B: Let’s consider an ideal family situation, that of a man and his wife with however many children they are responsible for, all living in the same home. I want to consider the effect that the father and the mother have on those children. The younger the children are, the more impressionable they tend to be. If father and mother are actively involved in the upbringing of those children, over a period of several years, the children will learn close to anything and everything their parents know – including even how they do things and see life in general. Of course, there will be many disagreements, but parents can increase their chances for unity in the home if they always “do it right” (meaning, simply, parenting with love).
When each child grows to adulthood and considers whom their greatest influences are – that is, what people, precisely, most helped shape their lives and who they currently are – would it not have to be their parents, most obviously? While they as young adults may protest and claim instead that some famous (unrelated by family) athlete, artist, politician, scholar, teacher, or some such, deserve that distinction, I would argue that while such people can indeed have a great influence on others, they are probably not known well and intimately enough by their young admirers to have the influence their parents had, with whom they lived for such a large portion of their lives.
Suppose, for example, that the young person admires a famous basketball player. This will likely influence the way the person plays basketball himself. Perhaps the youth has seen the ball player off the court doing and saying certain things, and dressing in a certain way, and he may have a desire to emulate those behaviors as well. But there’s far more to life than the few attributes such as these that can be garnered “from a distance,” so to speak, if the youth doesn’t know the celebrity intimately. How much will the player be able to teach the kid how he should behave in certain relationships and situations, how to work or study, how to stay out of trouble, how to react when temptations to compromise one’s standards arise, what political opinions to have, what life’s essential answers are, and so on – just to name a few? But parents will likely have already taught him these things, especially if they’ve been actively involved in his life from an early age. The athlete doesn’t stand a chance against the influence of this kind of parent – and he probably doesn’t care to, anyway; most athletes and other celebrities aren’t generally interested in teaching masses of young adults how to be precisely as they are themselves. The celebrity’s entire life, literally, would have to be under a microscope, a la “The Truman Show,” for him to have an influence comparable to that of the kid’s parents.
It’s remarkable how much a child gleans from his parents. Parents frequently forget how closely their children are watching them, and often do things they may later wish they hadn’t when their children could see them. They don’t just teach during formal interviews, but also through all their actions and attitudes – they teach when they’re not even trying to. Even their thoughts cannot be hidden from their children, as they are ultimately manifest through their various behaviors, and even their mannerisms. The children may learn more from their parents than a spy could, since spies don’t generally incorporate the parents’ behaviors into their own way of life, at least not to the degree the children do.
B: Undoubtedly a large portion of a person’s attributes and mannerisms can be traced through the genetic material bequeathed upon him by his parents. But just about every parent can see that in spite of this apparent biological fact, their children do not automatically grow up to be exact replicas of themselves. If they did, would parents ever have disagreements with their children?
A: I’m sure they would, seeing as how those parents were once disagreeable children themselves.
B: I suppose that’s true. You’ve got a point there, judge. All the same, however, I feel it a reasonable assumption that if parents want their children to hold a certain standard, they would be wisest to teach them that standard themselves – yea, even by example – instead of waiting for somebody or something else to substitute their own standard in its place.
A: Huh. Well, I didn’t really get much from my parents. I pretty much just “wandered from the fold,” as one is wont, and learned how to live on my own. Sure, I lived at home till I was 18, and I visit from time to time, but I’m so different from my parents that it’s hard to believe they’re even my parents.
B: It may differ for each person, I suppose, especially depending on how involved the parents were –
A: Oh, my parents were involved. That’s why I was so eager to leave home at 18.
B: I confess, however, that I’m skeptical about our abilities to truly assess how well we know things even about ourselves. If you were to honestly examine your behavior, opinions, tendencies, and so on – including an effort to discover why exactly you are the way you are, and all the factors that contributed thereto – you may find that your parents crop up as the answer far more often than you would think, or even care to think. I’m telling you, parents are potentially far more influential on their children than we usually realize.
Unfortunately, of course, the ideal situation is not always available. Death, divorce, etc., cause so-called “broken” families to abound, wherein one of the two parents may not be more than only rarely present, if ever so. How can a father, for instance, be much of an influence for his family, if he’s never with them? Perhaps it’s not his choice – he may be deceased, after all – but whether it is or not, that opportunity for him to be a significant role model for his family is reduced considerably. In such cases society will fill in the gaps: somebody has to, anyway. Hopefully for the children’s sake it will be an exemplary member of the extended family – perhaps a grandparent, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc. – or at least a well-trusted friend, but if none of these relatives step up to the challenge and important responsibility of raising them in their parent(s)’s absence, the children will (subconsciously) seek role models from among whomever they can find. It may be a celebrity on television or the Internet, or teachers or peers in school, some of whom are desirable examples, whereas others are less desirable – but assuredly the children will find somebody to follow after.
In these less-fortunate cases the parent is usually less able to make as significant a difference as they would in a more ideal situation, and it is probably true that somebody else will become a considerably greater influence on a child’s life than they otherwise would have been. However, a single parent can still be dedicated enough to parenting that about one half, or even more, of the job is taken care of. This and the more ideal scenario mentioned previously present situations for the greatest possible influence one person can make on another. No other role model can come even close to the potential effect of parents on children. As our children and what results from them are the future of society, this indicates that the calling of parent in society is more important – indeed, far more so – than any other job society has to offer.