Our Parenting Tragedy: Making Kids “Happy” is Making Them Helpless

 

Of course we want our kids to be happy. We love them. We want good things for them. The problem is, what we often think is good for them isn’t; and what we think will make them happy, in the long run, doesn’t.

Published this week at the Huffington Post, was one of the best, honest articles I’ve read in a while about modern parenting and the dilemma we are facing. Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids? outlines a few major things parents have done wrong, resulting in not happy kids, but helpless kids who are having a hard time making it in life. A closer look at the now-grown Generation Y tells the story.

“These well-intentioned messages of ‘you’re special’ have come back to haunt us,” Elmore says. “We are consumed with protecting them instead of preparing them for the future. We haven’t let them fall, fail and fear. The problem is that if they don’t take risks early on like climbing the monkey bars and possibly falling off, they are fearful of every new endeavor at age 29.”

Parents who raised Generation Y (a.k.a. “millennials”) told them they were special, for no reason. They didn’t have to demonstrate good character or persevere, or excel at anything to be rewarded. Just show up. You know, we didn’t want to hurt their feelings. And now, they demand the same treatment from employers and spouses.

That generation was raised with helmets, knee pads and injury law suits. They were bathed in hand-sanitizer and hovered over by over-protective, fearful parents who raced to the school to defend Johnny’s “right” to express himself even if violates dress code. They were even given birth control “just in case.” At all cost, avoid failure, injury or consequence.

And while none of us would choose hardship for ourselves or our children, if we understood how healthy it can be we could relax and walk through it, instead of going to such great lengths to avoid it.

As I hear constantly, for the number one reason why people don’t want more children, “we can’t afford it”, what most parents mean is, they want to make their children happy and that involves buying stuff, giving them things, taking them places, involving them in activities, giving them “enough attention”, and generally living a lifestyle that, in reality, can not abide more children. This, they think, is what good parents do to ensure their children are happy.

This is precisely, according to psychologists, what is making children neurotic as they enter adulthood, quite the opposite parents were going for.

Ironically, as our family has gone through seasons of “can’t afford it”, and by that I mean electricity, as unpleasant as it is, I can look back and see the real, life-long advantages of enduring hardship (and really hardship is relative). And I can say with confidence, it’s good for children–for all of us–to be denied, to go without, to suffer, to be forced to rely on God for our daily needs.

As we grow children to be equipped to take on life, the real kind that throws curve balls and will challenge them to go beyond themselves, sometimes a great deal beyond, we don’t need to be concerned about whether we’re able to buy enough gadgets so our kids will fit in. We need to be concerned about raising kids who know how to dig their heels in because they’ve had to. Kids who know how to solve problems creatively because creativity was sometimes all they had. We need kids who connect consequence with choice from their own experience, painful as that can be. And we need, more than anything, to raise children who live for something bigger than themselves, even willing to sacrifice personal comfort and desires for that purpose.

We need to stop lying to ourselves and each other about what really makes kids happy in the long run. We need to resurrect the reality that hardship can teach invaluable lessons and stop trying to safeguard against every impediment to our obsession with immediate gratification.

This is how we love our children…stand with them, thick or thin, feast or famine, rain or shine, protecting them from the things we should, but not shielding them from the realities of life that teaches them how to grow up. Let’s raise capable kids.

 

18 Responses to “Our Parenting Tragedy: Making Kids “Happy” is Making Them Helpless”

  1. Gretchen says:

    Although we probably would disagree on many things, this is so true. I teach second grade and some of my students are to (put it mildly), being raised as selfish, entitled brats. They do not want to work, share, want constant praise and attention ( for nothing major accomplished) and some are very mean. Their after school days are filled with video games, too many activities and too much STUFF. I fear for this generation coming up. I feel that we have lost our sense of hard work for the sake of hard work, being well behaved because that is your job as a child and my job as your teacher is to teach. It sounds like I hate my job. I don’t but it sure makes it difficult when I am seeing more and more children coming to school like this.

