In which the Wartime Housewife discusses the modern need for constant approbation.
There was a news article recently which reported on a couple of teenagers who found £5,000 at a bus stop and handed it in to the police. The owner was delighted to have had the money returned (obviously) and thanked the boys for their honesty. However, he didn’t give them a reward. The newspapers picked up on this and were ‘outraged’ that the man didn’t offer a financial reward and suggested that the boys had learned that honesty doesn’t pay. To their credit, the boys weren’t in the least concerned.
Why does absolutely everything we do have to be rewarded? Was it not enough for the boys to know that they had done the decent thing without having to have an outside agent confirming their decency with a material reward?
Many modern parents have got into the habit of praising their children to the skies for every tiny little thing that they do. Everything must have a positive affirmation or they will grow up feeling negative about themselves and lacking in support. Children practically receive a round of applause for breathing in and then out again.
Bringing up children is a difficult business and there is no perfect way of doing it. We are all different and our children are different; sanctions that work with one child may not work with another. One parent’s childrearing technique may work for their family but not necessarily for yours. We just have to get on with it the best we can.
One thing I do know is that our job is unequivocally to equip our children for the rigours of adult life and the key word, as in law, is ‘reasonable’. We must teach them to have a reasonable degree of self esteem and confidence and yet show compassion and empathy for others. We need them to stand on their own feet and fight their own battles. They must learn that failure is not the end of the world and can sometimes teach us more about life than success and that we can’t be good at everything. Sometimes they may not be invited to the party or picked for the team and they have to learn to take it on the chin and move on.
As parents, the teaching of these things means that we are sometimes going to be unpopular. If your child has never, at any point, turned round to you and said “I hate you, you never let me do anything!” then you’re doing something wrong and that something may be that you’re spending too much time trying to be popular.
A parent should not be a child’s best friend. They’ve got mates, your job is to be their parent and that means doing things that, sometimes, they’re not going to like. It also means not jumping in and rescuing them at every turn, not fighting their battles and not intervening every time they face a difficulty.
My sisters and I were brought up in a family with no guidance or support of any kind and I know that I have sometimes had to fight the urge to jump in and ‘save’ my boys from difficulties or unpleasantness. I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone and neglect of a young people is a difficult thing to forgive, but by God, we three girls are tough and there’s not much that life throws at us that we can’t cope with, each in our different way.
Young people have to learn to cope and that sometimes means letting them fail, helping them to overcome difficulties on their own and giving them the freedom to make mistakes. Let them fall out of trees, fall out with their friends, fall in love with unsuitable people. They will never manage risk if they don’t take risks. My sister talks about ‘Slopey Shoulder Syndrome’ where people are too feeble to tackle anything for themselves and constantly plead for others to do things for them.
In real life, everyone you meet is not going to tell you you’re great. Your boss at work is not going to hand you a certificate for doing the job you’re paid to do and you are not going to receive constant reassurance from every colleague, tutor, manager, client, lover, that you are a super human being. If your every childhood move has been praised to the skies with a burst of fireworks, this is going to come as one hell of a shock.
If your kids fuck up you have to tell them so they can make better decisions. If they behave badly, you have a responsibility to punish them to teach them consequences. Don’t let them do everything they want to do, just because you have the resources to make it happen, it devalues what they chose to do and tells them nothing about the assessment of choices.
I read an interesting article recently about a psychologist who, as well as the normal parade of those with unhappy backgrounds, has started seeing a lot of 20 to 30-somethings who feel a lack of purpose, anxious, confused and empty inside. On further questioning, these young people have had fabulous parents, who were their ‘best friends’, supported them at every turn, talked through their feelings, always helped them with their homework, were attuned to their every need.
Now, is it possible that these wondrous parents had simply done too much, had actually disabled their children through their constant support and intervention. I am always deeply suspicious of people who hero worship their parents, because cynical me can’t help feeling that somehow those parents have tried too hard to be popular and I find that those people are often not as empathetic or sympathetic to the difficulties of others.
Don’t make your children’s lives too perfect, if you really love your children don’t shield them from the things they need to learn. Teach them to do their best, not yours.