I am a mom of two beautiful girls and a sister to three younger brothers and while this does not qualify me as a child expert, I feel compelled to share my view and experience.
Lately, a lot is being said in the media about how we can raise more resilient, more grateful, successful and conscientious children.
There is a worry across our society in general, especially among the privileged class, that children these days have a greater sense of entitlement and many worry about their ability to overcome adversity.
Parenting from a Place of Fear or Love?
Many believe that we live in a highly competitive, Darwinian society where survival of the fittest is the underlying foundation of human nature. This causes parents to frantically equip their children with the skills to meet the demands of an ever fast paced, changing world. Hence, our kids are asked to perform at levels that we never did when we were their age.
Universally, every parent dreams that their child will grow to be healthy, smart, well adjusted, happy and successful. In our excitement, we design the blueprint of our children’s lives even before they are born. We dream of what they could be, the things they can accomplish, the type of athletes they will be, the profession they will have, the life they will live and the type of partner they will marry.
We develop a fear that our children will not succeed and conquer the world unless certain conditions are provided, certain behaviors are cultivated and certain milestones are accomplished.
From a very early age, the focus becomes: getting into the best preschool program, that feeds into the best middle school, which will lead our children to meet the right friends that come from the right families that lead to the right social circles.
We hire educational consultants to help us determine the best options and we strive to get them into one of a few overpriced and overly stressful private high schools. Once they are in, we worry about not just the right grades, but about the right sports, pushing them to join the right clubs and extra curriculum activities to make them stand out, all in the aim of obtaining all the accolades. We push our kids so much that they have no time to be kids.
As time passes, somehow we get it in our heads that our children won’t be successful unless we overprotect, intervene and orchestrate their every move. We proceed with unmeasured force to transfer and instill our unfounded fears unto our children.
We micromanage and push them to a level of perfection that is simply unhealthy and unrealistic. This leads our children to have what Julie Lythcott, former Freshmen Stanford University Dean calls, ‘a checklisted childhood’.
We worry about whether they are eating healthy, drinking enough water and the amount of time they spend using technology. Yet by the same token we feel is acceptable to deprive them of sleep to get them to their sports practice before school.
We have no issues seeing them go to bed late at night, all in favor of studying for that ‘do or die’ test. We feel is acceptable to have them come home late because we have them attend tutors after school so they can keep up with the demands.
Reality is that we are accepting of all the sacrifices as long as we get to check off one more item of their checklisted life.
Why do we do all this?
To ensure their future, we push our kids to follow the yellow brick road in the hopes it will lead them to be accepted to the brand name universities. We think that acceptance at the right college will lead to the best jobs, that will lead to the highest ranks of success, that will lead to a life of privilege, that will lead to the golden ticket of happiness. Only then can we finally rest and pat ourselves on the back, feeling that we did a good job with our children.
In the pursuit of this dream, our lives quickly become defined by our kids’ ability to fulfill the blueprint that WE designed for them. To help them achieve this, we become our kids’ concierge, advocate, tutor, helper, doer, coach, and drivers. Instead of spending quality time with them, we spend the little we see them nudging, nagging, pushing and reminding them about their responsibilities.
We spend our lives hovering, worrying and checking up on them because the truth is that we don’t trust that left to their own devices, they can succeed. The hard truth is that we constantly intervene because we have no faith that our kids can achieve the goals without us.
But wait, whose goals are these? Whose life are we talking about?
Ours or theirs?
I am upset each time I read in the media that our young generation, the one we push so much to perform, is growing up with not enough gratitude, not enough compassion, not enough kindness and with so much more entitlement:
“Kids these days just don’t understand the value of money. They think money grows on trees”
“They are more entitled and less willing to work hard.”
“Kids these days are accustomed to instant gratification.”
“They don’t interact. They are too addicted to their cell phones and iPads”
To me, the real focus needs to be on why our children are growing up with a greater sense of entitlement.
Could it be that our over-protection, stressful checklist of goals and overly planned life for our children is in fact backfiring?
