Last weekend, my family and I attended a dinner party hosted by a friend. Her in-laws were visiting from India. After introductions, I made small talk with the father-in-law. He watched me while I made a dinner plate for my daughter. I asked her whether she wanted macaroni or pasta and tomato sauce or a cheese sandwich. As I did this, he said with a matter of fact voice, “Parents are so focused on running around their kids. In India, it wasn’t like this. The kids get what they get.”
I looked up at him not knowing what to say or what explanation to offer him. Part of me believes he just wanted to say it to someone; he wasn’t really looking for a discussion on the matter. I started having a conversation in my head about the validity of his statement.
He is right. There are days when I consider what I do for my daughter and I wonder whether I am setting her up for future failure. She has so many choices. At dinner time, she prefers Indian food, so the nights when we are eating enchiladas or pizza, I make certain that I have Indian food as a back up, just in case she doesn’t prefer the American cuisine. During the summer time, she has a choice of playdates, from going to Dave and Busters for bowling or a craft party playdate at a friend’s house. We live in an insulated environment where birthday and pool parties equipped with goodie bags and sweet treats are the norm.
My husband and I certainly do not remember having a plethora of choices during our childhood. If I did not eat what was on my plate, I was sent to bed. During the summer time, my husband does not remember playdates, but rather his father sending him to read the encyclopedia in the library. And we both did what we were told because questioning are parents wasn’t an option.
In contrast, within reason, we attempt to fulfill our daughter’s expectations. And these are options that my husband and I provide for her. Even though we recognize the pitfalls of this approach,we continue to be active participants. In our defense, there is certainly a tug to want to provide the best for her. But at what cost?
What if, when she gets older, she doesn’t have choices? Will she adjust? Or will she resent us for setting her up with so many options? Obviously I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I am acutely aware of what we do for my daughter and the possible repercussions it may have. Perhaps I was meant to have that exchange with the father-in-law to teach me that I am running too much, driven by her choices. I need to slow down and teach my daughter that sometimes what is in front of you is enough. She knows it too because she repeats what she has learned in school, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” My husband and I have the power to still teach her that philosophy.
We must just make that choice.
Do you feel you do too much for your children? If so, do you think it sets them up for future failure?
Rudri—were you inside my head this weekend? I’ve been thinking about this so much lately. I’ve decided I do way too much. I’m working on it.
Tiffany: I think we all do this from time to time. It is definitely hard to strike a balance, but as long we strive to work on it that is all we can expect.
This is an important topic, Rudri. And so current. Something all parents need to think about, for sure. My struggle always seems to be deciding what options I will take: the easy way, which will make my kids happier, or the right way, which will make them grumpy but most likely prepare them better for the world. It kind of goes along with “pick your battles,” I suppose.
I love how you launched into this with the story about the dinner plate.
Thanks Sarah. I do agree there is some element of picking my battles integrated into my approach. Part of me just hopes that she remembers the lessons that I try to teach her even when I give in.
I’ve thought about this a lot as well. I think giving your kids some choices in general is not a bad thing. I try to give mine some simple choices and give them a chance to think and decide for themselves. That said, I don’t go out of my way to cater to each and every whim and fancy of theirs.
I don’t think any of our kids would be “set up for failure” by caring too deeply for them. They will be just fine.
You raise an important point. It is knowing when to say no to some of their demands. With that said, sometimes the parents need to decide when they should stop facilitating some of those choices. Clearly it is a circular problem.
The telling time is usually college orientation where you see what the staff calls “helicopter parents” hovering over their children…it is then the parents not the children worrying that every need will not be taken care of. Taking care of children, giving choices, and fostering responsibility is a creative balancing act…and we will never know the outcome until they grow up. Even after they grow up we will second guess the choices we made in raising them. We all must follow our hearts and pray a lot!
There is a certain amount of luck involved in this kid raising. You put all of this potential into your kids and not knowing the outcome until later is sometimes difficult to navigate.
Choices are important, and learning that when we choose one thing we don’t get something else is an important life lesson too.
I let my kids choose a lot too, but after watching my aunt cook three meals every dinner to accommodate her kids, I decided that when I cook, you get what I make. Or, for my five year old, she can get herself a slice of bread or an apple or a carrot. That doesn’t mean I don’t get full out tantrums about a less then favorite meal.
I think being a short order cook for your children is certainly dangerous. Teaching your children early on (even if it is regarding meals) that you can’t always get what you want is an important lesson for them to learn to function in the real world.
I struggle with this, too, because I believe in choice yet I also know the luxury of it. I think this is part of the parental mixed bag; the trials and errors. Thankfully, we have a lifetime to explore not only the pros and cons, but also the experience regardless of whether something is good or bad.
I think the hardest part is teaching our children that choice is indeed a luxury. My hope is that I continue to educate my daughter regarding choices through education, reading and travel.
I believe in choices. I don’t think that we are setting up our children to fail or to be disappointed. I believe it will enrich their lives. My older son had choices growing up, yet he is one of the most humble people that I know. He is always looking to lend a hand and he adapts to any situation. I feel that when we give them choices and the right values we can’t go wrong.
