Love of Approbation in Devoted Parents

My son asked me what I am writing about for this blog and I answered, “the duty of parents.”  He replied, “Oh! To feed their kids well!  But add a few more details!”

Yes, there are a few more details, aren’t there?  But where to start?  We could start at the duty to provide a physically and mentally safe home and move on to the duty to model love of God and neighbor and round out the aerial view with the duty to educate.  Along the way, we may miss one duty that is a bit prickly: the duty to not seek approval from your child.  Being your child’s best friend is an extreme yet common form of abdication of this duty (of failure to fulfill).  This duty is hard to swallow in our culture where moms wear clothes from the “teen section” and dads chum it up over video games.  It is hard because the fulfillment of this duty lies squarely on the character of the parent, and not on an external “check the box” like providing good food.  But perhaps it is especially hard to fulfill this duty because being your child’s best friend can feel like the loving thing to be.  But Charlotte Mason asserts that we abdicate our role as parents when we position ourselves as persons needing approval from our children.

Causes which lead to the Abdication of Parents––

Here is indicated a rock upon which the heads of families sometimes make shipwreck. They regard parental authority as inherent in them, a property which may lie dormant, but is not to be separated from the state of parenthood. They may allow their children from infancy upwards to do what is right in their own eyes; and then, Lear turns and makes his plaint to the winds, and cries––

'sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!'

But Lear has been all the time divesting himself of the honour and authority that belong to him, and giving his rights to his children. Here he tells us why; the biting anguish is the 'thankless' child. He has been laying himself out for the thanks of his children. That they should think him a fond father has been more to him than the duty he owes them; and in proportion as he omits his duty are they oblivious of theirs. Possibly the unregulated love of approbation in devoted parents has more share in the undoing of families than any other single cause. A writer of today represents a mother as saying––

"'But you are not afraid of me, Bessie?"

"No indeed; who could be afraid of a dear, sweet, soft, little mother like you?"'

And such praise is sweet in the ears of many a fond mother hungering for the love and liking of her children, and not perceiving that words like these in the mouth of a child are as treasonable as words of defiance.1

We regard words of rebellion, of poor attitude, of contempt for authority as “treasonable as words of defiance.”  But do we equally regard words of praise by our children that come on the heels of getting the coveted toy-of-the-week, of being told they can stay up past bedtime, of being given permission to eat the forbidden candy, of being allowed to wear the questionable outfit?  Webster’s simple definition of treason is “the crime of trying to overthrow your country's government.”  These “sweet in the ears” words are treasonable because they come from a heart of misplaced loyalty.  To the praise-wielding child, the government rests on herself and it lies with her to approve or disapprove of her parent.  The parent, driven by the desire for praise and approval, plays by the government’s rules.  Such a government is ultimately tenuous and rests too heavily on a child; and so it crumbles.  And the devoted parent is left saying, “But I sacrificed to give her everything she wanted!  All I wanted in return was her approval.” 

Perhaps to the parent who says, “I have satisfied every law of parenthood, I have given to my child more than I felt comfortable, I have met her every desire, I have sacrificed all I have, what more shall I do to be a good parent?”  Charlotte Mason answers: Seek first to be the authority, because “the unregulated love of approbation in devoted parents has more share in the undoing of families than any other single cause.”  

1Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, Volume 2, Chapter 2

(image) Mary Cassatt, Portrait of Alexander J. Cassatt and His Son Robert Kelso Cassatt (1885)