I’m home today, with the Little One having caught a stomach bug and me not being sure if I caught it as well, or was simply feeling sick from having to do the cleaning up and not sleeping all night, so I called in sick.
So I’ve got some time for a post that has been stewing in my mind for a while, on some pretty toxic notions of parenting and raising kids who fail.
One of the ingredients was a tweet on German Twitter where a woman posted that “kids don’t need boundaries, all they need is that you love them enough and they will always behave”. In the further discussion she doubled and trippled down, linking all unwanted behaviours to lack of love. Your kids eats chocolate cake instead of dinner? You don’t love them enough? (Also, healthy eating is overrated, we’ll come back to this) You disagree with this person? It’s because mummy (!) didn’t love you enough. Whatever goes wrong, it’s ultimately the fault of the parents, especially the mothers, who didn’t love their children enough.
Do I have to explain why such an idea is toxic and destroys all healthy parent-child relationships? If the blame for inappropriate behaviour ultimately resides with your lack of love, then you must at all cost prevent that behaviour. This usually means removing al sources of possible conflict, often by fulfilling your child’s every wish and desire. If a temper tantrum over no ice cream means you don’t love your child, you give them ice cream. Here we come back to what I wrote above, because the person literally said that i should just let the child eat the cake, nutrition is overrated anyway. This is the second coping mechanism of this philosophy: move the goalposts. Everybody who ever parented knows that your kid will still show behaviours that are inappropriate. Even if you obey their every command, they will have temper tantrums because the world does not indeed revolve around them and most of them will still eat sweets, no matter how much you love them. Therefore, the behaviour that was a sign of lack of love a minute ago is redefined as benign.
And as an aside, some people are just damn lucky and have children who hardly need any parenting at all. I know this because I have one. I also have one who needs a lot of parenting. And I don’t love the former more than the latter. If anything, the latter had 2 years of my love all to herself before her sister was born.
This “philosophy” gets even worse when seen in the context of disabilities like AD(H)S or also kids on the spectrum. Those children will show lots of “inappropriate” behaviour because they often cannot deal with the world, or with themselves, and if parenting of neurotypical and able children is already hard, then those parents’ lives are in expert mode fro the start. If their behaviour is no longer a result of their disability but an indictment of your lack of love, then seeking the help you need is twice as hard, especially if an ADHD kid is raised on “no limits or boundaries”.
Linked to this, and therefore my second “ingredient” is the idea of “snowplow parenting”, which is apparently the kind of parents even helicopter parents curl back from in disgust. In the wake of the US college admission scandal, where the only surprising thing was that some people were surprised, the NYT published an article about parents who baby their kids well into adulthood. The results are devastating for the young adults, who are dropping out of college because they cannot cope with the presence of sauce in the cafeteria. But least you think that this is a phenomenon of the American upper class, I know similar complaints from doctors, who have parents accompany their mildly ill adult kids to a doctor’s appointment or even to a job interview. I see it on a smaller scale when parents try to protect their kids from the consequences of their actions (where every consequence we throw at them is ridiculous compared to what the world is going to do. Missing out on some fun because you got detention for being late is nothing compared to losing your job), or parents fretting over their big bulky 12 years old son waiting for 45 minutes after school before some activity starts. Because a meteor could hit him or something.
Now, I don’t doubt that all those parents mean well, that they truly love their children. But they don’t do them good. Especially when the boys, but not only them, grow up, the parents lose all their chances of turning the wheel around. I have parents who are obviously afraid of their sons, who keep doing their bidding so they can avoid the dreaded conflict or the consequences.
Nothing here says “don’t love your children”. Love them, a lot. Tell them often. But don’t mistake helicopter or snowplow parenting for love, consumer goods for love. Give them what they need, and occasionally also what they want.
Marcus Ranum says
Give them what they need, and occasionally also what they want.
Also, what you can.
