|OMGOMGOMG! A cerebral introspective post! Yay!|
I came across an excellent article in “The Atlantic” entitled “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy”. A parent and therapist explores the idea that focusing on our kids’ happiness too much might actually be predisposing them to become unhappy as adults.
If we just do the right thing, inform ourselves, advocate for our kids, stay attuned to their needs and involved in their lives, and prioritize their happiness then our children will grow up to be happy, amazing, successful adults and, of course, as a flip side to that we will get to enjoy having happy, amazing, successful adult children and all the social validation that comes along with that. Our investment in our children’s happiness isn’t entirely selfless. We view them as ‘masterpieces’ of sorts that we, as their parents, will be credited with helping to create.
But, the article suggests, the micro-managing that can easily result from that level of focus on a child’s happiness can potentially negatively impact the child’s ability to overcome discomfort and set backs that are inevitable in life and necessary to overcome in order to be happy:
Some parents swoop in immediately, pick up the toddler, and comfort her in that moment of shock, before she even starts crying. But, [Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist from UCLA] explains, this actually prevents her from feeling secure—not just on the playground, but in life. If you don’t let her experience that momentary confusion, give her the space to figure out what just happened (Oh, I tripped), and then briefly let her grapple with the frustration of having fallen and perhaps even try to pick herself up, she has no idea what discomfort feels like, and will have no framework for how to recover when she feels discomfort later in life. These toddlers become the college kids who text their parents with an SOS if the slightest thing goes wrong, instead of attempting to figure out how to deal with it themselves. If, on the other hand, the child trips on the rock, and the parents let her try to reorient for a second before going over to comfort her, the child learns: That was scary for a second, but I’m okay now. If something unpleasant happens, I can get through it. In many cases, Bohn says, the child recovers fine on her own—but parents never learn this, because they’re too busy protecting their kid when she doesn’t need protection.
Right now my four year old is enrolled in a cooperative preschool. All in all it’s a great program and we’re very lucky to be a part of it. It’s an interesting microcosm when it comes to involved, child focused parenting because the group of parents that self-select in have to be willing to not only spend one day a week working in the classroom but also attend monthly parent education meetings and fulfill one other preschool related position or duty.
So it’s an environment chock full of parents who are actively focused on being well intentioned, involved, and informed. Which is infinitely preferable to being surrounded by parents who are irritated that their kids keep messing up their lives by having kid problems like sharing and potty training instead of real, adult problems like that TV show that you want to watch right now, that stuff you want to buy, and the alone time you need time to deal with the horror that was that one guy totally taking your parking space.
But sometimes I wonder if an environment where focus on parenting is so prevalent not only encourages potential pitfalls for the kids like the micro-managing, helicopter parenting described by Bohn above but also for similar stumbling blocks for the grown ups.
At least for me, there’s a tendency to think that as informed, attuned advocate for my kids there’s always some kind of magic bullet out there to fix an uncomfortable phase in parenting and it’s my job to find it.
Like, “Your kid isn’t sleeping? Here’s a hand out on bedtime routines. Obviously where there’s one hand out there’s 87 more so seek out that information too. Try those tips and tricks. And there’s developmental research. Familiarize yourself with that. If that isn’t working then why isn’t it working? Go to a parent education lecture. Discuss this with your peers. Is it a medical issue? Is it this issue really a symptomatic of a larger issue? Try more one on one time with your child, more involvment in her life, see what else is causing her to behave this way. That’s still not working? What else can you do? There’s always something else to do. This is a problem. We must solve it and until we do we will DO ALL THE THINGS.”
But in reality not all uncomfortable times or problems have solutions and sometimes being laser focused on “solving the problem” leads to losing perspective on whether the problem is really that big of a problem after all.
Being an informed, pro-active parent is important but there can be too much of a good thing. It’s also important to able to step back, take a breath and say, “You know what? This aspect of parenting just sucks right now. But everything worth doing or having sucks sometimes. I don’t agree with everything my tax dollars go towards. It’s a bummer bacon has calories. Labor hurts. I wish I could attach a Swiffer to the cat’s tail so she’d just clean up all the fuzz she leaves in her wake. But whatever. I’ll deal. Yin and yang and darkness to see the stars and all that. Life is messy. And speaking of dealing – who wants wine?”