Parenting: A Formidable Task

Parenting is truly serious business, particularly in the early stages of growth; the development of mental faculties is of great significance for a healthy human and a healthy society

Parenting: A Formidable Task

Having children makes you no more a parent than having a piano makes you a pianist
Michael Levine 

November 30, 2021, proved to be a fateful day for four students of Oxford High School, Michigan, in the United States of America (USA) when 15-year-old Ethan Robert Crumbley killed them with a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and injured seven others. Following his arrest, he was tried as an adult and sentenced to life without parole and an additional 24 years on 24 counts, including murder and terrorism. This incident brought to light an important first-time development in the judicial arena of the USA, where Ethan’s parents were charged with involuntary manslaughter. The jury found his mother, Jennifer Crumbley, guilty because she was last seen with the gun, and she could be sentenced in April 2024 to 60 years in prison. The father, James Crumbley, too, is set to face trial for not getting his son the necessary help for his mental health needs and for buying the gun which was used in the shooting.  

On this occasion, the Oakland County Sheriff, Michael Bouchard, commented: “I applaud the jury that plowed new ground with this verdict today. If among a parent’s first thoughts when you hear there is an active shooter at your child’s school isn’t to wonder if my child is hurt but is my son the gunman. That tells me you saw the signs and did nothing. Accountability and responsibility matter.” This verdict also throws light on the idea of “if you see something, say something” as both parents covered up their son’s dangerous inclinations, ignoring his constant pleas for help.

The sheriff’s statement throws light on parenting and the responsibility that accompanies this important status in people’s lives. Having a child is the most joyous feeling, but of all types of offspring, a homo-sapien is perhaps the most difficult to raise, especially when it comes to their mental health. Whereas animals are nurtured till the time they are able to fend for themselves, a human being’s life spans many phases — infant, toddler, pre-schooler, middle childhood, teenager, adolescent, and adult — each one coupled with its own unique set of physical, emotional and mental peculiarities requiring different modes of care.

Another interesting case relates to a set of South Korean identical twin girls who were separated in 1976 when they were just two years old, and one got lost when their grandmother took them to the market. They were both brought up in absolutely different countries (Korea and the USA), oblivious to the existence of the other. In 2018, at age 44, the one in Korea submitted a sample of her DNA that went into the system and eventually revealed in 2020 that she had a twin sister. This was an opportune moment for researchers to assess their intelligence, personality profiles, mental health and medical history. Therefore, both US and South Korean experts sprang into action, administering tests and conducting interviews.

The results found that the makeup of the twins’ personalities was similar and consistent with the literature on moderate genetic influences on personality in adulthood, even though both were raised in varied home environments where one in Korea had a harmonious family while the one in the USA had to bear conflicts and divorce of her adopted parents. Much as they shared many genetic qualities, researchers were taken aback to find a substantial difference in the intelligence quotient (IQ), where the twin raised in the USA had an IQ lower by 16 points. They assumed that this could be on account of three concussions she suffered, which may have affected her cognitive capacities, but they could not help notice the differences clearly linked to their upbringing. While the sister in the USA had a more individualistic outlook, her sister in Korea had more collectivist values.

With a rapid increase in children, there is a dire need to have parents who can intelligently bring them up. Only then can we expect to have a quality populace that is both physically healthy and mentally sound

The conclusion drawn from the above two cases clearly indicates that parenting is truly a serious business. Without undermining the importance of physical care, particularly in the early stages of growth, the development of mental faculties is of great significance for a healthy human and a healthy society. Eddie’s complaint about his father’s treatment in Mitch Albom’s novel ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’ effectively brings out the essence of bad parenting: “All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”

An opposing argument would hold ground, where children are raised by ‘professionally competent’ parents. In that situation, the outcome would most definitely be different. Although Eddie consciously never adopts his father’s ways and treats children with kindness, but the fact is that many adults take out their childhood hurt on their offspring, thus continuing this morbid tale of poor approach to parenting. “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” says Frederick Douglass.

In our country, when a couple gets married, they are pestered by their family and friends to immediately have children. No wonder we are confronted with a population explosion that has surpassed many countries because of the high rate of marriages, especially among teenagers. With a rapid increase in children, there is a dire need to have parents who can intelligently bring them up. Only then can we expect to have a quality populace that is both physically healthy and mentally sound. This would be possible where would-be parents are educated and who have a mature understanding about child development. So when a man and a woman decide to wed, they must individually and together consciously plan out their duties towards rearing their children if they intend to become parents.

In James Dobson’s words: “Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built”.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)