Last night, I watched one of my all time favorites, Jimmy Fallon as he delivered the second installment of the Tonight Show. Jerry Seinfeld was a guest, who I also enjoy. He delivered a seriously funny bit about the fact that these days, as parents, we are just a little too into it. He said that when he was a kid his “parents didn’t even know my name”. Then went on to discuss the amount of effort that goes into his kids getting to bed, comparing it to a “Royal Jubilee Coronation Centennial”. The audience and Jimmy were in stitches, and rightfully so. It was hilarious. What makes his comedy so funny, however, is how very true it rings for so many of us, myself included.
I started to wrestle with the question: Are we doing too much for our kids? Are we all a little too into it? If memory serves me correctly, I remember my mom or dad tucking me into bed and giving me a kiss goodnight, often after saying a few prayers. When we sat down to eat dinner, there was no other option than what was on the table. When I walked into the house from school, each of us had a snack ready for us on the kitchen table. There was no rooting through the fridge or pantry, with each kid choosing whatever they wanted. In fact, there was not even a pantry! In school, if there was a class we were having trouble with, we got a tutor. If there was a teacher we didn’t like, we knew we were stuck with that teacher at least for the year.
Through my 12 years as a parent and 16 years as a social worker, I have listened to and read about so many parents who make multiple meals for varying family members because “otherwise he won’t eat”. Moms who can’t socialize until after they get their children to bed, because “otherwise she won’t fall asleep”. Parents who switch their daughter’s schools because she “doesn’t like it”. Now, I am not saying it is wrong to do these things. Every family has different needs and systems that work for them. I am, however, wondering if we aren’t as parents a bit too involved and a bit too accommodating?
In my constant anxiety about how my children are going to do in the real world, I read about the generation now coming out of college and beginning to enter the workforce. If they are able to get a job, I hear a general widespread complaint that these kids are entitled, self-righteous, and expecting to move immediately into upper level positions right without earning their time in the trenches of the companies they for which they want to work. I am terrified that my children will be just that way.
I am not suggesting that we become suddenly uninvolved in our children’s lives, stop putting them to bed with a routine, never make them their favorite meal, or ask them to suck it up when they complain about a teacher or a situation. I do believe that there is, as with all things, a balance that families can work to create. When the excessive neediness of the kids dominates the functionality of the home, it is too much. I, for example, would like to announce that I am going to book club without my son collapsing to the ground in frustration that I won’t be around to lie down with him before bed. While that reaction never stops me from going, I do admittedly, find myself negotiating an earlier bedtime with him so I would be around to put him to bed. As I read that, I think about how crazy that sounds. I spend pretty much the bulk of my time thinking about how to best meet the needs of my family. What is so wrong about not being there one night a month so I can enjoy book club? Nothing.
At times I think our desire for our children to be happy equates to constantly striving for a life in which our children are never sad. That, my friends, is impossible. You cannot fully experience happiness or success without having also experienced the pain of sadness or challenges. It’s not going to kill them to be unhappy, or angry, sad, or experience frustration. It is not our job to save or shield our children from everything that is uncomfortable or unpleasant in their lives. It is our responsibility to teach them how to handle adversity, learn to roll with the punches, and know that they are in control of their feelings and how they choose to respond to any situation. And that, can make all the difference.