Traveling the world and living abroad gives you some perspective on yourself in the context of community. The American culture, its very fabric, is woven with a strong value for individualism. It’s about winning and personal achievement not the greater good and the best for the future of society. That’s great for economies and making money but what does that do for our communities? When we put ourselves before the good of others, what does that do to our sense of compassion and gratitude? When we see ourselves greater and more important than everyone around us, we lose site of the fact that “We’re all in this together.” I put that in quotes because it comes from Conscious Discipline, a methodology I took a class on and subscribe to when it comes to raising my child. Unfortunately, I am not practicing it to its full extent. But when I do, I see my child blossoming and our family growing closer together. A strong idea behind it is that when we teach children the power of compassion and community, we will raise strong and confident children who can change the world. There is a big debate between parents about whether parents should take more time for themselves or judging one another for not putting in enough time with their children.
Here’s my proposition: Let’s all just stop putting our kids first. Yes, you read that right. There is a fine balance between creating emotionally secure kids and creating entitled kids. Chances are if you are putting your kids and their needs before the needs of others, including yourself, you are doing the latter. Are your kid’s events or routine daily needs more important than someone who is sick, tired, and in need of help? Is taking your child on a trip or to an event more important than you tending to an important family matter? Is it more important to do things for your children that they can do themselves despite the fact that it leaves you drained and without time for yourself or others?
As an attachment parent you would think this line of thinking counterintuitive. Most attachment parents take pride in putting their kids first, in understanding that parenting is sacrifice, and investing in them so they grow to be better people. Most of us advocate for parenting that is more attached, more connected, and with more focus on the kids instead of selfish pursuits. We ask other parents to pay attention to their kids, to put the phone or tablet down for more face time, and to be more present in their kids’ lives. If you are an attachment parent, and just in case you think we disagree, hear me out for a sec.
Mavi asks: Is your attachment parenting getting a bit out of hand? Are you raising someone others will like to be around? Are your children grateful for what you do and what they have? Do your children have a sense of community? Do they help you out? Let me put it more bluntly. Are they shaping up to be little narcissists? A recent study showed that when we praise our kids too much for any and every little menial action, we are actually creating little narcissists. I must admit, before I ever took my Conscious Discipline class I never realized that too much of a positive thing can also be too much. I was so bombarded with equal parts criticism and excessive compliments as a child, I don’t think I knew if I was amazing or a total failure; all or nothing. I am learning (the hard way) that this balance is difficult to achieve. We bring so much into parenting from our old wounds that it’s really hard to look at ourselves objectively. But let’s try for a moment, shall we? The most important question we could ask right now is…
What path do you want your child to take? What kind of child do I want to raise? Most people just want their children to be happy and healthy. But how can we raise happy children if they are incapable of practicing gratitude? According to many faiths, ideologies, and even some scientific research, to be happy all we need is a sense of gratitude for what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t. Basically that “pursuit of happiness” thing was a bunch of crap. It’s not about having the best of everything, like our parents thought, or putting dirt on a wound like our grandparents did. There must be a fine balance and a strong focus on mindfulness. When a child asks for something, and it is quickly given, the child learns that addicting concept of instant gratification. They get it and they are on to the next, and the next. And so it goes on forever. I believe that when children’s needs are placed above all else, they learn to have an unwavering sense of entitlement. They learn that the parent (and the world) will put their wants before anyone else’s. That this is what they deserve and when they don’t get it they will be unhappy. If you teach them that they are here to be served and coddled, how will they understand that their needs sometimes need to be put aside to help others, to support family, and to do the right thing? How will they ever learn to take a moment and be grateful for what they have when something newer and shinier is just around the corner? While in Europe I was able to avoid this really well. But once I arrived at the land of dollar stores and goodies, it was downhill from there. He went from loving this ONE toy to getting bored quickly with what he has and throwing tantrums EVERY visit to the store!
Oh no, no, no. This ends right here, right now. It was my undoing, so let’s undo it!
Mavi says: Stop living outside your means for them. What kind of personal finance lesson are we teaching them when we buy them things on credit that we can’t afford or when we constantly buy things they REALLY don’t need? We can justify the choice every time too: “I do it because I love them,” “It’s a one-time deal,” “I never had anyone go out of their way for me when I was a kid.” Whatever your excuse, living outside your means just to please them gives them a fake, fabricated sense of reality. Your children can’t live better than you can afford; it’s that simple! Buy what they need and get them a treat on their birthdays and year-end holidays. And for pete’s sake, let’s all just stop buying things from China that will break tomorrow! Try giving them time and experiences instead of crap that will end up in a landfill. Teach them to care for what they have and to be thankful. Find ways to repurpose what you already have instead going out to buy new things every time.
“Happy parents make happy children.”