  2. Laura(yet another) says:

    This mentality is so prevalent. I also wonder if the “princess” attitude that is so common amongst little girls contributes to this… In many ways, it might be a good thing for there to be an economic crisis of sorts in our country, even to people having to live without electricity for periods of time. There seems to be no ability to contrive or think on one’s feet in times of distress or crisis. One thing that I will say, is that it can be a good thing for mama to be a wee bit selfish at times. For example, if I have just finished filling EVERYONE’s plates for dinner, sat down, and someone yells out, “I didn’t get any milk!”, and I realize I never filled cups, I no longer jump up to fill everyone’s cup. I say to my older children, “Go get the milk and pour it yourself.” And proceed to eat my dinner. It is a hard habit to break when you get used to doing things for your kids, especially, I think, when you have an uncommon lot of them, and everything takes longer to do EVEN when you do it yourself… Letting them do things makes certain tasks or projects last FOREVER! But having them realize that I just stood up for the last 2+ hours and cooked a full meal and still may have clean up to do, helps them realize that they can get their own cup of milk… Without whining. This is something that many husbands could help their wives out on, by accepting the food they are given and being verbally thankful for it in front of children. I have heard SOO many wives comment on how picky their husbands are, and how they have to pander to the tastes of their husband at the table. This is utter nonsense, and for any men who might read this? Man up. Eat what is put in front of you and thank whoever made it. Realize that your children are picking up habits from you in this area. I don’t know if my children will grow up to live similarly to what we do now, but they have watched and helped us garden, weed, can/freeze food, harvest, do yardwork, sew clothes/household items, darn socks, cook on an open fire, learn to make oldish things like baked beans or cornmeal mush (and like both!), wash dishes with a wash sink and a rinse sink, keep a compost pile,wash diapers, hang clothes on the line[inside and out], and so on… I hope as our boys grow into young men, they don’t succumb to the temptations to laziness all around them, but will put their hand to whatever “plow” is in front of them and push it along… so to speak…

  3. CC says:

    Where in Scripture does it say that only kids who accomplish things are special and a blessing? I have no problem telling my kid she is special without ant reason at all.

    • Gretchen says:

      I do not think there is anything wrong with telling your child they are special. They certainly are. However, in school, we have students who want rewards who everything they do. I am “old school”. I do not bribe, do behavior charts, sticker charts, stoplights, etc. I am trying to teach them to BEHAVE because that is their job. What I do have in my classroom is freedom, lots of recess, a sound understanding of child development, and flexibility. Please love your children and let them know that. PLease also make them be responsible members of your family so they can have true self esteem and be a productive member of a group.

      • CC says:

        Yes, but Kelly”s point was that you should not tell you kids they are special unless they have accomplished something good. My kids are told they are special every day, whether or not they have gotten an A or raked the yard. They are special always.

        • I think you’re being too literal and purposely eluding the point. From the article it reads: “We’ve told our kids that they are special – for no reason, even though they didn’t display excellent character or skill, and now they demand special treatment.”

          This isn’t referring to a parent-child relationship where a parent should express unconditional love for who their children are. It’s a commentary on the generation that got a ribbon for participating in a game because selecting a “winner” would make the others feel bad. It’s a generation who were told achievement or character or growth doesn’t matter because “we’re all special.”

          By the way, biblically speaking, emphasizing a child is “special” still isn’t correct. We actually are all heinous sinners, redeemed and made right ONLY by God’s grace, not by anything we are or anything we’ve done. This is altogether a different kind of thing than what the post refers to. The Bible still requires action–repentance, character, growth, sacrifice–on our part and doesn’t pat us on the head and say “you’re just fine the way you are,” even though more and more modern churches, catering to Generation Y, are teaching just that, breeding a whole passel of “Christians” who don’t understand God’s grace balanced with His justice, and who are acting as adult Christians, just like the little kids who wanted a trophy because they’re just “special.”

  4. shannon says:

    Right on. May I share the most stark example of this that I may? I mean, it blew my mind away and it happened many years ago.
    Before staying home I worked as an outpatient therapist and sometimes did assessments for Medicaid disability. I met a Gen Y’er (I am in my early thirties but there seems to even be a difference b/w my age group and those younger) who was applying for disability. Anyway, he was depressed, angry, whiney, ungrateful, bitter and believed himself to be helpless. He came in to his assessment demanding he get disability because he had no “rights”. He shared how his girlfriend broke up with him, he got mad and tried to take some pills but his mom (who he lived with of course) called and had him committed for 3 days. His complaint? He wasn’t even allowed to kill himself. He felt ENTITLED to kill himself it that makes sense.