One thing that always amazes me about modern parenting is how few understand that current attitudes toward children are a relatively recent thing. In the US it’s based on upper class British imperial/victorian upper class child-rearing (because we still worship the brits) (until brexit) parenting attitudes sharply divide along class lines, surprise, surprise. And prior to the 1900s, and probably through to the end of WWI, the notion of a “nuclear family” was mythical -- war, disease, and work killed a lot of parents, and many kids were raised by uncles/aunts or other close relatives. That also applies to kids that were put to hard labor. For every litle lord fauntleroy there were 4 kids who died in coal mines or textile mills.
I read that article on snowplow parenting, and the first idea that I had was, how exhausting! How exhausting to track every movement, to call every friend in advance, to co-ordinate with other parents all the time, to always be emotionally available, to always be ready to drop everything and sacrifice your own plans for some “emergency”… I mean, generally speaking, this is parenting anyway, but several magnitudes more. So yeah, “how utterly exhausting!” was my first thought -- which led to, “are these parents even enjoying life?” (and I don’t mean enjoying by taking pride in their accom… I mean, their children’s accomplishments, but genuinely enjoying their lives), which then led to, who bears most of the fallout when things don’t work out? Because it’s a fact of life that you can’t fix everything, you can’t convince everyone, you can’t be 100% on point all the time… and this is unhealthy for the (grown) child, but also for the parent. A way to an early stress-grave, if you ask me. :/
Not all kids will be as independent as you want them to be as early as you want them to be (and some may never be), but you have to give them space to breathe. And to feel the consequences of, say, forgetting their homework or not studying for that test. Because heavens help me if I’m going to accompany my adult children to their job interviews. O.o
Also this. From a purely materialistic point of view, the kids are learning the value of the euro, and also the words “we can’t afford it (right now but if you save your pocket money, we can discuss the pros and cons of owning [item])” (the one exception is books and Middle Child takes advantage a lot). And a lot of discussion about passing fads in children’s toys (save me…).
But also “what you can” in terms of time and energy, this applies, too. I’m no use to them worn out from doing their bidding. And somehow we manage to get some fun activities and delicious snacks into their lives, wonder of wonders.
I know it is not a favor to a child to give them ice cream every day. Nobody can expect the kid to turn it down. So then the kid can grow up overweight. The human body is evolved to keep extra weight, to save one from the inevitable upcoming famine. In modern society, this means a lifetime of being fat, no matter how much the grown kid later may diet. This is not a kindness, even if the young child and the young parents think it is.
Very true, Giliell. Thank you!
I am only “part time parenting” my godchild. I have been asked in a store more then once how I can be so cruel as to not buy the sweets ‘my child’ so clearly and loudly demands. I agree with rq, the kids need to learn the value of money and that it is not and endless resource. (Missunderstanding want and need of a child is the grandparents job! /sarcasm)
As for older kids, I had some parents that called me at uni* and demanded I teach their child Chemistry because taxes/public good/substitute teacher are expensive. And the child in question would be writing tomorrow (or next monday). I also met the snowplow variant of that, asking for “a prof or something”.
*I was for a while a student representative, so I had a spot on the chem-department website.
Thank you Giliell,
I will admit to worrying too much about my kid even now that she is not a kid and is on her own. But starting in 2nd/3rd grade I started pushing the idea that her decisions, like whether to do her homework after school, after dinner or in the morning were her decisions but that the consequences were hers too. We would have a short discussion about what might happen if she did not complete her work (bad grades, etc). I had just gotten sick of the pleading and cajoling. I was always available to help with anything she did not understand, including writing to her teacher to request additional help for her, but I was not going to do the homework/projects for her. (BY the same token, I have always been proud of her accomplishments, but they are HER accomplishments, she earned them and put in all the hard work. As I put it to her once in high school when I was teaching her how to use a checkbook (I’m old) and how much it really cost to move out on her own, I will not be here forever, I have to give you the tools to deal with the world on your own because I might not be there to rescue you. She saw that up close and too personal when her aunt died at 42 and left a 13 year old daughter.
@avalus -- Wow! That’s, I want to say shocking, but honestly I did meet a few of those parents when my daughter started college, their kids had never done anything on their own and their parents were determined to make sure their child never failed at anything (even if they had to do the kids work themselves or pay someone else to to do it).
