As a freelancer, accountability is something I think about a lot. I’m required, by my own means, to make sure I meet commitments and deadlines, specifications and agreements, to the letter or my very livelihood can suffer. As a Christian, I’m also accountable to God for certain things, like avoiding temptation, teaching my children my faith and acting Christ-like. None of that is natural for me, and I can only fit so many Post-Its on my screen, so I keep myself accountable with partners who help.
Since accountability is hard for me, it’s a struggle to teach to my children. (I’m not gifted at teaching, either.) Even so, I know it’s very important for them to understand that they are responsible for their actions – even Zoe, whose autism does cause some uncontrollable responses. My job is to teach her the difference between those and the poor choices that she willingly makes.
As a parent, I’m aware that responsibility and accountability go hand-in-hand, and that we need to teach our children both so that they can live well and safely.
But something has gone haywire in our world – especially in the area of teaching accountability to children and young people. Today, I read this in an article at the Daily Mail about convicted rapist Brock Allen Turner:
“The father of the 20-year-old Stanford University swimmer found guilty of raping an unconscious 23-year-old woman at a campus party has penned a letter saying his son is paying a high price for ’20 minutes of action’.”
The letter by Turner’s father has gone viral and many are outraged. My first thought after reading it was, “Wait, WHAT? A convicted ADULT rapist is not culpable for his crime because it took him only 20 minutes?” This man was ONLY convicted to 6 months plus probation for essentially ruining someone’s life. I can’t even fathom the pain and injustice the victim already felt after the verdict and all the discussion about the how he was “not that bad.”
You might be thinking, “Well, that’s just a concerned parent’s reaction,” but that’s my point precisely. This NEVER would have been a parent’s reaction decades ago. My Dad once shared how his father told him that the penalty for getting a girl pregnant before marriage was a sound spanking- and he’d do the same to my dad.
That’s not to advocate for spanking (my parents didn’t) but just to show you that at one time, the wrongful, disrespectful or criminal actions of an older child would not be tolerated by a parent, never mind rationalized in a public forum.
The Dangers of Coddling Your Kids
These last few weeks have seen a lot of discussion about parental blame, ever since that child feel into the gorilla cage and public outrage has both vilified and defended parents over their reaction. Here, it seems that the public has come out in large support of the victim thankfully, and while I understand the father’s fear for his son, to write a letter is extremely harmful to the victim and his son, too.
This letter reveals what a coddled life this man most likely led to this point. After reading it, I even felt a bit of compassion for the perpetrator, not for his punishment but for the lateness of the lesson. He will NOT be learning rightful actions, responsibility or accountability from a concerned parent but instead from whatever will happen to him in prison, his lifelong sex offender status and his dashed dreams of being an Olympiad. I don’t feel more badly than I do for the victim but he could have learned these lessons from a gentle but stern father before growing into manhood. Properly done, those lessons might have prevented this ugly crime in the first place.
I am not blaming the father for his son’s actions and I’m not trying to be judgmental about poor parenting. People can do their best and still have child who fall away from doing right, who end up in prison, who end up hooked on drugs. I am saying this letter reveals that perhaps this father didn’t pass onto his son the lesson of accountability – and certainly isn’t now.
Good parenting isn’t just loving our kids into the world, but understanding that love means that sometimes we have to take uncomfortable (for us) discipline measures to help them learn right from wrong and have it become second nature. And we can’t just correct actions.
While we all need to measure our parenting as per our child’s knowledge, limitations and understanding, ultimately it’s we parents who are culpable for not paying attention to the state of their hearts while they are in our care.
As a Christian, that is a command from God – to teach your kids. Coming from someone who once thought that maybe my kids had a free pass to salvation thanks to their disabilities, this is a lesson I had to learn and I work on the shape of their hearts every day. Autism is no excuse, nor is Down syndrome.
Just like when they’re adults, being too drunk won’t be an excuse either. If this man had been driving a car under the influence and killed this woman,* there would be no mercy because laws exist that could make him pay harshly, although I bet the father would have written a note for that too.
Take Responsibility While You Can
What can we learn from this? We need to parent cautiously and with our eyes wide open. Boys, girls, disabled or not, we need to teach our kids to avoid poor choices (like getting drunk), respect their bodies, and respect other people. We need to show them how poor choices can lead to great harm, for which we are responsible even if we feel like we are not (“but I was drunk!”).
Teaching a child responsibility is really hard in today’s world. It’s a soft and cushy world, where we don’t want a God of justice, we don’t right or wrong to mean something that we don’t agree with, we don’t want our mistakes to have lifelong consequences but to be always read as “just mistakes.”
We don’t want to put people like this man on the same level with hard criminals, just like we don’t want to admit it when our kids are bullies, or promiscuous as teens, or have tried drugs or drinking at an early age. We don’t like admitting that their mistakes may be a reflection of our own lapses in parental judgment.
After all, we can’t rewind the past.
But we can remake the future. So the next time, you do something dumb in front of your kids, like cuss out your spouse, get falling down drunk, give the finger to the driver behind you, or demean your kid, step up to the plate and TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. Call yourself out for being an ass and apologize to those you hurt (when possible) and always, ALWAYS apologize to your child for setting a bad example.
Is it hard to do? Heck yes! Does it feel horrible to admit it? YES. Do you want to crawl in a hole and die while apologizing? Uh huh, but there is nothing sweeter than when your child forgives you. Even sweeter is the lesson they learn.
Our kids need to know we are human and make mistakes, and we need to know that when they grow up their actions will have real consequences we can’t fix. In handling our shortcomings courageously and gracefully, they will learn to respect others and have a better chance of being responsible and accountable for all their actions, even the “unintended” ones.
*I’m aware that there is a double standard for rape, but that’s not the discussion in this post.