditions there is nothing you can do.


Honor your mother and father, yes.  This is a commandment of God, but that does not mean accepting abuse or control beyond an age of reason.  God does not qualify this so we must assume we owe honor also to bad parents in the same way we give honor (or his due) to a President or King even if he is a very bad person.  Respect the office, the title, but do not let the evil get to you. 


What Now?


I am doing what I can to help people overcome the psychological problems of parents but it is an epidemic.  There are good and even great parents out there with great problems with children, and children with great problems with parents.  There are middle aged people who cannot overcome the present phobias brought about be abusive or neglective parents.  The answer is not so much parents who do not want to be good, but who do not know how. 


People today are not prepared to be parents.  People today do not know how to love.  The social schools of the past do not exist anymore.  They taught all the things necessary to go from girl to woman to lady and the same for men.  I wish we had these schools today.  I know I could have used it.  I do not blame my mother and father, they did not go past the 4th grade and were married as children.  At least they had an excuse for being too immature to be parents.  I was born when my mother was 16 and I am the second oldest.  But I could have used a finishing school, someplace to undo what my parents did wrong, or do what they did not do.  At 23 I was not ready to be a parent, and the truth is I might not have been ready at 40, since I was still obsessed with by own problems.


A finishing school would have made me ready to be a man and a father.  At least it could not have done harm.  It would have made me better at jobs and climb faster in the work place.  It would have taught me to pick the right lifetime mate and all the things that parents are afraid to talk about or do not know how.