I never understood how the parents expected to sustain that? Maybe if they had let their kids stumble in grade school and learn to pick themselves up, their kids would have been more ready for being on their own and working out a study routine. I’m not talking about throwing a kid to the wolves and not caring that they are having problems with something. But often it seemed the kids never learned to study, research, write a good paper or outline because if they complained, mommy or daddy would do it for them…
DO their parents intend to go on grad school/ job interviews with them?
I had a friend when I was a student who literally did not know how to make a cup of tea or instant coffee when he arrived to live in self-catering accomodation. Another friend J went to stay with him and his parents, and discoverd how this could be, if he said anything that remotely suggested he might be thirsty his mum would disappear and a little later cups of tea would be brought in for everyone. His mum did him no favours at all, we had to teach him to cook from scratch, and he lived on the (not that good) university catering until we did, cheaper than off-site food, but not cheap enough to eat every day on a grant.
To the point of the original post, I think it’s yet another way to blame women for everything that is wrong with their children, it’s insidious and nasty, because however confident who will not feel the slightest amount of doubt and be hurt by being told their children’s fault are all their because of their failure as a mother? It’s in a long list of things (like autism) that have been used to control women.
The parenting conundrum is something that always makes me think. I am not a parent myself, but I have nephews and I had to play surrogate parrent on more than a few occasions to them.
I think it is clear that kids in fact do need boundaries and rules they have to obey. But I do not of course think that a child should be a robot that only does things their parents give them permision or a command to do. Both extremes are wrong, because both do not prepare the child for real life. In real life each of us is an autonomous entity that has to decide for themselves whilst navigating between the boundaries and obstacles that world and other people put in our way. We need to be able to decide and pursue our wishes, whilst also recognizing that no, not every whim is worth acting on.
There is, I think, a cultural East vs. West component to this too, in my opinion, and a rich people versus poor people component that exacerbates the cultural component even more because the West is richer than the East. A friend of mine has a sister who has married a well-off, upper class Englishman and who now lives and raises her kids in UK. The kids have full day schedules, fully organized by their mom -- after school classes and activities like sports, piano lessons and such like, as is expected of a woman of her social standing where she lives. The kids are so used to having their free time fully organized by their mom that when they visit their grandparents in CZ, they simply cannot entertain themselves and complain about boredom in a house with garden and plenty of toys and space to be kids in. In contrast her sister here in CZ has two kids who can entertain themselves for hours with a paper box and a few pillows to build a fort out of.
Yeah, this. Call me lazy or something, but the idea that I need to micro manage my children’s every single interaction and activity sounds like way more than I’m willing to do.
Also this. To be honest, we could afford most of our children’s wishes. We are in a very lucky situation, money wise and their demands are quite small (probably because they never got everything they asked for…), but then they would never learn to appreciate and take care of what they have.
I have a cousin. The one who’s clinically insane. Among the many things that went wrong ion his life was that he always got everything. He got a new bike for Christmas and broke it, so he got another one for his birthday in February. He’d crashed two cars before I even had one (and we’re the exact same age). He never learned that money is finite. His story is a sad one.
Don’t stir my trauma, please. We have a singing, dancing hamster. I hate my mother.
Charming, aren’t they? Next step is usually “I’ll call the ministry/police!” I also had the variety “My kid was always good in English, maybe it’s you?”
Hmmm-m. I know that worry. And I know that 99% of it is stupid and something pushed on us by society and other people, but I also accept that this is MY worry. #1 is getting more independent, which also means going out on her own, like going to a girls day party organised by the city council or shopping for her own clothing. I mean, she’s always only a phone call away, back ion ancient times when I was her age we still had phone booths with coins…
Yet many parents don’t give their kids the chance to prove themselves. Last week my Little One was helicopter parented by her friends’ parents. They usually pick the girls up on Thursdays from the after school daycare and take them to their “craft class” where I collect the Little One later. Last week her friend didn’t go to the daycare, so I told the kid to walk to the class on foot and called the daycare that they should send her off at quarter to 4. At 4 I got a call from her friend’s mum telling me that she’d totally forgotten to tell me that her daughter was already home, should she go and pick up mine. I told her not to worry because I told her to walk.
“In the RAIN?”
