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.