I am not saying that as parents we should not worry about our children. I am also not saying we should not guide our children to live accomplished lives. As parents, it’s natural to want more for our children then we had, to want the best, to protect them and to advise them.
What I am saying is that we need to be aware of the emotion that is guiding our actions, needs and wants for our children.
Are we coming from a place of FEAR or a place of LOVE?
Rather than focusing on how our children can become MORE resilient, grateful, empathetic and LESS entitled, we, parents, need to first look inward and really become aware of what we consciously or unconsciously are doing and teaching our children.
Focusing on more, or less, of something, tells our children that they are not accepted as they are. Wanting them to be more of something gives our children the feeling that they lack in something and by doing this, we unconsciously transmit that they are not good enough as they are.
If the goal is to instill security and stability in our young adults then let’s start by first giving them one of the most fundamental needs human beings desire: TO BE ACCEPTED AS THEY ARE, independent of grades and achievements.
Our children need to know that their lives are not being measured by how they perform academically, or by how they perform on their team sport or by what career or job they finally end with. Our children need to know that they are loved as they are, for who they are and not for what they can achieve.
We tell them that we just want them to be happy, but in reality we want them to be happy fitting in our fabricated version of what happiness means for us.
If the goal is to raise happy, self-reliant, well adjusted, empathetic human beings, then the onus is on us to MODEL ALL THE THINGS WE WANT OUR CHILDREN TO BE and become self-aware of what we are indirectly teaching our children.
Do you want your child to be resilient and grateful? Stop overprotecting, micromanaging and engineering your child’s life. Stop being their concierge, coach, teacher, secretary, advocate and main stressor. Instead, be the parent that you would have loved to have had.
If we want our children to grow into responsible self-reliant adults, STOP CATERING to their every want and desire (notice I did not say need). As difficult as it is for us to deal with the wrath that comes when they do not get their way, our children need to hear the word ‘No’ every once in a while. Saying no to our children and explaining the reasons why it cannot be done is a valuable way to teach boundaries.
It may be difficult at times, but it is important so that they can develop into adults that will know how to say NO themselves. It will teach them to deal with disappointment, frustration and to understand that we cannot always have instant gratification.
If the goal is to raise children with less sense of entitlement then STOP GIVING IN TO THEIR EVERY WISH. I get it, we want to give our children all the things that we did not have. Believe me, I know this well. However, I have learned that just because I could do it and could afford it, these were not good enough reasons.
Giving in for the sake of making them temporarily happy is transmitting to our kids that they can have all they want in spite of any effort. ‘Easy come, easy go’ as the saying goes and no real meaning can be had or learned when something is obtained with no meaningful effort.
If you want your children to build self-advocacy STOP BEING THEIR VOICE. Don’t fight their every battle, don’t argue with their every teacher, coach and referee. Let your children speak up for themselves. You can advise then, but they need to be the ones to speak up and advocate for themselves.
This was particularly difficult for me. My first born, Victoria suffered from Selective Mutism until she was about six years old, so I got used being her voice. When Emma, my second one came along, being both their voices, their eyes and everything in between was the norm for me.
If my kids came home upset about an incident at school with a classmate or if they did not get the grade I felt was fair, guess what? I was immediately sending emails and visiting the school to advocate for them.
One night I asked my children one very powerful question,
“Is there anything that I am doing that you would want me to change?”
Bingo, my girls who always aim to please their parents, gently said to me,
“Please stop emailing and jumping at every issue that happens at school. How are we supposed to learn if you are always doing the talking for us?”
That was a big awakening for me. I was not even aware of what I was doing. In my mind, I was being a good, concerned, proactive parent. What was I thinking? They were not two or three years old anymore and Victoria no longer suffered from any mutism. They are both capable young ladies and they have their own voices and I was preventing them from developing their ability for self-advocacy.
