Somewhere along the way we have come to believe that families with children operate as a democracy since we live in a democratic society. Run properly with regard to children, they're not. They're dictatorships and Mom and Dad are the benevolent dictators. Today it seems that parenting baffles more and more people who are parents. Today's parents are unsure of what to do, when to do it or how to do it. They look for answers in all the places we normally look in this modern society, such as books, the Internet, videos and self-proclaimed experts. The key to being a successful parent lies in the recognition of one simple fact--none of our children "asked to be born." So, as parents we are obligated to our children to nurture, to teach and to love them to the best of our ability. That seems to be a simple enough task but you must understand that cooperation by the child is optional. Children haven't changed much since I was a kid. The world has changed and it is more frightening than ever, but kids have remained constant in their ideas and attitudes over the years. What has changed is the way we as adults and parents relate to them. It's difficult being a parent. We catch it from all angles and from everyone including, child psychiatrists and child experts. It seems as if everyone is an expert except the parent. It has become fashionable to become best friends with our children. In theory, it is not a bad idea. However, in practice-it stinks. Parents can be only parents to their children. They can develop close and mature relationships, but children and parents aren't meant to be best friends. Best friends come from the ranks of peers. Still, some parents abandon their role to become best friends to their kids. The strange thing is that now they become neither fish nor fowl. They're not good parents and there not real best friends. A parent is more than a friend could ever be. While friends may come and go a parent is constant. A parent never deserts their child even if it meant giving up their life. Even when a child strays from the path of propriety and falls into the mire of misfortune and misguided lifestyles, they are still our children. All children have parents and if those parents are like most, they love their children no matter what the circumstances. Right or wrong, they are still your children. However, love does not translate into condoning inappropriate behavior. Being a parent does not mean that we give into a child's every demand. To the contrary, children need to understand limitations. Boundaries must be erected; rules must be made and enforced; consequences must be made known; and above all, parents must be consistent in handling each child. Parents must be involved in their children's lives or they will end up on the receiving end of bad news. Children give signs. Whether we recognize those signs or not depends upon how closely we are watching. Still, even with close monitoring, children often do stupid things. Good parents do things that naturally put them at odds with their children. It's natural. Parents and children aren't supposed to agree on everything. If they did, there would be no need for one or the other. Children need direction and guidance. Parents need to provide that direction and guidance, as well as, security, training, and preparation for adulthood. Most children are products of their environment and the most important part of that environment is the home. No matter if the home is palatial or a shack, the home is the most important environment during a child's formative years. This is when you start preparing them to live in the world outside your home. This is a time when children can and should be molded like a piece of clay. To many this may sound like control and if that is the perception, you're right. Controls and boundaries established at an early age help our children to fit into society as an adult. Parents who don't establish these controls and boundaries end up on talk shows saying things like " I can't control my kids." Or, "they don't listen to me." Somewhere along the line, we have come to believe that parenting is supposed to be easy. I promised I would never treat my kids the way my parents treated me. Our house was a dictatorship. We knew that we were in charge of nothing. We had no say in anything unless it was something that affected our activities or schoolwork. We had choices about what school activities we could participate in or not. We didn't have to belong to something if we didn't want to. We didn't have to take piano lessons if we didn't want to. We didn't have to do many things just because we didn't want to. However, there were many things we had to do; whether we wanted to do them or not. There was no choice in that matter. We had chores. We had curfews even until we finally graduated from high school. We had to follow the rules of the house-no "ifs", "ands" or "buts". We did not talk back. If so, it was at our own risk. We never cursed in the house or in front our parents or any adult, although at an early age I had the vocabulary of a 20-year Navy veteran. We certainly didn't argue with our parents. Oh, we tried, but soon found that wasn't the way things worked around our house. We found that the answer to many questions and the solver of many problems was "because I said so." We found out early that our parents were under no obligation to explain their motives to us. Although, as we matured, we found out that many of the "because I said so" decisions were made for our protection. Still, children are not stupid; they just lack sufficient experience for dealing with all of the problems of the world. As parents, it is our responsibility to help them make it into the world of adulthood with as little scarring as possible. Reasons for not automatically getting a car at 16; for not being able to stay out past midnight before reaching junior year in high school; for not being able to bring a girlfriend or boyfriend over to spend the night; and a host of other things are easily answered by "because I said so". Of course, you can try to explain. Unfortunately, a child's level of knowledge at this age is only exceeded by their inexperience, naiveté, and immaturity. I tried the explaining portion with my kids. I got the same look from them that I remember giving my parents until I was well into my late teens. It went in one ear and out of the other. Children haven't changed that much. Sometimes we make our children angry when we make decisions that are in their best interest but are not to their liking. Tough. They always have the option of taking a leave of absence without pay. If you are dependent upon the house, you play by house rules. If not, children (at least older children) should know that they can always take that leave of absence at anytime they think the rules are too tough. Parenting is not for the feint of heart or the perfectionist. It is not in what popular books and experts teach us. Parenting is about nurturing. Parenting is about building character. Parenting is about discipline, sacrifice and love. Parenting is about doing the right thing not the convenient thing. That's why books and experts are of little help when it comes to the nitty gritty of actual down to earth parenting. In deed, some of those books and experts are the very causes of what is wrong with our society today--permissiveness. It's not that our children have failed but we have failed our children by seeking the quick route, the easy road or avoiding being a true parent, while we pursue our own goals. True parenting is a life filled with sacrifice, strained nerves, silent suffering and sorrow once the job is complete. However, the joys of being a proud mother or father, of watching your child grow mentally and physically and of helping to shape a human being who is a part of you is unsurpassed on the scale of happiness. From the moment children enter this cold harsh world wrinkled and bleary-eyed with brand new confusion until the moment when they enter the adult world of reality and responsibility, we are their guides to life. It is our responsibility to guide our children on paths that are open and filled with promises, yet we must also teach restraint and respect for themselves as well as others. We must give them the freedom to be themselves and the appreciation of the others' freedoms. We must show them love and block them from hate. We must make tough decisions that are in the interest of our children. We must concentrate less on being best friends and spend more time being best parents. Perhaps, if we are more vigilant and more involved in our children's lives we could stop aberrant behavior before it ever starts. When does that leave time for you? It doesn't! When you bring children into the world the things you used to do become secondary. Your children are your life. It is not a choice we are free to make. If you have money, you can pass the chore on to others. If you are poor you either make do or ignore your responsibility. Nevertheless, once a parent, always a parent. There is no going back.