I am not letting you off the hook as parents, but we seriously work way too hard sometimes. I’m talking about myself here.
Scenario: I just got back home from taking my son to school. I have a million things to do in the next hour. I get an urgent text from my son saying that he forgot his iPad on the kitchen island (again) and needs it ASAP (of course!).
Dilemma: I should really say no and let him learn his lesson, but it kills me that he will get an F because that assignment due today was on his iPad. Then my mind starts racing. This is high school! If he gets an F, it will affect his GPA. He won’t be able to get into college. The next thing I know I have created a future for my son as a bum on the street.
Then I start thinking about how that perfect mom (you know who she is) would bring him his iPad, or even better yet, she would have noticed it sitting there on the island and not let her son leave without it. I should be more like her. But wait, there’s more! If I don’t bring him his iPad, he may feel that I don’t care about him and will develop deep seeded anger towards me that will generalize towards all women and this will affect his relationships in the future (you know with the other female bums on the street). Yes, all because he left his iPad at home.
What I really needed to recognize at that moment is that all those times that I saved him and thought that I was helping him, I was really just hurting him. I was robbing him of the opportunity to learn in the most organic way, the easy way, the better way—by the consequences of his actions (or non-action). As a society, we “protect’ our children by phenomenon such as not keeping score in games and declaring all the winner. I do understand that forcing ultra competitiveness at a young age is also detrimental, but declaring everyone the winner swings the pendulum to the other side of healthy. Neither is good.
We are teaching kids they don’t really have to work hard because everyone is rewarded the same. But then we hit them with a stark reality as they approach adulthood and wonder why this generation (yes, I realize that statement makes me sound old) can’t get it together and instead will likely maintain adolescence well into their 30s. We have crippled them in all of our hovering and saving them—that is why!
…all those times that I saved him and thought that I was helping him, I was really just hurting him.
The truth is that kids need to feel pain (yes, pain) and disappointment and frustration in order to grow and mature. I know it hurts to watch our children muddle through some difficult situations. Maybe we are also really protecting ourselves from that pain as much as we are trying to protect our children. Our job as parents is not to prevent them from experiencing pain, but rather to be there and sit with them in their pain and encourage and teach and hug them through these critical life lessons. I wish it was all as benign as a forgotten iPad because I know life can really throw some doozies at our kids.
There are a couple of hard truths that should apply to parenting as well:
1. Don’t do for someone what they can do for themselves (guilty!). When we do for someone else (yes, even our kids) what they can do for themselves, we are hurting them.
2. Let the universe teach them real consequences! It is actually easier. There is a natural order in this world and it teaches better lessons than we ever could!
Why is this so hard? We are bombarded with fearmongering information about the effects of this and the effects of that. We feel like we have to save our children from a multitude of deadly and possibly emotionally damaging monsters out there. This generation of parents has the highest bar set than all generations before us. We have more information and knowledge, which is great, but sometimes it is crippling. Stop working so hard!
I don’t think I’m just talking to myself here. I see you helicopter moms and dads on the playground (yep, we all do). We are all in this together. So, Kiddo, you are on your own next time you forget your iPad. I love you!
Looking for more from Dr. Zoe Shaw? Check out her free advice column, Ask Dr. Zoe.
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: These Strategies Will Help You Raise Great Kids – 063!