Childrearing

Are Parents Raising A Generation Of ‘Handicapped Royalty’?

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Run, don’t walk, to the nearest newsstand and pick up Lori Gottlieb‘s latest article in the Atlantic. “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods” is sure to enlighten, enrage or cheer you. The author was training to be a therapist and notes how everything she learned in graduate school was about how the problems of ever patient were related to a problem parent. But when she began seeing actual patients, she found something altogether different.

The young people who came into her office reported that they felt as if something was missing from their lives but had little to complain about with their parents. As they told her their stories, she realized she was raising her child in the same way that these kids had been raised. And if the end result was that they felt empty, confused and anxious, what’s the point? She theorizes that children aren’t suffering from a lack of parent attunement but parents who are far too attuned to every emotional need or desire of their children.

She looks at any number of different reasons for this problem, but a few in particular caught my eye. One is that we have changed the way we think about happiness both for our children and ourselves. It’s not enough to be happy. Now we must be happier. We used to be satisfied with general contentment but now desire to be happy at every moment in every way.

Somewhat counterintuitively, protecting our kids from unhappiness as children means we’re depriving them of happiness as adults.

I’ve most noticed this on the playground, where parents seem to pressure me if I don’t immediately tend to one of my children who has fallen. I’m of the mind that they need to learn that scrapes are tools for learning, not things to be avoided at all costs. Just last night my husband and I discussed when and where our children should wear helmets. I’m thinking it should happen around the time that they become downhill skiers.

But on the other hand, my heart just aches each and every time my children suffer. I admire my husband’s restraint in resisting coddling them. I want to improve that, too.

Psychiatrist after psychiatrist quoted in the article basically says that failure to let your children experience anything less than pleasant means that as adults, they will be unable to handle the normal frustrations of life.

Another interesting point is raised about parents being unable to accept average children. I recently talked about how one of my oldest daughter’s classmates is a remarkably talented artist and how this made me want my own daughter to work harder on drawing in the lines. But, I said to a friend, it’s okay if she’s not a good artist because she’s really good at other things. My friend gently corrected me by pointing out it would be okay if she weren’t really good at other things, too. That her value doesn’t come from being really good at things and my parenting should not confuse that. Amen!

One therapist says she used to dread telling parents that a child had a learning disability. Now, parents embrace any such explanation for why their children aren’t “average” — which they consider something of a death sentence for life.

Gottlieb also talks about having too many choices. This is one of the things that really bothers me about how many toys my children have. My in-laws are unbelievably generous when it comes to toys and clothing. The result, though, is that my children care far less about taking care of their toys than I did. The article explains some of the psychology around that and shows how children value things more when they have fewer choices.

A few of the lines that are worth noting:

The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.” Mogel puts it even more bluntly: what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.” …

Ours is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too approach, a desire for high achievement without the sacrifice and struggle that this kind of achievement often requires.

So what do you think? Is this article giving you ideas for how to improve your parenting or do you think Gottlieb is all wet?

2 Comments

  1. Christine

    June 15, 2011 at 11:23 am

    It’s absolutely correct. I’ve seen hundreds of kids and gotten to know their parents over the last 10+ years. Every year, more and more parents want their kids to BE THE BEST without struggle or hardship. Any time they do struggle, it’s the coach’s or teacher’s fault and they must be whisked away to another coach or teacher that will make them feel good all the time. When they run out of coaches or teachers to take their kid, they quit altogether and never learn commitment, success through struggle, and how to build a relationship with anyone – this includes mommy and sometimes daddy. Creating dependence in your child is not fostering a relationship – it’s creating a monster.

  2. barbara kelley

    June 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Lori Gottleib’s latest piece in the Atlantic provides a sensible wake-up call for uber-parents who do too much for their children, all in the interests of making them “happy” and protecting them from failure. In our new book, “Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That’s Right for you” we focus on the results of that kind of over-parenting on today’s women: analysis paralysis, second-guessing and grass-is greener syndrome. It’s a generational malise, this pervasive sense of dissatisfaction and overwhelm, the feeling that no matter what they choose in terms of their life path, it is never enough.
    Of course, it’s not just well-meaning parents that are to blame: It’s societal norms and workplace cultures, too, that have not yet caught up to the new reality that women now make up over half of the workplace. More here: http://undecidedthebook.wordpress.com/

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