Lately, I have been thinking about the most recent generations of children. There’s no doubt that parents love their children and want the best for them. But I wonder sometimes if we might be handicapping them by our close monitoring, intervening on their behalf whenever there’s any kind of infraction at home or school (the exception of course being bullying), and in some cases over-praising them either for a mediocre job or for doing what they should be doing anyway. This brings me to some lessons from my own past . . .
Matilda was her name. She was my best friend long before the pop phrase “BFF” (best friend forever) became the popular expression it is today. She was clever, strong-willed and extremely creative. We spent most of our playtime outdoors, where we had unbridled freedom and plenty of space to let our imagination flow.
Our home environments were similar—with lots of siblings, a stay-at-home Mom and a Dad that worked loads of hours. Meals were served at the same time every day and we ate together as a family at the kitchen table. As far as household chores, they were not linked to an allowance (are you kidding)? But we learned, at an early age, the value of money and the need to earn it for that “wish” list item.
We were expected to amuse ourselves. There were no video games, cable television or personal cell phones to entertain us. And while there were rules and enforced restrictions, our parents were rarely involved with orchestrating or planning our recreational activities. They were certainly not what folks nowadays call “helicopter” parents, but more like adults who were in charge in a more distant or “executive” kind of way.
We created games, fashioned our own rules and organized teams. We resolved our differences and reconciled our arguments without our mom or dad’s assistance. We were not afraid of taking risk that included physical or athletic endeavors—while learning and honoring the importance of being a good sport and the equitable division of things.
Chalk boards hung in our kitchen with highlighted chores—with whose turn it was to wash versus dry the dishes, take out the trash, clean the bathrooms, and any other household tasks that needed attention. Matilda and I would delegate and assign tasks to each other and other girls when orchestrating activities. And while we were not bossy for the sake of being bossy, we knew how to organize activities and get things done pretty well while remaining likeable.
Oftentimes when I reflect back on those days, I’m in awe of the level of maturity and responsibilities that many of my siblings and friends demonstrated at a relatively young age. On a social level, we were extremely independent of our parents, but we also knew how far we could take our freedom. Most of us had what I would call “take charge” personalities. All of this was supplemented by the “tough love,” work ethic and great role modeling of our parents. I also remember that our parents didn’t treat us like babies once we reached school age. They expected us to obey the teachers’ instructions, to show respect towards adults, and be fair as well as kind toward our friends and siblings. After high school, the majority of us hit the road—off to college armed with a decent moral compass, solid education, along with our parents’ basic life instructions and the expectation and confidence that we could do this thing call “being an adult.”
I imagine each generation reflects on what was and wasn’t available during their childhood. Some of my friends might have wished for more individual attention with so many siblings around. But, overall, I think the “Baby Boomers”—and many coming from relatively larger families than today’s norm—turned out pretty well. We were independent with a good deal of sensibility, strong work ethic and friendships that were more than just social media connections.
There’s no doubt that the outside world can pose real dangers. But as parents we need to measure this danger and refrain, at one extreme, from creating excessive fears that may stunt a child’s innate curiosities or, at another extreme, provide excessive compliments that may not be merited, creating an unwarranted sense of entitlement.
We cannot authentically build their confidence or increase their self-esteem when we overly coddle our children from everyday “boo-boos.” If so, we risk having children who have little to no resilience, an inability to be independent of their parents, and the potential to follow more often than they lead due to insecurities.
I do not think parents can ever fail their children with a certain level of “tough love” or the freedom to make their own mistakes. Instead you’ll be giving them the power to cope in life, to make sensible choices and the wings to set sail in the right direction. Providing kids with a little space to become more independent, teaching then through honesty and the sharing of your own lessons growing up will help strengthen their character and provide them with the means to navigate well through life.
Yes, it’s true. Our children will make some mistakes in life. But by equipping them with the necessary tools to think independently, to establish integrity, to be resilient through difficult times, and to never quit but trust in their ability to endure, we will raise leaders rather than followers.