A journalist recently asked me what, in my opinion, is the single biggest mistake being made by today’s parents. I was tempted to say, “Having children,” but I stopped myself because even if I’d followed up with “Just kidding!” my bon mot would have gone into print.
But on with the show: I don’t know how one would determine “biggest” in a list of common parenting mistakes, but the one that causes the most problems for all concerned is the present proclivity for two parents to occupy the roles of mom and dad so that the roles of husband and wife become akin to the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland—that is, mostly invisible. It is an undeniable fact that in a two-parent family, nothing puts a more solid foundation of security and well-being under a child’s feet than knowing that mom and dad are in an enduring relationship.
Along those lines, another big mistake is paying children entirely too much attention, effectively promoting them to center stage in the family and making idols out of them. Children don’t handle idol-hood well at all. Let’s face it: neither do adults. Children thrive best under libertarian circumstances, meaning they are managed minimally (allowing lots of trial and error) while being held completely responsible for the mistakes they will invariably make.
In my experience, 10 out of 10 children who seem “starved” for attention are not starved at all. Quite the contrary, they have for quite some time been the recipients of entirely too much attention. They have become attention addicts, a synonym of which is obnoxious. It is entirely unfair to burden a child with obnoxiousness. If I were the Secretary of Parenting, I would grant licenses only to moms and dads who pledge to love their children unconditionally but give them less than 15 minutes of one-on-one attention a day (excluding during infancy and early toddlerhood, which are unavoidably labor-intensive).
Today’s parents tend to ascribe significance to every emotional output of their children. As a consequence of talking to their children about every emotion they experience, they risk causing their children to become emotionally driven individuals who have little if any emotional resilience.
My mother was fond of telling me that I was making mountains out of molehills; that there were children in the world who truly had problems—“real problems,” she would say, such as not having enough to eat. She wasn’t about to lend credence to a complaint about not being given my turn in a game, called a name, or some such trivia. For that (among many other things), my mother receives my enduring gratitude.
Let’s see, I have room for two, maybe three more comments. Ah, yes! How about the habit today’s parents have of assuming a servile squat when they talk to young children? You know, that absolutely absurd “getting down to their level” thing as if they are bowing to royalty. And then, to add the ludicrous to the absurd, finishing what they believe to be instruction with “OK?” As if what they just said isn’t OK.
Last one: trying to discipline a child who has misbehaved without causing the child emotional discomfort (guilt and remorse) and inconvenience. That attempt simply annuls the attempt to discipline, which goes a long way toward explaining why so many of today’s parents complain that nothing they do by way of “discipline” works.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.