As parents, we rush to comfort our kids when they fall in the playground or have a fight with or lose a friend. We worry endlessly about their happiness and self-esteem. We agonize over alternatives when picking extra-curricular activities for our children, afraid to make the wrong decision. But is all this hand-wringing and protectiveness on behalf our children producing happy adults? Does a happy childhood ensure a happy adulthood? New York Times bestselling author, and mom, Lori Gottlieb explores these questions in her article “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy”, in the July/August issue of the Atlantic magazine.
In a recent interview promoting the article on WBUR’s ‘Here and Now’ with Robin Young, Gottlieb discussed how, as a psychotherapist in training, she had been seeing patients in their 20s and 30s who claimed they felt empty, anxious and afraid to make decisions as adults, despite having had the perfect childhood with parents who were completely attuned to their needs. The “products” of these perfectly attuned parents had problems working in teams, breaking down when things didn’t go their way and having trouble when they did not receive constant praise from their bosses. Gottlieb offered that, with parents these days always telling kids how fabulous they are and what a great job they are doing, no matter what, it is possible that children grow up feeling they are more special than everyone else and entitled to praise, whatever they do. Pointing out the thin line between healthy self-esteem and narcissism, she suggests, “You want your child to feel special to you, as opposed to more than any other human being on the planet.”
Reflecting on the need of parents to make their children constantly happy, Gottlieb says, “What seems to have changed in recent years, though, is the way we think about and define happiness, both for our children and for ourselves.……The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way.” So what does this mean for 21st century parenting? According to Gottlieb, parental over-involvement has resulted in a new generation that is not as resilient or adept at dealing with defeat and disappointments. She advises parents to take a step back and consider whether their actions will result in genuine self-esteem in their child, before coming to the rescue of kids in routine situations (Bullying, she says is another matter). Her message is to let kids learn to negotiate their turns and recover from falls, so that they will be better prepared to deal with life’s challenges as adults.
So, do you agree with Gottlieb’s take? What is your parenting style? Post your comments here!