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Feb 07

In Other Words: Parenting . . . A Competitive Sport?

“Our problem is not a generation gap between adults and kids.
Our problem is the gap between God and adults
in order to reach our kids. ”

~ J Vernon Magee

Again, the quote that has been chosen for this week’s In Other Words touches closely on a topic that has recently been in my thoughts. Having the privilege of being a mama to children of a wide age-span (38 years old down to 9 years old), I’ve seen a lot of different trends in parenting over the years. One of my most vivid memories related to this issue of parenting is from about 1977 when we would take our then 4-year-old daughter to the pre-school classroom on Sunday mornings. When the parents worked in that particular Sunday School class, we were all given name tags that identified us as “Susie’s Mom” or “David’s Dad.” Now, that was a great way for the children to connect each adult in the room to one of their little playmates. But I thought at the time that perhaps it was sending the wrong message to these little ones . . . . . . it’s all about ME! Even the adults in their world were only recognized in relationship to a child. But of course, I certainly didn’t say anything at the time.

It was in that same pre-school Sunday School classroom that the children were all taught a sweet little tune entitled, “I’m Something Special.” We were all into making sure our little angels knew beyond a shadow of a doubt how precious they were . . . . and they really were, and they still are! The song goes on to say, “I’m the only one of my kind. God gave me a body and a bright healthy mind. He has a special purpose that He wants me to find, so He made me something special, I’m the only one of my kind.” (Bill and Gloria Gaither) I did make the comment then, although rather discreetly and selectively, that we ought to go beyond that message to our little darlings that they were, indeed, truly “something special,” and make sure they understood that this was only half of the truth . . . . not only are they “something special,” but so is everyone else!

It seemed rather obvious to me that this kind of message could, would, and did lead to a generation in which everyone believes themselves to be the center of the universe, and all of the stars and planets revolve around them. Sad, but true, and unfortunately when children grow up believing this, they become very disillusioned and disappointed in an adult world that does not view them that way.

There has been an ongoing societal conversation over the past 20 or 30 years about the significance and the implications of giving an entire generation of children this message; all of our time as parents is wrapped up in driving our children to piano practice, soccer practice, football practice, choir, volleyball, tennis, golf, gymnastics, or play practice, while we, as parents, sit obediently and quietly on the sidelines watching all of their amazing performances. And we do it willingly, because we do truly love them so much more than they will ever comprehend. Well, at least until they have children of their own.

Articles have been written by child psychiatrists and therapists about this or that facet of allowing children to believe that they are “entitled” to a trophy for mediocre performance in school or in athletics; other parents have expressed their views both pro and con; one mother even wrote a book about the “Tiger Mom” vs. the “Soccer Mom,” in which she shares her experiences as a Chinese mother raising her two daughters in our Western culture. “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” by Amy Chua , published in 2011, states as its premise:  “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

Instead of praising every little, tiny effort put forth by a child whether it was their “best” effort or not, Ms. Chua suggests that we are, in effect, cheating our children of their potential for achieving their highest accomplishments. We must expect the best from our children, and stop allowing them to believe that a half-hearted attempt at anything at all is worthy of a trophy and a standing ovation. Unfortunately, in modern American culture, it is very difficult to go against that way of thinking . . . . one might be accused of “damaging a child’s fragil self-esteem,” or something along those lines.

And so now we live with the consequences all around us of people (not just children or “young” people) who quite frequently view themselves as entitled to whatever they want, whether they have actually made any effort to earn it, or not. This is not a political post . . . . it is directly from a mother’s heart who has been observing this for almost 40 years now, and I see it with my own eyes. Children who are now adults who believe that life is about “playing” and “work” is only an unpleasant distraction from the “real” life they want to live. Children who are now adults who believe that they are entitled to be entertained every minute of every hour of every day of their entire lives. And when it does not happen that way (which is never will!) they are disappointed and disillusioned with life.

What does that have to do with today’s quote? Everything . . . . because we, as parents, have allowed our children to believe this lie and it very subtly leads them away from God. Yes, God truly does treasure each one of our children, even more than we, as parents, do. Yes, God loved each one of them so much that He sent His only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die in their place so that their sins could be forgiven. Yes, God extends His grace to our precious children – but why would they think they need God’s grace and forgiveness if they are so “wonderful” just they way they are?

There is no “generation gap” between parents and children. We, the parents, need to grow up and become the parents God has called us to be and teach our children to respect themselves, but also to respect others; to honor God, and to honor their parents; and to stop being so focused on themselves that they completely forget that there are other people in this world who are also “special.” We need to teach them how to strive to achieve goals, and we must stop heaping “false praise” on them; we need to stop believing that we will somehow damage their ego if we tell them “No” and mean it. And here’s another reason why we need to do that: they feel safe and protected when they know where “the edges” of their world are.

As parents, we need to stop playing our own competitive sport of trying to out-do one another in seeing just how many “sacrifices” we make for our children . . . . for one thing, they don’t even recognize that we are “sacrificing” for them, and over time they come to expect us to give them everything they want, even when it means Mom and Dad are crushed under the burden of those expectations. They are kids; they don’t know and they don’t care. And there is only one way to teach them to know and to care, and that is to set an example of how the world really is. Work hard, do your best, put forth all your effort to achieve a goal. That’s the message they need to learn from us. Love them deeply, hold them tightly, give them wings to fly and not shackle them to the lies of “entitlement.”

After thinking about this post this morning, I happened to come across this article online:  “Is My Child Entitled? How to Tell.”  Apparently I’m not the only one out here who is questioning the value of letting our little Prince and Princess rule the castle!

Please remember as you read my words, I am a Vintage Mama ;o) I’ve been doing this for a long time, made tons and tons of mistakes (just like all moms, including you!) and I’ve seen a lot of different parenting “theories” come and go. I’m also still a regular ol’ mama, with two daughters still needing to be nurtured to become the women God wants them to be. I will make many more mistakes along the way . . . . but being a mama isn’t about being perfect, it is about being ordinary. Every day ordinary, loving and living, holding and scolding when necessary, and teaching them the truth. That’s my job, so I guess I better get back to doing it!

If you would like to participate this week with “In Other Words,” please visit Karen at “In Love W.I.T.H. Jesus” and link up your blog post on this quote. We’ll stop by to see you and you will be able to visit the other participants this week. Be sure to leave a comment so we know you stopped by!

~~ Nina 

2 comments

  1. Denise

    Great post.

  2. Karen Gillett

    I like your pictures you used of the kids. We need to get the right message out to the kids and it definitely starts with our relationship with God. Thanks for participating, sorry I’m so late in getting back to you. My secret mission turned out well.

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