I ended a recent column by proposing that “while their proper upbringing is a big deal, children themselves are not.”
As I figured would happen, I’ve received some complaint from folks who insist that children are definitely a big deal. Invariably, however, they go on to defend what is already established: the raising of children is a big deal. A few examples will, hopefully, suffice:
“Parents need to always show unconditional love to their children. You shouldn’t even be writing a parenting column.”
“Have you lost your mind? Children are our future! No investment in children is too big.”
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“I was with you until the end, then I read the last sentence and just sat there, speechless. Of all people, you should know how valuable children are and how important it is they know they’re cherished.”
Yes, unconditional love is vital to a child’s sense of well-being because if parental love was conditional on proper behavior, significant numbers of children wouldn’t get much love at all. And yes, no investment in our children’s future is too big (begging, for the moment, the issue of the nature of any specific “investment”). And yes, children should know they are cherished. As I said, but will repeat, the proper raising of children is a big deal. It is the biggest of all responsibilities. For better or worse, child rearing shapes culture. Proper parenting is an act of love for one’s neighbor.
But along with all of that, children should also know that they, themselves, are no big deal. This is a point-of-view issue, I realize. I further understand that America’s parenting point of view has changed, and radically so, since I was a child and I was no big deal. (I don’t think I knew any other child whose parents thought he or she was a big deal either). The point of the column in question was that over the past two generations, children have become a big deal, to their collective detriment. Today’s child, for example, is considerably more likely to experience a serious emotional setback before age 16 than was his 1950s statistical counterpart. No measure of well-being that I’m aware of favors today’s kids. They are an underachieving, emotionally vulnerable lot. Many of them, for example, claim to shrivel up inside at hearing or reading certain words.
In the 1950s, the husband-wife relationship was the centerpiece of the family and parents were clearly the most important people in one’s family. Today, children sit front and center in their families. Their parents may obtain one-tenth of what they dream of having. Today’s kids – pretty much independent of their parents’ standard of living – feel entitled to have most of their dreams come true. Their parents try to protect them from disappointment, struggle, frustration, and failure – the very things, by the way, that build strong character.
The problem is that kids who are treated as if they are big deals are in grave danger of coming to believe that they are, in fact, BIG DEALS. Being a big deal may feel good at the time, but in the final analysis, it’s a burden, an albatross around one’s neck.