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Auto-Pilot Parenting: The Quiet Saboteur of Effective Child Rearing

Lord knows you try. In spite of a very busy schedule, you take the kids to their games and help them with their homework. You're there for them when they need you, and there's certainly no shortage of love where your parenting is concerned. And yet, over time you've fallen into a bit of a routine, one that unwittingly emulates the way you were raised by your own parents. And therein resides the risk. Because our parents learned the craft from our grandparents. And chances are they brought expectations and social norms to the parenting party that you wouldn't consciously adopt today, and yet, because that's how you were raised, you are inadvertently modeling for your children at this very moment.

The place where this shows up most is the modeling of gender roles. It's a new day and age, yet some families are teaching their children that a woman's place is in the home, that real men don't cry, that men rarely say "I love you" out loud in favor of showing it in other ways, that emotion is weakness in a man and ambition is unattractive in a woman. And it doesn't stop with gender role modeling. We are teaching our children that politicians are all corrupt, that people who tailgate are jerks, that taxes are unfair, that football is religion, that religion is wrong if it doesn't precisely line up with your own belief system, that certain people should know their place, that the rich get richer and the poor get shafted, that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and that you get what you pay for and what you deserve.

Okay, you probably aren't saying any of this to your kids. At least, not with words. But much of what we teach our children is experiential and observed, rather than overtly taught. It's a classic case of telling our children to "do as we say, not as we do," which ironically is precisely the sort of hypocritical ignorance that got us here in the first place.

You mean well. But if you're honest with yourself, and if that honestly turns up a guilty plea to the modeling of any of these antiquated and dangerous belief systems, you are parenting on auto-pilot. You're not really talking to your kids, you're just existing in their presence. You are settling for the role of provider, protector and general monarchy of the household, perhaps leaving the business of actually teaching your children to your spouse. Who, as it turns out in this day and age, may be just as busy as you are coping with day-to-day challenges.

Auto-pilot parenting is precisely how we were raised, and how our parents were raised. It's an inherited deficiency, because in this enlightened age our children aren't buying it, they see right through anything close to a "do as I say, not as I do" mentality, which over time, and when taken to extremes, breeds contempt and rebellion. The key to breaking this cycle is awareness and commitment, and a serious effort toward real intimacy and honesty delivered through proactive, courageous conversation. If we can do this, we will have contributed to an important element of a kinder, gentler world in the form of children who no longer accept pious judgment and ignorant passivity. The gift is really for them, and for our grandchildren, who will know parents who are focused and involved, and who understand the importance of role modeling instead of role mongering.

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