It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.—Anne Landers
When I became a mom, I got lots of advice on how to love my child. But not until a few years ago did someone actually point out that loving a child means wanting what’s best for them long-term. When my four daughters were young, long-term didn’t resonate with me. Back then it was about survival, meeting daily needs and keeping my head above water. Now that my kids are maturing, however, the fog is lifting. I’m no longer surviving, but rather I am a thriving parent. The perk of this stage is that my kids want to spend time with me. We have real conversations that reveal their beautiful personalities. With everyone sleeping through the night, I’m sleeping better, too. I can think coherently and be more intentional in how I raise them. These days, I put more thought into long-term. I think about the kind of adults that I hope my children will be and I work backward to ask, “What can I do today to foster that?” Being mindful of their future has changed my parenting paradigm, because what makes my children happy at age 10 or 15 is somewhat different from what will make them happy at age 25, 30, 40 and beyond.
A while back I came across some interesting articles and books that dig into what psychologists today are seeing: a rising number of 20-somethings who are depressed and don’t know why. These young adults claim they had magical childhoods. Their parents are their best friends. They never experienced tragedy or anything more than normal disappointments. Yet for some reason, they’re unhappy.
One reason given is that parents today are too quick to swoop in. We don’t want our children to fall, so instead of letting them experience adversity, we clear the path. We remove obstacles to make their life easy. But adversity is a part of life, and only by facing it can our children build life-coping skills they’ll need down the road. So while it seems like we’re doing them a favour, we’re really stunting their growth. We’re putting short-term payoffs over long-term well-being.
One article mentions incoming college freshmen who are known to deans as “teacups” for their fragility in the face of minor problems. The question posed was this: “Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?”
Here’s psychiatrist Paul Bohn’s response, as paraphrased in the piece: Many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.
Why am I sharing this information? Because I think it’s relevant in this age of helicopter parenting. While I find it great that today’s parents are more invested in their children’s lives than previous generations, our involvement can go overboard. What we may justify as “good parenting” can hurt our children later. Unless we’re mindful of that, it’s easy to handicap them by making their lives too easy.
As my favourite parenting philosophy goes, “Prepare your child for the road, not the road for your child.”