I observed a particularly awful sort of well-meaning parenting yesterday.
There in the aisles of the discount store where I was checking out the salad spinners and area rugs, I noticed a tiny, imperious child. Little Curly Top was ruling with a heavy hand over her parents, dictating where they could shop or not shop, picking up things they told her to leave alone, begging for snacks that duly got placed in the cart. She was such a beautiful child with such a stinky attitude. It was astonishing, the contrast. Suddenly she took off running to the far side of the store. “COME BACK,” Mom said, but Curly Top had other ideas. “I AM PUTTING YOUR SNACK BACK ON THE SHELF. SE-E-E? WE AREN’T BUYING THIS BECAUSE YOU AREN’T BEING GO-O-OD.” Dad hauled a kicking, crying child back to the cart and the shopping continued. She saw a breach in the wall and dashed off again. Meanwhile the snack had once more gotten into the cart. Mom sighed, exasperated, to Dad, “Go get her. Tell her we won’t buy her a snack if she isn’t good.”
At this point I couldn’t watch anymore. I felt so sorry for that child. The oddest thing is that this sort of circus is considered normal and totally acceptable in society, but a mother who is peacefully shopping with a crowd of happily obedient children around her is taking up too much space on the earth. Not only that, she is also seen as being suspect to all the ones who experience children to be cumbersome brats who will embarrass their parents with their desires loudly expressed at every occasion.
It’s the self esteem movement parents now attempting to be parents themselves, and finding their own training lacking somehow. I am the last one to cast judgement on someone who is having a rough time with a cranky toddler, but when I see them trying to wheedle a child into happiness instead of being in charge- you know, a firm little nonnegotiable nap or something equally corrective- then I am afraid I do cast a bit of judgement.
The thing about mothers is that their job is to nurture and take care of their people. However, we cannot let the world’s philosophy of “the chief end of man is to feel good” rule us here. Listen. You can do your job to the best of your abilities and with every dollar available and still never be able to keep your child happy all the time by trying to manipulate circumstances so they do not have anything but happy feelings. It’s a vicious, unending, impossible cycle. It is like being lashed through life by a tiny dictator with unstable emotions and a dubious worldview. “You want some juice? Sure, here is it with a nifty little straw? Oh, you don’t like that flavor? How thoughtless of Mommy to get apple instead of mango/strawberry. Wanna play trains now? What, that’s not a real Thomas? Don’t cry. Let’s go see what they have at ToysR Us. Have a donut on the way, honey.”
Our role as a parent is not to make every moment of the day amazing. If you feel stuck in this cycle, you can actually let that expectation go. It’s not gonna happen. There are lots of sweet, happy instances in life, sure, but there are an equal amount of un-amazing kidney beans. In acceptance lies peace.
You might say, “But don’t you want your children to be happy?” Of course we love to have happy children! It is delightful to do things that make them shine with joy. Mine light up any time the chocolate gets passed around, but I would never feed them a steady diet of chocolate, even if chicken broth doesn’t bring out the sparklers. They don’t like to pick up toys and do dishes. Jobs like cleaning out the poo in the barn make them downright glum. We aren’t unreasonable; we give them milkshakes occasionally and they get more in allowance if they do a good job on it. The requirement is simple: push through and finish, or forfeit the pay. I say the same things my mom said to us, “Why shouldn’t you help with the work? You live here like everybody else. Now get busy.” Or even better is this one, “He who does not work should not eat.”
Our parenting goals should be bigger than happiness. What is the chief end of man? It’s about glorifying and enjoying God. That bliss comes from learning to live life unselfishly, and those lessons begin when we are still little tots without the ability to direct our own lives. A two year old cannot understand the deep doctrinal truths in verses like,
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it,” but they are extremely malleable and effortlessly pick up values as they go along. Guess what- They get their values from their parents.
In the late nineties, the self-esteem rhetoric exploded, but it took almost a generation to see the troubling patterns emerge. Even secular psychologists are calling it a bad parenting model now that the results are back. Many are sadly discovering that they were not handed any favors to face life when they were handed lollipops to make everything better, with Mom and Dad doing all the struggling. These people have a gut feeling that they were created for better things, but they really don’t have much sense of purpose in the world except to feel good. They were trained carefully along this track and told the whole time how amazing they are. The only problem is: they aren’t amazing. It is much easier to see when they are grown, totally unequipped for life.
I will tell you what is amazing. I personally am friends with many millennials who were raised by parents who didn’t buy all the nonsense. These young folks have embraced the mentality of the Kingdom of Heaven, that bit about living for others, it’s not all about me, etc. They are standing upright, fighting battles for others, starting businesses, teaching children in school, raising families, doing work that will not be paid in this life. They are the fruits of wise parenting and they are much too busy to obsess over whether they will get their pink sugar donut today. They know they can be happy without it.