I am a proud, social security card carrying member of Generation X. In high school, I dressed in the latest grunge fashion (plucked fresh from the bins at Goodwill), and drove my beat-up Honda Civic in the rain while listening to REM, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. My fellow Gen X'ers and I remember fondly the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign, and the debut of Michael Jackson's Thriller music video.
We were an independent generation, adaptable to change. Many of us came from divorced families, and found it normal to split our time between two homes. We lived in households where both parents worked and were often labeled as "latch-key" kids. Watching our parents work tireless hours at jobs they didn't like, we embraced technology and education, vowing to do what we loved, on our own terms, with a reasonable work/life balance.
And then we began to procreate.
In contrast to our upbringing, we resolved to be a more constant presence in our children's lives. Many of us, now as mothers, are now staying home, sacrificing career and economic prosperity to be the one to do the drop-offs and pick-ups. We read every new parenting book, determined to raise our children with all possible opportunities and advantages. By the time the children are two, they are enrolled in ballet, soccer, gymnastics, music and art class. Our kids are constantly praised for their efforts and are repeatedly told how smart, talented, beautiful and special they are.
And this is how we raised the "Me" generation.
The problem is that these children are now dependent on their parents. They have become accustomed to their moms and dads holding their hands through each major decision, and many of these young adults now call home multiple times a day for guidance. College professors are fielding phone calls from parents wanting to discuss their child's grade on a paper. Managers complain that this generation is so unfamiliar with criticism that they are nearly impossible to train. This generation truly believes that they are exceptionally smart, talented, and beautiful, and therefore unprepared for the real world.
So, what do we do? As a mother of toddlers, how do I combat this trend and raise independent children, while still being an active participant in their childhood?
Lori Gottlieb, author of How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, offers many suggestions to find this balance. Here are a few I intend to follow:
Allow the child to fight her own battles. Imagine a common preschool scene. You witness another child grabbing a toy from your little one. As much as this may trouble your mama bear instincts, resist the urge to interfere. Give your child the opportunity to problem solve for herself. If she can't manage to get the toy back, let her feel the frustration.
Don't be the parent that demands her child be invited to all birthday parties. Life is unfair, and not every kid is going to like your child. Help the child cope with the disappointment of being excluded instead of saving her from all possible unhappiness.
Let them experience failure. Sometimes you try to climb a new play structure and fall. Sometimes you study really hard for a test and still get a C. Sometimes you strive to be everyone's friend and nonetheless, these is still that one girl who continues to spread rumors. This is life, and it should also be childhood.
Recently my oldest, Elana, tested me on just this. She advanced in her swim lessons to the next level and was finding herself in a difficult position -- she shifted from the best in her class to the worst. After the first session in the new class she sweetly pleaded with me, though teary eyes, to be moved back to her old group. "It's too deep. I'm scared. I don't like the teacher." While part of me hated seeing her sad, I knew that this was an important lesson for her. "Whenever we try something new, we often suck," I explained, "but, without sinking, we never learn to swim."