    His dream job was only that of making video games and only if he could live in far away and make millions. Until then, he worked at Burger King a couple of times but those never lasted more than a couple months. One time he was fired for throwing a hamburger at his boss and he couldn’t understand why he lost his job. School was great for him and he was spoiled by his mom (no dad around sadly). But, he never learned to live in the real world.

    While doing his assessment I just jotted down verbatim some of his quotes, how he doesn’t think he’s “crazy” but he doesn’t WANT to work either. Sigh…Maybe I should have diagnosed him as delusional ;)

  5. Kelly T. says:

    Thank you for this great post. It reminds of why I should not look back with sorrow on a rough road to adulthood. It has made me who I am today.

  6. Keri says:

    I haven’t read the article yet by the Huffington Post but I will.

    One of the things that I have done as my children got older was to not do for them the things that I knew they could do for themselves. Simple things…like making their own beds, picking up after themselves, making their own lunch and snacks. Letting Them be responsible for the things THEY need to be responsible for.Something even so simple as when we would go to the grocery store, I would give them a small list of things to go find for me. They were probably very early teens when I would send them off to do this but you could do it with younger ones if you were watching at the end of the aisle.

    There is just to much of “it’s all about me attitude” with adults and children today.

    Now with four adult kids who are responsible and hard working, all the hard work and time invested was worth it. I’m still doing this with two teens! It’s hard work but worth it when they grow up to be responsible adults.

    • Keri,

      That point about letting them do things–excellent. I try to remember that too. There seems to be a line of thinking that a mom, to demonstrate her love, needs to do everything for her children. I think there is a fine balance between a mom serving selflessly, but helping her children become self-sufficient, and the wise mom understands the difference.

  7. Keri says:

    I’m glad you mentioned that Kelly because after I wrote that, I realized that I should have written about sometimes just serving them. It is always a good thing to serve our kids but there does need to be a balance. The Lord gives the wisdom. Blessings to all of you!!

  8. Lauren says:

    I am Gen Y but my parents raised us counter culturally. I am not sure it was on purpose- we were allowed to climb and fall and be hurt because my mother was raised with 6 brothers and assumed it was normal and good (and it is!!) We also were very financially limited and so we didn’t have toys and stuff, but we played with and enjoyed each other. And I am very grateful. I still think I can tackle anything and appreciate what I have.

    The main thing missing from my childhood was that I wasn’t expected to work. (My mother was overly burdened with work growing up, so I think it was kind of a reaction from her that we did nothing to help). It was a real challenge to go from being a teen who had lots of leisure time to managing a household with so little downtime. Three children later I still struggle not to feel entitled to ‘me time’.

    My husband manages many people in his job, and reading Gretchen’s comment above was like hearing my husband talk about some of the people he manages, except that they are adults and not children! In his workplace they hand out incentives for people to do their jobs- not to achieve a target or lofty goal- just to do their actual job.

    • Laura(yet another) says:

      I understand how you feel, Lauren! I was a “good” girl as a young person, and spent HOURS drawing, reading, practising music, just as I felt the inclination… But there wasn’t much for me to help with. There were only 2 kids in my family, and so while I did help with laundry and meals and cleaning some, it wasn’t the all encompassing thing that having 4+ kids and homeschooling is!! LOL. And constant chaos and companionship wears me out… being ALONE is what helps… and I never am! I wish we’d had more opportunities to HAVE to work, at things like firewood, or a family business…

  9. Hayley Ferguson says:

    Brilliant. How many gen ys are useless as far as life skills and raising even worse children?? In the end they will wax worse and worse (the Bible.)

  10. Deborah says:

    9 children, only 3 of whom were mine, were surprising me by putting up our outside Christmas lights the other evening. I had run to the grocery store and left my 16 year old in charge. It was drizzling and they had a ladder! On first sight “Ahh Liability! get down from there!”screamed through my head. Then I had to ask myself “What’s worse a future of risk-free adults, or a present of pretty athletic, skilled kids taking a chance on a sweet project?” I just oohed and ahhed at the lights and reminded “3 points of contact.” Over protection is very dangerous!

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