Do Hard Things: The Parent Version

October 7, 2008

by Tammy Drennan


One of our frequent visitors, Frances, has more than once recommended the book “Do Hard Things” by Alex and Brett Harris. I finally bought and read it.


Alex and Brett are twin teen boys, the sons of Gregg Harris of homeschool conference fame and brothers of Josh Harris, who gained a nice amount of fame himself for his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”


The premise of the twins’ book and web site is that society sets expectations far too low for teens, that teens are capable of great things, not only in the realm of action but in the realm of spirituality, morality and every other aspect of life.


It’s a simply written book, but even the mature reader will, by the end of the book, find him/herself doing some soul-searching and thinking about what sort of hard or harder things he/she might tackle. I know I did.


As I flipped the last page of the book and sat reflecting, I thought to myself that it is not only teens that society sets such low expectations for – it’s parents, too.


Few people, including many family advocacy groups, really expect parents to rise to a level of excellence in the rearing of their children. Instead, we make excuses: Just muddle along and you’ll get through the toddler/tween/teen years. Make time for yourself. Let go. Don’t worry about sullen attitudes, hideous clothes, rotten music, the general low quality and moral emptiness of everything shoveled at children today – it’s all just a normal part of growing up.


Contrast this with some of the ways many parents reared children in pre-state schooling days, when they considered the formation of the next generation a personal responsibility. John Adams and many other founders and leaders of America’s early days took time for serious conversations with their children about life and the sort of people they wished to see them become.


When they had to be away from home, they parented by correspondence. There was no excuse to neglect the solemn duty of shaping a child’s character and preparing him or her to be a credit to her family and an asset to his fellow travelers.


Even among the more common folk, parents advised their children on life and expected them to behave in honorable ways. Not every parent did, of course – that has never and never will happen. Yet reading through journals and letters of the era you cannot help but be struck by the seriousness with which parents took their role and children took their parents’ advice.


Over the years, the state has increasingly robbed parents of their role as mentors of their children and shapers of the future. Worse, it has reared new generations of parents who need not be robbed – they turn their children over quite willingly and accept all of our now numb society’s low expectations for both their children and for themselves as parents.


But, as the Harris twins point out, there is a rumbling in the land, a dissatisfaction with mediocrity and emptiness. The rumbling is not just among teenagers but also among parents. Parents want their children back. They want their role as parents back.


But taking back so much responsibility is a hard thing. And we must be willing to accept the challenges of doing hard things.


To that end, I recommend Alex and Brett’s book, even for parents – maybe especially for parents. It’s time to do a hard thing — and the right thing — and reject society’s low expectations of parents and the state’s definition of childhood.


It’s time to parent like we mean it.