Yes, in the rain. They insisted on picking her up by car, only that they were too late and the kid was already safe and sound at her craft class. She later told me “I love walking, especially when it’s raining.”
Love doesn’t mean giving in to your kids. Love means teaching and guiding your kids, including saying no when it’s appropriate. Permissive parenting sounds like it’s mostly about what the parent needs not the child.
I also think that technology has changed parenting. Parents and kids are tied together by cell phones now so they’re never really apart. I think it makes it harder for kids to develop confidence and self-reliance.
I have noticed that when I try to pull back from my kids either so that they can learn to do things I think they’re ready for, or so they can do more of the things they’re already doing fine, or so they can feel the brief wobble of Mom not being there to cushion and maybe will have a realization, other parts of society step in the fill the “neglect void.”
The school puts pressure on us parents to constantly monitor our high school aged children’s progress. If we’re not checking in once a week and thus staying 100% up to date on our kids’ schedules, teacher’s names, teaching styles, assignment lists and due dates, then if their grades drop, at meetings we (ok, mostly me) get that askance look. The one which says “not helicoptering is neglect!” Followed by prompts that we really should keep up to date so our kids can succeed.
I tried to let my then-12 year old sit at an ice cream shop without supervision for 15 minutes once. I was late picking her up from a performance and had communicated both my behavioral expectations and time of anticipated arrival to her by phone. Her music teacher insisted upon staying with her the entire time. Was she going to get kidnapped while sitting indoors at a public business eating ice cream? At that age we were already allowing her to hang out with small groups downtown, and waiting for me alone at the ice cream shop was supposed to be an impromptu test to see how she did, how she felt, but her teacher wouldn’t allow the test to happen. That daughter will be 18 in two days. She’s independent and capable as hell. Her teacher *still* thinks I’m neglectful because I let my near-teens and teens make a lot of their own decisions as they get older (we discuss options and possibilities together but it’s not my life nor my life lesson) rather than issuing edicts, let them be places without my constant presence, and let them get stressed out sometimes when they take too many things on at once. Apparently not directly intervening in everything means we don’t care.
Then there’s other kids’ parents. Oh, you don’t still arrange play dates for your middle schooler? Well let me take the initiative on that for you! Sure,my kids is overscheduled and stressed to the max from having no down time, but your kid will be so much happier if I schedule them, too!
Spouse isn’t always much better. He forcibly regressed the three younger kids two years after I stopped because they took on making their own lunches of their own free will. It was harder for him to be the bad guy and hassle them to go faster in the morning than it was for him to just do everything for them. That was (counts) six years ago. They are in high school and still don’t make their own lunches. Siiiiigh.
Onamission5 I think the USA are a lot worse than Europe in that respect. I occasionally watch videos by immigrants in Germany to get a feeling for those cultural traditions we don’t notice like fish don’t notice water and one woman said how surprised she was at the amounts of liberty German kids have, like she sees them riding the subway all alone at age 10 (which is when you change schools and usually need to take public transport, though too many parents play parent taxi)
Yeah, the constant nagging and cajoling is a PITA, yet I still do kit. And I just refused to store spare PE clothing with my in-laws, telling my mum in law that if the kid forgets her stuff she’ll have to live with a bad mark. You should have seen the looks that I got…
Well, I just have a bunch of parents in my Twitter mentions going “but school should be fun, if it were more fun kids would automatically do their homework, punishing kids by making them copy a text is a horrible crime against humanity”.
Yes! I total understand! My daughter had an opportunity when she was turning 16 to spend a summer in Germany with the family of the friend who had been an exchange student at her high school. Most of my friends thought I was nuts to let her go to Europe without us. She and 2 other friends stayed with her German friend’s family and the 4 of them traveled all over by train, mostly by themselves. They went to Berlin, spent a day in Lichtenstein and went to northern Italy for a week to stay with her friend,s aunt.
She had the time of her life. The first week they were camping with the Scouts.
My friends were also weirded out by the fact that beer and wine were legal for sixteen year olds in Germany. I am so glad my kid got a chance to see some more of the world, I’m hoping she decides to do some more traveling some day.