At the end of each semester, my professors request that we fill out course instructor feedback forms. These ask students to rate their instructor’s effectiveness in various aspects of the class and give feedback on strengths and places for improvement. The professors love to see students’ honest comments and criticisms on their teaching so they can see how to improve.
My parents and I have had some similar conversations since I left for college. From technology to dating, they are curious to find out my opinion on what they handled well and what they could change for my siblings. Overall, I have very few complaints. If my childhood were a class a person could take, I would recommend it strongly.
A big difference between these two situations, of course, is that while I may never talk to my professor again, my parents remain my parents, even after the “course” of my childhood is over. For this reason, parenting decisions have to be made with their relationship with their child in the back of their minds.
The main reason my relationship with my parents is so strong is because of their ever-present support for me. No matter what disagreements we had, I never questioned that they loved and supported me in the long term. My mom used to tell me during the occasional argument in high school, “We’re on the same team, Jacob. Don’t forget that.” And even if I didn’t acknowledge it in the moment, I knew it was true. We might disagree on how clean my room should be, but our goals are the same.
I asked my friend Joe what the key is to a healthy relationship between children and their parents, and he had similar thoughts. Imparting good principles on your children is important, he said, but doing so at the cost of honest communication as they get older is where they go wrong. In his words, “to sacrifice a relationship with one’s children for the sake of principles is to miss the point of love.”
In order to have a good relationship with their parents, he said, children must “tell them everything, fearlessly” and parents must be open to that. Joe said that he talks to his parents candidly about his thoughts on alcohol, partying and college life, and he appreciates their general receptiveness.
The commonality between Joe’s thoughts and mine is that a primary role of parents is to be a constant, a rock, in their children’s lives. Especially in their teenage years, kids have few aspects of their lives that are not changing, and whether they express it or not, they cherish their parents’ constant and unconditional love and support.
When I’m a parent, I hope that I’ll be able to realize that perfection is impossible. My children’s course instructor feedback form would not be blank in the “weaknesses” category. Mistakes are inevitable. But, using my own parents as an example, I hope I would do well overall.
I hope to give to them the constant love and support that my parents gave me, because that’s what is remembered. A strong, healthy relationship with one’s parents through adulthood is so important, and it is not necessarily a given. I’m lucky to have that with my mom and dad, and I plan on doing everything to ensure my future children have the same.
(Jacob, the eldest of the four Scobey-Polacheck children, is a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame.)