Friday, August 10, 2012

On Spoiling Our Children

My girls never really went through the Terrible Twos. They were adorable, agreeable little kids. (No. Really!) It seems instead they saved it all up for the Non-cooperative Nines and the Temperamental Twelves. The result: I feel disrespected, unappreciated and, at times, entirely unwanted. Apparently, I'm not alone.

The internet (and even old-school print publications) are full of advice for parents of spoiled children, disrespectful children, demanding children. And from what I've read, unless there's a psychological disorder, chances are really good we, as parents, not our children are to blame. Anthropological studies of families from a variety of cultures show American children as a whole are the least respectful, most demanding, least helpful children on the planet. Sure, there are exceptions, but few, if any, compare with children from tribal nations where even the youngest members of the community are given responsibility for meaningful tasks early in life. This sense of importance carries on through childhood and into adulthood. The best article I've found on the topic is Elizabeth Kolbert's "Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost?" printed here in The New Yorker.

As I look at what I'm doing for my children, I see that it's true that they are spoiled. As am I. This past winter, we moved to a spacious home in the country - a fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me. (I also thought it was my children's dream, but have learned a few things since the move.) My husband works diligently, day in and day out to help make this dream come true. I'm working more to help pay for the added expenses of living on property formerly left largely unmaintained, and for the extras like ballet for one daughter, a climbing gym membership for the other, and in no small part the fuel to get in and out of town for these activities.

And what do our children do to earn these honors? They wake in the morning. They breathe. They ask and, when we can, we provide. Their chores are limited to personal hygiene. In return, I expect (but don't receive) unconditional cooperation when I ask for help around the house.  And while I've tried to instill a regular chore schedule with them, I've failed to be consistent with it because, I suppose, I'm just worn down. These sulky looks, these angry eyes, these long exasperating sighs and grunts - I let them all get to me at some point. And I'm the only "bad guy" in our house. I'm here all the time, so I'm the law. Doing projects with the law is no fun.

What would make this easier? Having only one child, for sure. It's difficult to ground one or punish one while also honoring the obligations of the other. Tomorrow, one girl is grounded but the other has a performance. I'm the only taxi driver. If one child is misbehaving and the other is golden, do we cancel our beach plans and punish the good child as well (and the beleaguered mother)? Again, the internet steps in to assure me I'm not alone here.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm going to return to our earlier days of shared responsibility in the kitchen and throughout the house. After the performance wraps up this weekend, no child will be signing up for extracurricular activities until we get priorities here at home straightened out. And I'm going to try to remember to keep my cool as they grunt and whine and carry on. It's for the good of us all.


  1. Hang in there, it does get better when they enter their 20's and even better in their 30's. Love to you all.

  2. I heard from a friend that when she asked her son to pick up his room. She first
    of all didn't stand and watch him to make sure he picked up his room. Because
    she said it instills in them that they will fail. Instead she walked out of the
    room. Later when she walked by his room, she noticed he hadn't picked up one
    thing. Not saying anything she continued with her chores. Her son came up to her
    and said I want to go to the park and play. She turned and said remember when I
    asked you to clean up your room. Then she turned and continued on with her work.
    She walked by his room and he had started to pick up his things on the floor.
    From that time on he knew that if he wanted his mom to do something for him that
    he should do as she asks. She said you should only ask them once and then walk
    away. Do not allow them to argue. That's just one example of how she is dealing
    with her child.

  3. Ok- you need a phone call and instead of e-mail. Welcoming you to the world of frustrating Pre teens and cussing around kids- for you I hope my kids were honest to yours in the secret quiet conversations that I am sure followed- that we curse and cuss around and at them way more than I am proud of...but (our daughter) too has been driving us crazy that way too! Call me or email me that info so we can talk about it;)

  4. How soon we forget the past. LOL. Adorable, agreeable? I can remember more than one conversation we have had about how to handle children who don't appreciate you or ever seem to be able to do what they are asked. Robby calls it "selective remembering" when I do those things:)

  5. You got some interesting comments on this blog about spoiling your kids...I too have seen this trend in those kids just above mine and have been dreading the coming season. But, then I realized worrying about it or hoping E will be different isn’t going to change anything. So, I found 3 other moms with same aged girls (and incidentally all have younger brothers N likes too) and we are starting a discipleship program called Bright Lights. We’re going to meet twice a month and alternate leading and teaching the girls what it means to be responsible young women. The program is Bible based, and covers areas of character, like contentment, honoring your parents, arguing, disrespect, complaining, gratefulness, diligence, encouraging others, etc. E is excited about it and the plan is to do this for the next 4 years and then have a “coming out” party when they’re 13-14. I think it will help me to be intentional with these years in giving her more responsibility and training her while she still listens and desires my input, knowing that she will eventually be influenced more by others than us. But, also to have like-minded other moms and girls who will hopefully reinforce the positive character traits that we want to see in her. Just starting this fall, so don’t know how it will go, but I just realized I needed to be intentional about these years and make the most of them and expect her to rise to the occasion and not just worry that she’ll just “be that way cuz she’s a teenager”. I heard a talk on parenting that said teens will either evaluate their friends based on their parents’ values or evaluate their parents based on their friends’ values. We don’t have to anticipate status quo teenager-ness based on what psychologists say. And so I’m hoping to build into her the character tools she’ll need to be able to be her own woman and not go with the flow.

    Another blog also stated when you most feel like screaming, hold the child close (and keep your mouth shut). Do the opposite of your inclinations and hug them. It does help me. I wouldn’t follow the advice of one of the comments and cuss at your kids...but, anyway, I’m not trying to give advice, just share what we’re doing here.


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