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Parental Arithmetic
Photo: Andres Rodriguez
This is a quiz for those with children.

Your child’s doctor tells you your child had a serious health problem. It is potentially fatal without expensive treatment. Would you:

Decide that it costs too much. Getting a new car this year is more important.

Pay to get your child will treated, even if you must sell the house, and go deeply into debt.

For most parents, this is a no-brainer. You do what it takes for your child. Even if your health insurance does not cover the expense, even if it takes major sacrifices to get the money. Your child’s life cannot be measured against mere money.

Suppose your child’s doctor told you that there was only a one-in-twenty chance that that the treatment will cure your child. Would that change your decision? Probably not. This is your child. You view it as your job to do what you could to see that your child has a future. You would do what it takes, whatever your personal sacrifice. It may not be rational, but it this is how parental arithmetic works.

Suppose instead, your teen-aged child gets in serious trouble with the law. They did something dumb, thoughtless, and ill-advised. The consequences were serious—someone got killed. Your child may have followed a bad example, but they were involved, and—in the eyes of the law—equally guilty. Would you cut them loose, or would you marshal your resources to help your child?

Beg for Mercy  

Few parents would abandon their child, except after extreme provocation. Especially if were the first time they were in serious trouble, you would do whatever you could. You would spend your days at the courthouse; use your savings to get them the best possible legal representation; hunt for mitigating circumstances; beg for mercy.

As with a sick child, you would do whatever it takes to help your child.

Convinced that you would break the bank to get your child out of trouble? What would you invest to see that your child does not get in trouble in the first place?

Often, when a teenaged child gets into trouble, it turns out that their parents were too busy to involve themselves with their children. One or both parents may have health problems, or be too busy at work, or just not paying attention. They neglect their children—not physically, but emotionally. They fail to notice their child wandering into danger until it is too late—and all they can do is a salvage job.

It takes little to involve yourself with your children. Spend time with them. Go to church together. Spend at least one night a week involved in one of your child’s youth activities, whether it is sports, scouts, or church group. Have at least one family meal a day together—even if it is not convenient, and spend that time talking about their friends and their doings.

Think of it as preventative maintenance for your family—on the same order as regularly changing the oil and filter in your car. The time it costs up front may stop a breakdown in the future, sparing you an expensive salvage job.

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By Mark Lardas. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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