By Jennifer Richardson
We did everything we could. We were as kind as we could be, weren’t we?
We gave everyone a prize. We gave them endless opportunities for enrichment, and asked them to do very little for their keep. We gave them alterations to the rules because rules made them uncomfortable. We gave them emotional support instead of strong boundaries because support equals love and boundaries equal conflict.
We helped them understand all the reasons they behaved the way they did, because asking them to change their behavior was stressful and diminished their inner authenticity.
We let them choose all the foods they wanted to eat because mealtime shouldn’t be a battleground. We made every parenting decision a negotiation that promoted keeping us as a friend as the top priority.
We believed we owed them soothing parenting. We understood that long-term resilience was the price they paid for our short-term peace, but we believed constant harmony was best. We were invested in making sure they felt happy and never ashamed of themselves.
We sensed the natural distance of adolescence and gave them every kind of social media so they could stay connected. We let them say anything they wanted so we didn’t block their sense of self-expression or limit their creativity.
We bought them everything we never had. We gave them allowance, birthday money, holiday money, and brand name clothes and shoes to keep up with the possessions of their peers, and made sure they had all kinds of entertainment choices to fill their time and their mind.
We let them decide who they could relate to. We didn’t want to force old-fashioned manners on them, or require that they converse with anyone outside their comfort zone.
We graciously let them abandon everything that caused them stress. We fought their battles at school and took great care to make sure they experienced as little suffering as possible. We stood staunchly on their side as they argued with teachers, coaches, and even law enforcement to explain why the rules didn’t apply to them and their particular situation.
We cheered from the sidelines every time they challenged an authority figure, and we walked along behind them and paid for traffic tickets and cleaned up their messes. We looked the other way while they broke the law as long as they were having fun.
We said yes because our parents said no. We wanted to be generous where our parents were principled and loving where our parents were strict. We wanted them and their friends to like us, every day.
And we watched with a lump in our throats as they went off into the world believing that they deserve everything they want, and that life should be fair. What more could we have done?
When we ask ourselves why a few generations ago college-aged kids could storm the beaches of Normandy facing uncertain odds and the prospect of death to fight for their country and serve a cause greater than themselves—but some of our young adults collapse under the weight of an insult or disagreement, we do not have to search far to understand.
Yes, our culture has changed, but culture begins at home. When we look around us and see an entitled, fragile, discourteous person who believes that they can say or do anything they choose and everything they want should be freely given to them, we have mostly ourselves to thank.
Taking ownership is our hardest but best path. It is not likely that a child will see the value of making a contribution to the world, until they understand they are not the center of it. The change required is true humankind-ness. Teaching resiliency, courage, compassion, values, service, and respect; raising people that are ready to be contributing humans —it begins, not with them, but with us.