You see parents, we often do things without thinking and the bottom line is that we do it because we love our children, but even acts of love carry with them a consequence. At the time I was not aware that I was hindering their ability for self-efficacy and self-reliance. My only intent was being a responsible caring mother.
However, unconsciously, I was transmitting to my girls that my voice carried more weight than theirs. I was unconsciously telling them that I did not believe they were capable of speaking up for themselves. I was implying that they were unable to find solutions for themselves.
Since then, I have restrained myself and let my kids fight their own battles and advocate for themselves. I am happy to help with advice when I am asked for my opinion, but in the end, it is their voice that needs to be heard.
Each time we do or say something to our children, first think what it is that you are transmitting to them. Ask yourself if it’s love or fear driving your actions and become self-aware of what it is you are actually teaching them.
I became so consumed with planning the perfect life for my girls, that I gave them a never ending checklist of do’s in the hopes of reaching an unrealistic dream that was not even theirs.
I packed their lives with teachers, tutors, classes, and sports leaving them with no free time to be just kids. I became their full time concierge, full time driver, secretary and coach. If they did not have down time to play and enjoy life, I did not either. I was equally busy running from one place to the other to cater to what I contributed in creating; a life of rigidity and stress for both myself and my girls.
If you want your kids to grow up with a healthy sense of self, MODEL SELF CARE.
I was always putting off doing the things that mattered to me. I stopped living my life and became completely consumed with my kids’ lives. The only identity I had was that of being a mom. I forgot that I used to be a wife, a friend, a lover, a businesswoman, a writer and more importantly I forgot that I mattered. My life became defined by being a mom and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother. It is the greatest gift the Universe has given me.
However, if my intention was to raise complete and whole young women who will know how to care and love themselves … then what was I teaching them? One day these little girls are going to become adults, women, wives and mothers. Through my unconscious actions, I was teaching my girls that it’s alright to lose ourselves, to forget about ourselves. I was teaching that it is acceptable for us to put our lives and dreams on hold.
If the goal is to raise children that will be self-starters and risk takers, then I was unconsciously teaching them the opposite. You see, I was afraid to leave their side even for a day because I believed they needed me every second. This by the way is not the reality. Yes our children need us, but often it is us who need them more.
In my delirious state of indispensability, in my obsessive attachment for my kids, I stayed in the safety of my comfort zone. I did not try anything new. I used my busyness with my kids as a shield so that I didn’t have to think about my own unfulfilled checklist of dreams that I still needed to accomplish.
Unconsciously, I was teaching my girls that staying in the ‘known’ is safer than experiencing the infinite possibilities found in the ‘unknown’. How could I ever expect my girls to leap, to risk, to face fear when I myself was modeling the opposite?
When I became aware of the impact my unconscious actions, behavior and fears could have on my girls, I changed. I now make sure my girls see a mother who is committed and is always there for them, but also I model for them what it is to be a full individual who has needs, wants and aspirations of her own.
I have a life and an individual journey that is not tied to theirs and I have the responsibility of fulfilling that journey so my girls can grow up realizing that they too can be whole and complete as well without guilt.
I wanted my girls to see me being a fulfilled woman who loves life and embraces all the experiences this world has to offer so that one day they too would do the same for themselves.
My children see me try new experiences and they witness that nothing worth doing in life comes without taking risks. I make sure they know when I am fearful, but I also make sure they see me try and leap into the void. I tell them there are only three things we can do: one is to stay in the safety zone and not grow, the second is to jump and maybe we fall and the third is that we jump and we fly. The only way to grow is to take the risk and do the things that scare us because that is when we truly evolve.
I make sure my girls see that I prioritize myself so I am modeling for them a healthy level of selfishness, if you can call it that. I am transmitting to my girls that I as well as they are worth it and that they are a priority always, regardless of the many roles we women play in society.
The Myth of What a Parent Role Should Be
Psychologist Dr. Richard Weissbourd, faculty director at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education says,
“When parents organize their lives around their kids, those kids expect everyone else to do so as well, and that leads to entitlement. When children are raised to feel entitled to everything, they are left feeling grateful for nothing.”
