In a recent article in UK Psychologies magazine (March 2012), Esther Addley discusses the increasingly common phenomenon whereby parents indulge their child’s every wish to the point where they actually cause great inconvenience to themselves and others. She recognises that it is natural for parents to want to give their children the best possible start in life and that there is nothing wrong in that. However, problems arise when they go too far, catering for their child’s every whim, and this is leading to a generation that has never learnt to cope with anxiety and disappointment and are consequently ill-equipped to handle the frustrations of adult life. It is not only the children who suffer. Parents who have put their lives on hold, neglecting their own relationships and interests whilst worshipping their child emperor, find that once the child no longer needs them, their lives are empty, they struggle to remember what they had in common with their partners, and are left with nothing but a dark hole.
I agree with the message in this article. I’ve seen countless incidents of children running wild and out of control in restaurants, shops, banks, waiting rooms and other public places, not to mention trashing the family home, disturbing and disrupting fellow diners, customers, whoever happens to be around, whilst their parents smile indulgently and boast that Little Johnny can’t sit still for more than ten minutes. Well, of course he can’t…if he’s never been taught how or made to.
From highchair age, I expected my children to be able to sit at the table for one to one-and-a-half hours whilst we had a meal. They did, they learnt how to. But equally, I didn’t expect that they would sit there long into the afternoon while I lingered over wine and coffee, neither would I let them get down and run around other tables making a nuisance of themselves. It was a compromise on both sides: they behave while we ate and then we would all go to the beach, park or some other place where they could let off steam. It worked for all situations: supermarkets, flights, hairdressers, dentists. I could take them anywhere without fear of misbehaviour.
Speaking of flights, I’ve recently noticed an increase in rowdy toddlers on planes, where they are allowed to run up and down the aisle, disturbing passengers, getting in the way of cabin crew trying to perform their duties in a cramped space, and generally putting the health and safety of everyone at risk. I even witnessed an incident of a mother refusing to strap her child into its seat for take-off because he didn’t want his seat belt on. This was despite being advised that it was for his safety and that departure could not take place until everyone was secure. There’s some uncomfortably sinister about a situation where a mother would rather risk her child’s safety than risk upsetting him.
I remember when my daughter was around three years old. She wanted to have friends to play and I agreed but on the proviso that she would put all the toys away afterwards. She agreed, the friends came, and went. I told her it was time to tidy up. She refused, I insisted, she cried, I insisted, she screamed, I insisted, despite the fact that it would be quicker for me to give in, end the tantrum, and put away the toys myself. It was part of the deal. Eventually she put them away, her body heaving with sobs. Much to my amazement, a mother, who had stayed behind, accused me of being mean. Why? Children need to learn that actions have consequences. It is one of the fundamental facts of life. We can have good times but it ain’t all a bed of roses.
Not long ago, a friend of mine commented on what a good relationship I had with my daughter, that we were like best friends. I pointed out that although we did have a good relationship, we were not best friends, we were mother and daughter. I was the adult and my decision was final. That sounds arrogant and bossy but it’s not like that. I’m always happy to sit down and discuss things, listen to her point of view and compromise, often changing my mind completely in the light of her argument, and we are both the better for this. She knows that freedom and trust can be earned by following a few simple rules (respect yourself, respect other people, and respect property), and I know that when she’s out in the world – and last year that meant going to Turkey aged 17 with a group of friends – I can relax and trust her to do the right thing. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.
Of course, it hasn’t all been easy and idyllic. We’ve had our moments of screaming and crying – on both sides. However, we’re making it through the teenage years without (touch wood) any problems. My eldest daughter is 18 now and I have to remember that although she’s still my daughter, she is also an adult, who needs to make her own way in the world and learn from her successes and failure. Hopefully, by not caving in to her every desire, I have taught her how to copes with the frustrations and disappointments that life will inevitably throw at her. And I am now in a position to proceed at full steam with the little projects and interests that I have kept bubbling away through the years.