We have always been a nation of families. Family is the enriched blood cell that keeps the body healthy. It is the immune system which stubbornly insists we are a people who visualize, materialize, and accomplish any dream we believe in. It secures the unique identity of a culture and its people. Today, well-intentioned parents have enabled a “me” generation of children who lack the self-pride and contentment only struggle and adversity can bring. The nucleus of the family is the parent and the child. Insuring the continuity and future of a healthy family is dependent on the parents exampling and encoding children with a clear understanding of our core beliefs, and providing the tools and life lessons to survive the journey. Parenting is not about teaching our children to complete our own unfinished dreams. It is about empowering them to recognize and struggle toward their own ambitions. So what is happening? Many of America’s children have grown soft and suffer from entitlemania; a state of mind in which children believe they should have anything they want, while also believing they shouldn’t have to make the effort to get it. The credit for hatching this bewildered generation, however, falls on parents, not the children. Perhaps it is time to enter a new paradigm. Are we ready to begin speaking the truth about our parenting mistakes? Are we mature enough to consider the possibility that we parents can take credit for the family’s stumble, and begin efforts in our own family to help in its reconstruction?
Through the flood of social media and the exposure staged by media programming, we parents have developed a primal tool of dealing with our own adversity and deflecting fault . . . blame someone else! We blame our country’s world image on Washington, our economy’s performance on our foreign neighbors’ offering cheap labor, the change in weather on manufacturer’s output, the financial crisis on Wall Street, and the stall in our education’s progress on teachers. And because the solutions to these issues are so polarized, and those in charge, so paralyzed, we engage in futile debate, and conclude there is nothing we can do or contribute to a solution. A little lazy, don’t you think?
Each parent can be part of a solution by participating in our own families. It is there we can each make a significant contribution toward the future health of our children, our families, and our nation. Parenting was not intended to provide a hobby for self-gratification. Mom and Dad are not supposed to become helicopter pilots to hover over and participate in every insertion and extraction adversity brings to our children. Not every child needs a participation trophy and a forum to cry when times are tough. An eagle pushes the eaglet out of the nest, plummeting toward the rocks below, to teach it the necessity of flight. In contrast, we parents cower to the will of our kids’ demands to have the nest retrofitted with air conditioning and a big screen. Are we independent and strong enough to suggest our children are guests in our home? Should we be preparing them for their departure from infancy? Children are not supposed to consume a parent’s entire life.
If you treat your child as your best friend, you are likely an incubator of entitlement in your child. We are their parents, not their pals. They need to be counseled that life is not easy. The journey can be laced with disappointment and struggle. Each child can find their passion and feel pride about themselves if they learn to work steadily at something and persevere. Stop over-coaching your children! Avoid giving them everything you ever wanted. Let them fall, hit the ground, scrape their knees, and get up. Failure is a wonderful tool for recognizing what hurts. It helps children recognize actions they don’t want to repeat, or conversely realize something they want so badly that they are willing to risk failing again to get it. Share your own failures and setbacks. Let your child discover his or her own passions. Not every child was meant to play professional soccer, be a concert pianist, or even be a college graduate. Remember, for everything you give your child you take something away. Consider what you are taking away when you give too much. Parents shouldn’t care what mountain their child is ascending; just that they learn to climb, fall, recover, and climb again.
Are you afraid you will lose your most coveted possessions? Guess what? They will return to you because you are familiar, your family values are similar, and you are a wealth of wisdom. They win when they recognize you sacrificed a part of your own life to teach them to manage and survive on their own. You win because you will strengthen your family, and restore a nation that your children can participate in, and be proud of.
The core of American tradition and the primary source of our nation’s strength is, and always has been, the family. It is a place where we parents can meaningfully contribute and make a difference. Let’s teach our children they can advance on their own, through struggle and adversity, by endeavor and tenacity to achieve their passions. Family is both a laboratory and a refuge. A place to falter, renew, and begin again. A place where Mom and Dad can encourage, “You can do it!” instead of, “We can do it for you.”
By Richard Watts, author of Entitlemania: How Not to Spoil Your Kids, And What to Do If You Have and Fables of Fortune: What Rich People Have That You Don’t Want