A day off work waiting at home for a delivery is not without its dangers. First, there is the guilt over sending the kids to nursery whilst you put your feet up and enjoy visiting the toilet in peace. Secondly, stuck inside and craving interaction with the outside world, your usual defence mechanisms are weakened and this can lead to you answering the door in a reckless fashion. Cue people of a certain denomination ‘spreading the word’. Cue a parenting blog post. Yes, really. Inspiration moves in the most mysterious ways.
I don’t believe in God myself but I do make time to listen on the doorstep. I will inevitably shut the door clutching a selection of leaflets and, because I feel guilty at having taken leaflets that could have gone to someone more likely to be converted, I do try to at least flick through them. (Thus, I expect, earning myself brownie points should there turn out to be a god.) Amongst the latest batch of leaflets, little did I expect to find a whole pamphlet on parenting. Whilst it didn’t leave me questioning my lack of faith, it did leave me questioning my parenting skills.
The feature article was entitled ‘Raising Considerate Children in a Me-First World’ – “If you are a parent, how can you help your children to reap the benefits of being kind and to avoid being contaminated by the self-absorbed culture that surrounds them?” I was transported back to Christmas Day and an image of my 4-year-old surrounded by piles of toys and wrapping paper. She asked “Are there any more presents?” whilst I sat thinking about how lucky my children are and wishing she could find contentment and happiness in a lump of coal. Everyone wants their children to be happy but how can you ensure this without the negative consequences of them believing that they are at the centre of the universe?
The article outlined 3 “traps” that can create inconsiderate, self-centred children:
“Do not dole out praise just to make your children feel good about themselves” – a slapped wrist for parents who “have been unduly influenced by the self-esteem movement”. Of course, you shouldn’t praise your child for everything and bad behaviour should be addressed in an appropriate way. If my 4-year-old threw a plate of spaghetti at the wall I certainly wouldn’t praise her for the wonderful mural she had created. However, as someone with low self-esteem who is terrified of passing on my own neuroses to my children, please do excuse me if I choose to lavish praise on them to make them feel good about themselves, however small the achievement. A lack of self-confidence has the tendency to saddle you for life. That self-doubt (whether it be a drop or an ocean) can permeate everything you do and hold you back rather than propel you forward. I would much rather my children approached everything believing they can do it well, rather than wondering whether they will do it well enough.
“Whilst it is natural to want to protect your children, overprotecting them can send the wrong message – that they do not need to take responsibility for their actions.” In my opinion, there is a difference between protecting them against the consequences of their own actions and protecting them against adversity in the world around them. My children are both under 5 and are firmly wrapped up in the cotton wool I have spun just for them. Every day in the car I have to switch the radio off when a news bulletin comes on describing death and destruction in the world. Yet my 4-year-old still picks up odd words and asks questions – as much as I can sensitively bat away those questions, I know that little snippets will be sticking in her mind and sowing seeds of worry. She is not old enough yet not to be overprotected from the world around her. As for my children’s own actions, no, I won’t completely ignore it if, for example, they fail a test. However what I will do is ensure they understand how they can do things differently in future. I hope I can give them the confidence to accept responsibility and move forward, learning on the way.
“In a survey of young adults, 81 per cent said that the most important goal of their generation is ‘to become rich’ – rating it far above helping others.” This is about stuff. Stuff and money. Stuff and money and things. It is also where I hold my hands up and look shiftily at the floor. I acknowledge that I am guilty of buying my children things as treats to make them happy and – okay, okay, I admit it – things that they ask for. I also acknowledge that I’m not doing a good job of trying to instill in them a sense of the value of things or that treats sometimes have to be earned. Am I creating monsters? If I am watching a full-on tantrum in a toy shop then I would say ‘yes’, I am. If I am watching my oldest sellotape tissues to a toilet roll and use it as a sword to attack her brother then I would say, most definitely, ‘no’. Like all children, they take pleasure in the most modest and unexpected of things and, thankfully, are not complete slaves to the best that money can buy.
The emergence of a generation of self-centred individuals seems to be weighing heavily on society’s conscious. The policy in China of only one child per couple has, it is commonly believed, created children who, being used to being the sole focus, have grown up selfish and prone to neglect their parents. Indeed, China has recently introduced a law to force children to visit their elderly parents. In the last few days, research in the US has suggested that high-self esteem in students can actually lead to less successful lives. (Of course, the definition of success is debatable – if my kids end up scraping gum off the pavement for a living but are happy, healthy and contented then I would consider that a success.) My own recent experience in a very rich foreign country (which shall remain unnamed) and the proliferation of kids there with an enormous sense of entitlement and a complete lack of manners left me very conscious of the little people I am bringing into the world. Reminders of my duty as a parent to help my children become considerate members of society appear where I least expect them – and for that reason my door will always be open.