My parents always told us that for children, tacit consent is the equivalent of positive affirmation. Kids learn by watching their parents. Toddlers grab something off of a shelf and look at Mom to see if what they did was okay. Tacit consent, in its negative form, usually means that you are too tired to say no. Or you don’t want to pick that fight. We’re all terribly familiar with that apathy. What does it matter? They’re just children.
For older kids, habits of tacit consent become a form of contempt. Maybe it looks like kindness, patience, or love, but in reality, it’s just the resigned assumption that the young adult in question isn’t capable of adult behavior. But they will be the grown face of our family, and it is not just or helpful to treat them like overgrown children, like Infant Phenomenons.
It’s really about having the courage to make everyone’s life uncomfortable for a few minutes to try to save your child from years of future embarrassment. I don’t know how my children will feel when their turn comes, but I would have hated to think that my parents were embarrassed at my behavior when I was teen. We were kept pretty well informed on the matter, and I’m grateful for it. There were definitely some hard truths, and I certainly didn’t enjoy hearing them, but I knew I could get the straight story from my parents. They weren’t going to make a small gesture of protest and resignation, and go on with their lives. Instead, they gave me the grace and dignity of expecting that I could certainly do better. In effect, they treated me like an adult, instead of assuming I was incapable of acting like anything but a child.
For those who choose not to help their kids in this way, it’s like what the comedian, Mike Birbiglia, talked about; you tell a story about how you went wrong, and rather than being empathetic, your friend goes all hind-sight-is-20/20 on you. Mike’s response is, yes! “I’m in the future, also.” Advice after the fact is no use to anybody. All you prove is that you could have said something, but couldn’t be bothered.
It’s scary being a parent. And the scariest part is that I’m pretty sure we have no idea how scary it is. We’re doing the easy part right now. Seeing our own siblings grow up does give us a vague view of our future, though.
Along those lines, we lately started to comprehend that once your kids get to a certain age, they represent you. Of course they do. But as they get even older, they represent your ideas, as well. It would be naive to claim otherwise. You are no longer in sole control of your self image; your child becomes your witness, whether you like it or not. You can’t say, “oh no, he/she is ill informed. Don’t assume they represent me correctly.” Sorry, if they represent you incorrectly, it’s because you weren’t clear. You didn’t help them to understand you well enough. You didn’t help them understand your dream. Or maybe you don’t understand your dream. After all, ideas evolve. All the more reason to accept that your kids are in it with you, and should be part of the conversation.
Whatever the case, our children will be representing us, just as we inevitably represent our own parents. If we do a poor job of teaching our children, they’ll be like caricatures of us. Hopefully we will be able to grow in understanding together so they don’t feel the need to represent the antithesis of us.