Excuse My Son

March 12, 2006

Clinical psychologist Patricia Dalton writes about the Don’t Blame Me Generation, touching on examples from her practice and high figure profiles in the news like Dick “Pepper Spray” Cheney and Kenny Boy Lay.

Parents have two serious responsibilities. The first is to love their children without worshipping them. Such adoration is a big danger in today’s smaller families where parents’ pride and dreams are divided among fewer children. The second responsibility is to discipline children — to hold their feet to the fire. Parents must be able to tolerate the distress that real discipline causes their offspring. To do so, they have to quit worrying so much about damaging their children’s self-esteem.

This part of her diagnosis made me squirm because I have…weaknesses. I’m a worshipper, and a terrible disciplinarian. When I say no and my son launches into his dramatic “How could you do this to me?” act, my will evaporates. Plus, he’s a charmer. He gives me his toothless smile and I melt. Melting and evaporating–it doesn’t bode well for his sense of consequences. But hey, admitting I have have a problem is the first step, right?

It’s almost a cliche, the number of times you see this scenerio repeated in the news: man shoots, beats, or rapes somebody, or is dealing drugs and menacing neighbors. Once arrested, the mother comes out bleating: “My boy is a good boy. He’s my baby! He would never hurt anybody. He’s the victim here!” The cameras and reporters record her denial, and contrast it with mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Of course, not all jerk-offs have coddling enablers for moms. Jeffrey Skilling, for one, has a mother who is calling his bluff:

One of the best quotes to come out of the Enron debacle belongs to the mother of CEO Jeff Skilling. This savvy businessman has claimed complete ignorance as to the company’s crooked bookkeeping practices. His mother, Betty Skilling, said, “When you are the CEO and you are on the board of directors, you are supposed to know what’s going on with the rest of the company. You can’t get off the hook with me there.”

With luck, I’ll get my act together. To find more balance, I’ll need to view my son’s self esteem and our relationship as more resilient. The only time I “hold his feet to the fire” is when his piggies are cold.