When people become parents, something strange and unfortunate happens. They begin to assume a role or act a part and forget that they are persons. Now that they have entered the sacred realm of parenthood, they feel they must take up the mantle of “parents.” Now they earnestly try to behave in certain ways because they think that is how parents should behave. Heather and James Markinson, two human beings, suddenly become transformed into Mrs. and Mr. Markinson, Parents.
In a very serious way, this transformation is unfortunate, because it so often results in parents forgetting they are still humans with human faults, persons with personal limitations, real people with real feelings. Forgetting the reality of their own human-ness, when people become parents they frequently cease to be human. They no longer feel free to be themselves, whatever they may happen to be feeling at different moments. As parents now, they have a responsibility to be something better than mere persons.
This terrible burden of responsibility brings a challenge to these persons-turned-parents. They feel they must always be consistent in their feelings, must always be loving of their children, must be unconditionally accepting and tolerant, must put aside their own selfish needs and sacrifice for the children, must be fair at all times, and above all must not make the mistakes their own parents made with them.
While these good intentions are understandable and admirable, they usually make parents less rather than more effective. Forgetting one’s human-ness is the first serious mistake one can make on entering parenthood. An effective parent lets himself be a person—a real person. Children deeply appreciate this quality of realness and human-ness in their parents. They often say so: “My dad isn’t a fake,” or “My mom is a great person.” As they move into adolescence, kids sometimes say, “My parents are more like friends than parents. They’re cool people. They’ve got faults like everyone else, but I like them the way they are.”
What are these kids saying? It is fairly obvious they like their parents to be persons, not gods. They respond favorably to their parents as people, not as actors playing some part, pretending to be something they are not.