Ayala: I am certainly glad to hear that your older son has used his choices in a positive way. Yours is certainly a great vantage point because you are able to evaluate the benefit of your parenting approach. I am fumbling because my daughter is still young, but hope that my balanced approach will help her in the future.
I join some of the previous commenters in believing that it’s all a balancing act between giving our kids the reins and taking them from them.
And, like Sarah said, it’s also a matter of picking your battles. I used to try for every victory, but either time or exhaustion has taught me that some aren’t worth the effort.
And that is why my 3 year old is still in his pajamas at 4 p.m. He told me this morning that he didn’t feel like getting dressed today and, since there was no good reason why he should, I just went with it. It now occurs to me that we have friends coming over for dinner and they might find his choice of apparel strange…then again, they’re parents too so they’ll probably understand completely. 🙂
It is a matter of deciding what battles are important to you as a parent. And trying to reason with a three year old – sometimes it is next to impossible!
it must be so hard to find the balance between giving choices and making decisions for her…raj talks about how different it is here than in india and how kids seemed to be overwhelmed with responsibilities, er, play dates here.
Since I also have the benefit of traveling to India, I also think that give me a great opportunity to know that even without certain choices childen will end up just fine.
I believe (and am living) that all those choices set your child up for a sense of entitlement. I’ve learned now, with the oldest being 15, that children don’t need all those choices. They need unconditional love and a realistic understanding of how the world really operates. I recently had a conversation with my teen about how he needs to meet me half way, at least! If he wants to do a lacrosse league over the summer, he needs to help find some other boys that are doing it so that I can coordinate carpools because I simply cannot do it all myself and work and care for the other two boys. I want to give my boys everything I did not have, but in doing so, I am depriving them of what they need to be successful in life – and that is the understanding that you really need to work for what you have. Unless you win the lottery.
Cathy: Thanks for this perspective and your honesty. Integral in child rearing is learning that all things are not automatic and you must work hard. I understand this because my parents couldn’t always afford what I wanted. Although I didn’t necessarily appreciate it while I was growing up, I know now it helped me deal with future disappointment.
An absolutely critical topic, Rudri.
I was having this discussion with someone this morning – the very American tendency to overdo it with and for our children.
So my short answer to your question – do we do too much for our children? Yes.
But it goes beyond that. A qualifying question must be asked. Are we doing the right things for our children? And that depends on each family’s culture and value system, though I will say that our (American) approach of providing excessive activities and “stuff” – and not making kids choose and earn… it’s bad news. And I believe we see the results all around us in our culture of entitlement.
The dynamics (of fatigue and negotiation?) change when you are talking about a solo parenting situation. Logically, it’s harder when it’s one person to raise one kid or two or four or whatever. That’s when “too tired to argue” can really kick in, but if that happens a great deal (or on the wrong things), you’re headed for trouble.
I also believe there is fallout in marriage when we do too much for kids. But that’s another discussion, though related.
Important points as always BLW. It is a better approach to ask whether or not we are doing the right things for our children. I for one don’t believe in overcommiting my daughter to activity overload. There is nothing wrong with being bored or having down time. My view is that the restlessness and the inability to remain still can be attributed to how you were raised as a child. Like everything, there should be a balance between wallowing in “free” time and committing to an activity.
It’s funny, my husband got off the plane from Romania saying we do too much for our kids. So now he’s on a kick to get them to close their own car door, put on their own socks, make their own sandwiches, bring their own plates to the sink, and all of that. In some ways, I see what he’s talking about. And I’m sure I’ll see more when we head to Romania tomorrow for our yearlong adventure. The big question for me is, will it be hard to change? And will I want to once I see a different parenting model at work? I have no idea, but I’ll keep you posted.
Because you are moving to Romania, I think you can be lax during the transition. By virtue of being in a new country, choices that were automatic in the US may be limited in Romania. I am eager to learn what parenting style you observe there. Definitely keep me posted.
You need to read the book “Children Who Do Too Little.” It completely changed my outlook on parenting. Our job as a parent is to prepare our child for life. Real life. My 8 year old does laundry and has done it since she was 6 or so. She can move clothes from the washer to the dryer and start the dryer (I don’t let her fold because I am somewhat OCD about that). I think it is fine to give kids choices, but I also think that you’ve got to instill in them that their choices determine their options.
I will definitely check out this book Brandon. Thanks for the recommendation. I think O’s willingness to do this chore demonstrates how your guidance has led her to make this choice. What you say here, “choices determine their options” is such an important and valuable point. Thanks Brandon.
Just having my mom here is a constant reminder of just how differently my daughters are being raised compared to my own upbringing.
I think it’s important they are provided a choice in most cases but as they get older, we will also have to teach them what a luxury that is. For now, giving younger kids the “illusion” of autonomy seems like a good idea since I’ve never been a fan of the authoritarian method of parenting where it’s my way or the highway. The trick is to find a good balance between the two.