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Vol.  9  No. 5 May 2007  Page 12
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D. Gene WestMixed Signals

By D. Gene West

    In former times, we did a considerable amount of marriage counseling. Now we just make referrals.

    One of the things that would come up very frequently when a couple was having problems in their marriage was one would accuse the other of sending “mixed signals.” What seemed to be acceptable at one time, so far as such things as the expenditure of money, for example, would be totally unacceptable at another time. One mate, sometimes both, would make statements such as, “I never know what to do!” We understand the frustration that can develop from such confusion brought on, usually by inconsistency, or acting on whims.

    Often as parents, we do the very same thing to our children. For example, if they lie to us about some matter we will become almost enraged, and breathe out threatening and slaughter against them. Then they will observe in our lives, we lie to others and feel no compunction of conscience whatsoever. Thus, little Johnny may come to be completely confused over why it is wrong to lie to Dad about where he had ridden his bike that day, but it is alright for Dad to lie to the IRS on his tax return. As a result of this confusion, he may come to believe that it is okay to lie to any authority except Dad. Hence, that child may grow to be a person of great responsibility who does not at all mind fleecing his customers, or fellows, or even the stockholders in his company. All this can result, unless something intervenes to help him learn better, in his being a “crook” because the mixed signals from his parent taught him it is okay to lie and cheat sometimes. This kind of example can cause children to become so ambivalent regarding what is right and what is wrong, they will think the only thing that is really wrong is what you are caught doing, no matter how unethical it might be.

    Children deserve and have a right to expect their parents to be genuinely virtuous. While no parent can be perfect, he can be honest and diligent in seeking to do the right thing whether it involves the IRS or his boss at the office. Children need, and deserve, non-hypocritical examples of uprightness, honesty and fair play. They do not need parents who like the reeds along the edge of a lake, bend with every breeze that blows. If children do not get the same signals—the right ones every time— they will never be quite sure what they are to do in any given situation. Furthermore, if they do not get this kind of constancy in their lives, not only will they come to resent life itself, but you as well.

    Children need the kind of parental love that is consistent and genuine, not a kind that changes with each wind that blows. What is right is right every day and what is wrong is wrong all the time. If a mother is not true to her husband, she should not be shocked when her daughter is untrue to hers. If a father does not show consistent love and kindness to his wife, he should not be shocked when his son treats his wife as if she were property and demeans and degrades her. You see, we are more likely to do what we see rather than what we are told. Sometimes, it is very true, that our deeds thunder so loudly that those around us cannot hear what we are saying.

    If a child knows his father, or mother for that matter, cheats on the number of hours he puts in on the job, why should he not do something similar, and when he is older, why should he not do the same thing? If a child knows that dad, or mother, steals from the company or office, why should he not steal from the stores at the mall? If children know their parents shoplift, why should they not steal from their parents? Recently, we were walking through a local supermarket and observed a mother with a child in her cart. When she passed the “loose candy,” that which is sold by the pound, she stopped and took several pieces from first one bin then another and put them in her pocket. From time to time she would retrieve a piece and eat it, discarding the paper on the floor. On two or three occasions she gave the child a piece of her “free” candy as well. Not only was she taking something that was not hers, she was driving the cost of candy up for everyone else, but worst of all, she was teaching her very small child, probably only four of five years of age, to be a thief. No doubt, if the child had gone to her mother’s purse and taken money, the mother would have been furious, but why, we ask!
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