“The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.” – Edward, Duke of Windsor
Should America be worried about its children? If the answer is yes, then should it also be worried about its parents? Much is being made about the rise of social and emotional problems in our children and the fall of their academic and behavioral performance. Current books like Cooper and Keitel’s I Just Want My Kids to Be Happy analyze correlations between overindulgence and underachievement. A recent WSJ article “Why French Parents Are Superior” deals with Powerful Parisian Parents whose big-eyed stares and dominant tones keep their children seen and not heard. A preceding NYT piece “But Will It All Make ‘Tiger Mom’ Happy?” focused on Chinese mothers who demand stellar performance and whose wrath is incurred by offspring failing to meet their expectations. Do these publications create a disturbing comparison to our own current parenting style here in America? If “powerful” describes Parisian and “Tiger” coins Chinese, perhaps “Pushover” epitomizes today’s American parents.
It appears American parenting has become stuck on serendipity, i.e., the notion that our children should be happy at all times; and when they are not, it’s a problem of epic proportions. This transition from adult-centered to child-centered started about the same time parents began to focus on the psychology of self-esteem. Somehow happiness became synonymous with confidence and confused with contentment. According to Cooper and Keitel, contentment, not happiness, should be the goal in child rearing. While happiness is self-centered, splashy, and short-lived, its wiser cousin, contentment, is other-centered, understated, and long-term. Paralyzed by the fear of hurting their children’s self-esteem, parents often can’t say no and give in to many unnecessary wants. By doing so they deny their children painful experiences, necessary to the development of delayed gratification and resilience.
Some American parents are creating monsters they cannot control. Whether at home, play, school, college, and even worse, once their children have entered the workforce, some angst-ridden parents circle around their children trying to control and create a stress-free environment. In her recent NPR online article, “Helicopter Parents Hover in the Workplace,” Jennifer Ludden exposes parents who are now phoning their children’s bosses to sing praises or plead their cases.
In his book The Road Less Traveled Scott Peck states that pain is the mother of all growth. So, if there is a silver lining in this dark financial cloud hanging over our country, maybe it will be a return to common sense in parents who will grow backbones, learn to say no, and demand expectations of their children, thus enabling them to develop the strength and resilience necessary to compete globally.
Trying to achieve a constant state of nirvana for one’s children is like trying to fill a sieve…it’s counterproductive and has no holding power.