I have learned many, many lessons from my mother, Ms. Juanita Smith (Murray is her maiden name), over the years, but some of my most precious memories were very early on; when our little character, culture, virtues and values are formed. I have said in my book Love Leadership that "leaders emerge in response to crisis." Such was the case on so many occasions with my mom, when she responded "the way I needed, versus the way I liked."
One such time was early in my childhood, and I was being a not-so-good child, which I was actually pretty good at (smile). The result was one of those famous Juanita spankings, which would be so very controversial today (and I might add, my mother wouldn't care — smile again). She told me to go get a switch from the backyard, and the worst thing one could possibly do was to come back with a small one, because then she would go find a tree branch or something. In any case, I returned, and she began. That spanking seemed to last "forever." It got so bad at one point, I called out and said to my mother, "I am going to call the police on you." Her response was classic, and still rings in my ears today:
"Okay John-John (my childhood nickname in my family), that's fine. You go ahead and call them. They are going to call a car with a Red Light for me (the police), and a car with a Blue Light for you (the funeral home car)." In other words, "I brought you into this world, and I can sure-enough take you out of it." It got my attention, and as I turned out more okay than not, I actually thank my mother today, for lovingly disciplining me then.
It amazes me today to see parents today, in the mall, "negotiating" with their 8 year-old child as if it is a conversation amongst peers or equals. "Now Johnny, please stop doing that…," as the kid is going on an absolute rampage in a public place, tearing up everything in sight, and cursing out his parents too. My mother would have "snatched all the black" off of me, as they say in the south where she is from. I would have opened my mouth in the wrong way, and she would have been right there to help me with my response (smile).
My point here, is that to be a parent is not to necessarily be your child's friend. That child need discipline and structure, and needs to clearly understand bounders, parameters, and right from wrong. Otherwise they will grow up, and go out into the world and make a mess of it, and themselves. They will not be able to live in the world, because they never really made the transition from child to adult. They were never held accountable for themselves, and their own actions. Thank God my mother made me "own it." All of it. The way she and my father, Johnnie Will Smith, raised me, is the reason I am who I am today.
As I have often said,"it is better for your child to respect you, and maybe learn to like you, than to like you, yet never respect you." Raising a child is not a popularity contest. Fact is, they are not even your child. They are God's child, and you are simply the stewart, entrusted by God with the responsibility (and the tools) to make sure they have all that they need to go out into this world…and to contribute.
I will continue on this line of parents, children and parenting as an extension of the Love Leadership conversation, but this is probably enough for now.
Onward with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE, bestselling author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and a member of the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama