Misguided parenting can be very harmful to children


Cat Stephens reportedly wrote and sang the haunting lyrics of the 1974 song, Cats in the Cradle. However, it was Harry Chapin who did.

The song, a ballad narrated by a father, tells the story of a dad who, while doing what good dads do, that is, taking care of the physical needs of his boy, unfortunately did not spend time with him.

In this, which of us is without fault? Many of us, grown in the Caribbean, experienced parenting that was a daily struggle against impoverishment. And for education, and for making of ourselves better men and women.

That any of us made it speaks to the resilience against oppression to which we and our parents were exposed. It is for these reasons why I personally live in perennial optimism and inexhaustible hope. And it is these narratives, told at the family table and gatherings which will also allow our children to appreciate us, and save them, now being raised in these urban, alienating cultures.

As the father narrates:

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew

He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad

You know I’m gonna be like you”

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home dad?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Of course, the father, busy and diligent in bringing home the bread, despite always making it to the house, never makes it home to a boy, now grown to the age of 10, and asking the father to teach him how to throw the ball the father had brought as a gift.

My son turned ten just the other day

He said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play

Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today

I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s O.K.”

And he walked away but his smile never dimmed

And said, “I’m gonna be like him, yeah

You know I’m gonna be like him”

This ballad sums up more than any other analysis in prose or in verse how, and why, bad children can be created, not only from deadbeat dads, but also from parenting that is not so much bad as misguided; parenting with misplaced and deadly emphases.

Unfortunately, for many of us, these emphases are too often less under our controls than we would wish. For example, once upon a time, a household needed only one breadwinner, usually the father. Then, with changing social realities of costs of living increasing faster than did wages, and with advertisers whetting our appetites for more and more gadgets adding crippling credit, the same household needed, not only more than one breadwinner, but also every sibling of working age and below.

Today, the household in which only one parent is needed to meet living costs is indeed rare. These needs increased other requirements. Daycare, for example. Now, even this, if accessible and affordable, is also rare.

So, who is minding the house? Who is the parent when the parents are away? And at what costs are our children being raised by exposure to advertising and programming which are anything but family-friendly.

How do we, as parents, grand-parents and guardians, raise and protect our children, while doing what good adults caring for children do? How do we buttress and inoculate our children to be honourable, trustworthy and successful?

We’d better, as individuals and as community institutions of worship and common interests, understand that our first priority as adults parenting, is to bring up children who will be self-sufficient, decent and humane. Wise or otherwise, they will grow up to be just like us.

The final act of the tragedy in this ballad begins to occur when the boy, now old enough, goes off to college. Now, the father, older, retiring, and finally seeing how well the boy was doing tried to speak with him.

Well, he came home from college just the other day

So much like a man I just had to say

“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”

He shook his head and said with a smile

“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys

See you later, can I have them please?”

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away

I called him up just the other day

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time

You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu

But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad

It’s been sure nice talking to you”

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me

He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

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