Parenting Gone Mad: We Give Kids Everything and they Come Away with Nothing

A mind is a terrible thing to lose, but I think we are are on our way to lost here in Virginia.

I say this after watching a woman check out at the Container Store. She has hoisted her cart full of items up to be scanned for payment while her son and daughter contentedly amuse themselves with the small items on display nearby. Suddenly, as Mom is about to pay, there comes a small voice.

“Mom, can I get a spork?” Spork100612G_x

Mom pauses. Yes, she is entertaining the idea of purchasing a spork for her 10 year old daughter. Mind you, not just a plastic spork offered free at the hospital cafeteria or army issue with your mess kit. This is a Container Store spork. Heavy duty, plastic-coated, built to last.

“Are you gonna use it?” Mom asks Daughter who has now placed it by the register. “Because I am gonna pack it in your lunch everyday.”

“Yeah!” daughter says. Of course. Daughter knows how to work this situation. See it, ask, wait for the pause from Mom (or Dad), and seize the opportunity. No dummy, this girl. An able competitor, definitely a wily opponent.

Mom tosses it in the pile of purchases and it is rung up without a second thought. Then there is a small whine from the distance. “I want a spork!” Son says.

“Too late,” Mom says quickly and in the direction of the cashier. Too late because she has already swiped her card. Mom exchanges a smile with the woman now scanning the spork to let her know that she is not an unfair mom; she is just teaching her son he must be more prompt with his requests if he expects to get his way.

Resources are a terrible thing to misuse. And by this I am not referring to the money. This woman obviously has plenty of discretionary income and she is happy to be generous. The resource she is misusing is her children; she is teaching them that they should get whatever they ask for in a quick and emphatic way. Which means they’ll keep asking and keep expecting until someone tells them no.

When that happens, they’ll have no resources to deal with the disappointment. They’ll argue, sulk or turn to mom and dad. These are their go-to’s, because they haven’t learned they have themselves to go to.

These are the minds and hearts and souls we are losing in Northern Virginia. I know this mother  means well. She loves her children and is doing the best she knows how. But I’m not sure she is aware of the consequences ahead:

  • We buy for our children because we can.
  • We do what they ask to keep them happy.
  • We don’t hold the line in order to avoid disagreement or hard feelings.
  • We sign them up for lots of stuff to give them more opportunities.
  • We “advocate” for our children if things get tough.

Then we sit back and wait for the thanks that doesn’t come.

After all I’ve done for them, can’t they show a little gratitude? we lament. And then we do a bit more because surely then, when they finally succeed, when they rise above the other children and are recognized for their talents and abilities, they’ll be happy. That’s all we ever wanted was for them to be happy.

But happy is fleeting. It is circumstantial. It is out of their control. The world does not hand over happy. We would do well to start with content. And to start with ourselves. If we can deny ourselves, we can happily deny our children the small, unnecessary things that satisfy, at best, only briefly.

Plenty of places I travel people tell me that “kids these days” are … (fill in the blank with your negative character trait of choice). I travel mostly among kids on the athletic fields, the place we used to call places to play. I see and hear these kids, and I get to know them quite well, but instances like this one I observed at the Container Store remind me that who kids are becoming is not their fault. We, as parents, coaches, families, communities and as a society, are responsible. We need to take back our kids.

We can start from scratch with … Sometimes it’s hard, and even hard work often doesn’t have an immediate pay off.  It may not pay off at all. That’s difficult for them to manage, but if they do, they have earned themselves a real life resource.

I’m betting that spork ends up in the back of a kitchen drawer. That two dollars and ninety nine cents down the drain is not expensive until you consider the $2.99 lesson it could have been. Priceless.

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