By Hermine Steinberg
“This will hurt me more than it will hurt you!”
No kid ever believed this when they heard it come from the lips of their parent, usually just before they were going to be spanked or punished. And those of us who did hear it, swore that we would never say it, and many of us also decided then and there that we were never going to spank our kids.
Other expressions like “My way or the highway” and, of course, “As long as you’re living under my roof, you’ll…” -fill in the blank. The message was clear… you were living in your parent’s house, there were rules and consequences for breaking those rules, and there were clear expectations about the responsibilities you had as a result of being part of the family unit and a child – making your bed, taking care of your younger siblings, setting the table, etc. – whatever the requirements were for your family.
Flash forward and now we are the parents. We want our kids to feel that it is their home too; that they can count on us for help, that all we want is for them to be happy and healthy. In the extreme, we hear about mothers having two jobs so they can afford cell phones, cars, and fashionable clothes for their kids. But many of us have fallen victim to our guilt, our childhood promise to ourselves that we were going to be the kind of supportive, loving unconditional parent, that would never cause our children one moment of unhappiness.
So here we are.
Now we complain that our children have this incredible sense of entitlement, whether they actually contribute to the family unit in any way. There’s no doubt we love our children, but today, I honestly believe that it does hurt us more than them to enforce consistent consequences or expectations even when we know it is in their best interest. We hate to see them unhappy, or believe that other children will somehow look down on them for having less, or having them miss out on some great experience other children are enjoying. We have these intense feelings of guilt, all the while knowing that our children must learn that there will always be people who have more.
So, here I am on a Saturday afternoon and my daughter has a party that evening. She is thirteen years old (I hear all of you sighing!) and she has decided she has nothing to wear. The outfit she was going to wear was all of a sudden not good enough. She has been looking in the mirror and it’s like watching a wave roll in that is about to pound the shore and wreak destruction in its wake. First, the gentle approach –wouldn’t it be fun to go to the mall together and look around (we all know what that really means), then sadly telling me that all the other girls have new outfits, building to her insisting that she is going to be the ugliest girl at the party, and finally the crying and yes, when that doesn’t work, the hysterics.
Don’t I love her?
How could I do this to her?
And it’s working.
I desperately want to be the hero that swoops in and saves the day so she will look up at me with those beautiful glistening eyes, and love me forever.
Well, that is the easy way out with great short-term results.
There are no happy endings here because this can and does become part of a pattern.
Some might think that this is pure manipulation on the part of my daughter, and it is. But even if she is consciously trying to manipulate me, by my giving in, I am reinforcing the idea that her insecurities are valid, that on her impulse we have to run out and get her whatever she thinks she needs, that despite the fact we just recently bought her the outfit she is now rejecting as not good enough, that money should not be a consideration if she becomes distraught enough. So I’m actually feeding into her low self-esteem, her lack of impulse control, and encouraging her to believe that the use of crying and histrionics as an effective approach to getting what she wants.
I would definitely not be teaching her to become resilient and confident.
That particular time, as I believe many other parents have done to avoid the battle, believing the war could still be won down the road, I gave in. I told myself, you have to pick your battles, choose the right time to talk about these things (not in the heat of the moment but in advance), and many other wonderful platitudes I could muster.
But I was wrong.
Because it’s times like these that we should be enforcing what we have been saying and believing to be right. When we cave, the message becomes murky, and our children’s doubts become reinforced, and the next battle becomes worst because you have now set a precedent. And the next battles did become worst – much worst! We did finally reign in the negative behavior, but it took a lot more effort, energy and tears.
Since that time, and after a lot of research and experience, I learned that parents build resiliency in children by letting them know they are loved and respected. But that respect is built on high expectations that include positive communication and consideration for household resources and routines that support the family.
Love is demonstrated by reinforcing the idea that the people who care about them will accept them for who they are, even if they don’t have the best outfit in the room. The bottom line to all of this means that showing respect and love to your children sometimes means saying no and sticking to it without feeling guilt.
We should feel empathy but if they decide they can’t go out because they look horrible, that their friends will make fun of them, that it will be your fault that they can never show their face at school or, for that matter, any public place again – and (get ready for the big guns) they hate you, then you just have to take a deep breath and know that sometimes doing the right thing for your child’s long-term health and happiness, is doing the most difficult thing.
They don’t say parenting is the hardest job in the world for nothing. And sometimes you may really feel that it is hurting you more then them. But buck up. One day they may have children too.
Hermine Steinberg is the founder and Director of The NOTL Writers’ Circle. In addition to being a teacher and counsellor, she’s been writing for most of her life. ‘The Co-Walkers, Awakening’ (Prizm Books) was her debut novel. Written for middle grade readers, it is the first of the trilogy.
She also writes articles, theatre reviews and short stories for various online publications. Hermine is thrilled to be part of this growing community of writers in Niagara-on-the-lake; eager to support and encourage each others’ creative efforts.
Happy Monday, WomenOnTheFencers! I am wondering if any of you with teens can relate here? The tough love angle is sometimes the hard road, but I feel Hermine touches on a point we can all relate to. Please share your thoughts.