I just finished speaking at a school, where I did an event for students, faculty, parents and community leaders. It was refreshing to talk to such engaging audiences, both adults and kids. After my parent workshop, one mom approached me with a comment that stopped me in my tracks. She said, "Don't you think part of our problem today in America is that parenting has become a religion?"
Wow. Her remark made me pause to think.
I think I agree. Let me tell you why. We've all seen the signs of this emerging "religion" over the last thirty years:
- "Baby On Board" signs on the back of the mini-van.
- "My Kid is a Super Kid at "ABC" Elementary School" bumper stickers.
- Trophies and ribbons are given away just for playing on a team.
- Blockbuster movies where kids are not only the stars... but also the heroes.
- Entire restaurants and TV networks devoted solely to children.
- Television programs all about parenthood as the primary theme.
- Parents acting like "agents" at school plays or little league games.
Yep. Kids are front and center in our minds. Anything less is politically incorrect. Children have actually become the new "scorecard" for our success as adults, and now parenthood is acting like a religion.
Why and how I think it began
I remember watching early Baby Boomers surrender to narcissism. In the 1960s, young adults gave in to a pursuit of finding themselves through carefree living, drugs and rock and roll. Millions of them grew to regret it and returned to more traditional lifestyles of marriage and family. They began raising children with the mantra: "Do as I say, don't do as I did." They determined to do a 180-degree turnaround.
Afterward came Generation X, who also watched the self-absorbed early life of the Boomers and decided that as they raise kids, they'd do the opposite. They would focus on raising children who are happy, who have high self-esteem, and who are safe within their nurturing arms. Having been the children of those early Boomers, they reacted by focusing on being good parents. Children became the obsession of adults, and most of us unwittingly joined the religion.
If you know me, you know I absolutely love kids -- that's why I work with them. So I feel a need to call out this elephant in the room:
Making kids the center of attention is not healthy for them or you.
No doubt, there are benefits to making parenthood a "religion." It reminds us of our priorities -- children need us to invest our time developing them. At the same time, there are vivid pitfalls as well:
Adults who don't feel free to honestly express their feelings about kids are less likely to resolve problems with their kids at home.
- Kids who are raised to believe they are the center of the world have a tough time entering adulthood, where that special status evaporates.
- Couples who live child-centric lives often lose touch with each other and tend to have nothing in common as kids leave home. (No wonder kids return.)
- Young people don't have the maturity to handle the weight of their parents' happiness rising and falling with their performance.
May I tell you what I see this "religion" doing to the fabric of our lives?
- It's hindering relationships between teachers and parents.
- It's ruining marriages, where children step in between spouses.
- It's hindering neighborhood sports programs, dividing parents over kids.
- It's negatively impacting employers who can't find career-ready grads.
Call me a heretic, but I think it actually helps (rather than hinders) a child's emotional security to see their parents prioritize their love for each other, as husband and wife. In this safe haven where they see this modeled, they become secure and don't feel the need to be the source of everyone's happiness. Children take their proper role as part of the family... not the "star" of the family.