Find Time for You: So often parents forget to set limits, to take out time to do things we enjoy, or to simply do NOTHING. What a concept, right? I have a very busy village so I have very little support when it comes to childcare. My husband and I have raised our son with very little babysitting opportunities. No matter what, there is a way to set out some time for yourself, your interests, and your partner. It will require some reflexion and some creative planning, but if you arrange your schedule adequately you can accomplish whatever you put your mind to. For me it was building a business that could give me the freedom to travel and would allow my husband to take some time off of work to enjoy both time with our child and the perks of living in Italy for a few years. It was reconnecting with my music and pursuing other interests that didn’t involve family. It was hard; I had to make some tough choices to ensure he was cared for but I found a way to be the mom I wanted to be, giving my son adventures, education, and culture while building the business that would allow us three glorious years abroad. Helping others build their dream is my dream and I was able to live it because I found a way to do that while being a present parent. It is still a struggle; I still have to remind myself to set limits and say no. But it’s important to make choices that will keep you motivated and happy. Happy parents make happy children. Now hold on there a second though, don’t take this point too far. I am an attachment parent and I do think that just like children shouldn’t be put ahead of EVERYONE at EVERY moment, the same goes for the parent. If all you do is what makes you happy to the detriment of your child’s welfare or emotional stability, then just stop reading here. This blog is not for you. You probably don’t even know I am talking about you anyway, so moving on…
Teach Them to Help Others: If your child never experiences charity and the impact their positive action can have in a changing the world, they will grow in a bubble of selfishness unable to feel compassion for those around them. If you recognize the needs of others before their petty preferences when appropriate, it will teach them to adequately prioritize. It’s important to teach children that everyone is equally important, but those whose circumstance is most dire comes first. It’s important to prioritize based on need not based on who we are. Instead of taking them to the mall, take them to help a neighbor, friend, or family member. Make sure they do chores around the house before they get to have time with friends or do activities they enjoy. Help them find pleasure in being a family, in doing things around the house, and volunteering outside the home. Few people in the world can avoid the demands of the home and community. If they help you, even when they are really little, they will learn skills they will need in life but it will also help you get things done around the house so you can quickly get back to enjoying them. If you take on everything on your own, not only are you crippling them by giving them no tools for the future but you are also creating a stressful situation for yourself; you will always be exhausted and running on fumes. It’s not about telling your kid that they are not important and it’s not about neglecting them to be there for everyone else — it’s about balance. Remember, this is about parents who put their kids before anything ALL the time, not about parents who are trying to do their job.
Stop doing everything for them. If you do EVERYTHING for them they will never see anything beyond themselves yet with lack of introspection. They will also never learn how to fend for themselves or learn basic skills of life they will need when they are on their own. What’s most concerning is that they may just end up bitter against you for it. You may say “I just want them to look back and say ‘look what dad did for me, he really loves me.'” Get serious, they’ll look back and hate the fact that you never prepared them for life, they will hate that you crippled them mentally and gave them no tools to live. Fact of life: your kids will have to live with other people at one point, roommates, spouses or friends. Fact of life: your kids will have to eat and clean after themselves. Fact of life: your kids will have to get up off the couch and take care of their personal affairs including their finances. Fact of life: few of the people reading this have kids with large trusts that will allow them to pay for maids, chefs, and chauffeurs for life. Are you preparing them for any of this or are you just waiting for that to hit them on the head like a frying pan? Is any of this stuff that you are doing for them really showing the love and support or are you just doing it to gain their affection? Get to teaching them and giving them responsibilities. It will not only prepare them for life but it will give them a great sense of self worth. Feeling useful is an important gift.
What about compassion? The truth is that your kid will not see past their nose if they have lived their whole life in a fabricated bubble where they are princes and princesses of their little kingdom. Sorry, that’s just how it is. We all look at your kid and wonder, will they ever wipe their own butt? And sometimes we think this quite literally. You are not their servant, you are not there to make them like you. In a healthy family, everyone respects each other and they support each other because there is a balance of responsibility. Conscious Discipline often uses the term “helpful” to reinforce positive behavior in children. A functional family is built on cooperation. If any one person is over exerted and another is being run dry, odds are the relationship is NOT healthy. What does this have to do with compassion? Well, if your child sees you working yourself beyond your limits, living outside your means, and doing more than you should, they will come to think that it’s normal to place that kind of pressure on the people in their lives. They may even begin to believe that their happiness depends on it! What do you think that will do when they take that mentality out into to the world, the workplace or their marriage? Callus, selfish children perhaps?
It’s about balance. And it’s about justice. When a child is one it’s appropriate to feed them, clean them and answer to their every need. If you’re still doing that at ten what skills have their learned? What steps forward have they taken in their development? Another thing I learned from Conscious Discipline is that permissiveness is more toxic than some harsh parenting techniques. If your parenting style is so excessively tilted to the pleasure of your child, your credibility with them suffers. They learn to distrust your ability to prepare them for life, to keep them safe, and to stick to what you say. When you say “I love you” or “You are special and amazing,” they won’t believe it no matter how often you repeat it because your words carry no weight anymore. It’s important to be in tune with your child’s emotions, to be compassionate of what they are feeling. But it’s not healthy to shape your parenting style to simply get them to love you. Your job sounds as simple as it is difficult to actually do. All you need to do is prepare them for the future and keep them safe. The rest is just baggage from your personal past. Can you imagine the pressure and stress these kids will feel when they have to face reality? Don’t do that to them!!! Lets not forget that we are not just parents we are children, spouses, employees, members of society and individuals too.
I often say that children were not asked to be brought into the world. The choice of bringing them here was ours; a selfish choice. So they deserve our very best. But let’s not confuse our very best with too much. There is such a thing.
A friend of mine recently told me I tend to be preachy when I write. Well, yeah that’s kind of true. So here’s the disclaimer that I’ll add to every post from now on: This is called “Mavi Says.” It is simply a compilation of opinions and feelings I get from living the life I live. This is therapy for me. This is the place I write to preach to myself first in hopes others will also learn from my trips and falls in life. I am far from perfect and so are you. I just share what wisdom I pick up along the way and hope you share and discuss too. I will change my mind as I grow older, as I see new far away places, and meet new people. My passion and zest when I express my opinions are a big part of what makes me, me. The only thing that will remain true is that this is simply what Mavi Says, nothing more, nothing less.