 The Wall Street Journal, How to Raise More Grateful Children by Jennier Breheny Wallace February 23, 2018
We need to re-examine the role we have been playing with our children. Our role is not to shelter, bubble and overprotect our kids from witnessing life’s sad moments and challenges. Our role is not to cater to their every wish. It also isn’t to be their eyes and their voice, much less to be their teacher, coach and concierge.
Our job is not to spare our kids from hardships. God knows that it is impossible. Our role is not to shelter them from ever seeing us cry, hurt, struggle and fail.
Our job is not to always say yes in the hopes that they would like us more. Our role is not to expect, nudge or orchestrate their lives nor is it to manipulate and guilt them into doing things or becoming someone they are not.
Our children are not our canvas in which we get to paint our unfulfilled hopes and dreams.
So what is our role?
I believe that our role is to be their parent and their role model. Our purpose is to BE all the things we want our children to become
The onus is on us to model the very resilience and gratitude that we want our children to have.
Our role is be responsible for our own actions and accept responsibility for the life we co-create so that they too can be responsible for theirs.
Our role is to show our children that we lead complete and fulfilled lives. Lives that include learning, risking and adapting so they too can endure and overcome life’s challenges.
Our job is to love, to believe and accept ourselves as we are at any point in time so that our kids too can grow up to accept and love themselves.
Our job is not to wish for our kids to be more or less of anything. Our gift to our children is to love them unconditionally for who they are independent of what and who they choose to become.
The best gift we can give our young generation is to model that the human spirit can conquer any adversity.
If the goal is to raise adults that will know how to manage hurt and disappointment, then we have to be open and vulnerable to let our children see our struggle, grief and tears, but also have them witness our self-love and courage to dig ourselves out of the hole we often create.
In order to teach them resilience, we first have to model resilience.
I regularly receive harsh criticism from friends and family for exposing my life so openly to my kids. For me, it’s important to not hide my pain from my kids. After all, I am a model for my girls to know what it is to be human and that means seeing me cry, hurt, reflect, love and embrace my pain.
I am transparent with both my girls about my inner doubts, pain, and dreams. I am not afraid to express my fears and my aspirations. I express my infinite gratitude for their presence in my life and for the strength I am able to derive from their love.
I have been through dark moments in my life, but instead of hiding it, I am an open book, completely exposed with both of my girls, especially with my older daughter. How could I ever expect my beautiful Victoria to trust her mother about her heartbreaks one day if I did not trust her with mine?
Many parents like to protect their kids from knowing the hurt or problems they face, so they bubble their kids. In my heart I do not think it is our job to shield our kids from seeing the real side of humanity.
If the goal is to raise well-adjusted adults then we need to first model falling and hurting in order to show our children how to get up and heal.
More than pushing them for grades, careers and accomplishments, it is more important to gift them a strong, healthy sense of self so they can grow to be resilient.
In my heart, I echoed the words of Lisa Nichols who wisely said, “Our children are not looking at how we fail. They are looking at how we get up. It is not our perfection they are looking for. It’s watching us stand up and shine in the face of such obvious imperfection.”
We parents often place all our energy in the incorrect things, in the incorrect goals. We get a sense of accomplishment and validation based on how our children are performing and evolving.
Choose what is truly important for you and your kids.
Raising the future generation is not an easy job but it’s a worthy job. It is an act of balance and vulnerability. It’s a fine balance between providing and indulging, between guiding and dictating, and between helping and catering, between protecting and dependency.
We are bound to make mistakes. There is no manual that teaches us how to be great parents. That is something we learn with practice, with trying and with failing.
Let’s not wish for our children to be more or less of anything. Let’s not expect anything from our children that we ourselves would not do. We are our children’s moral compass and as such, the onus is on us to model the best parts of humanity.
Parents, we need less doing and more being, more trust and less orchestrating, less complaining and more modeling.
When we lead by example, we have a higher chance as a society to produce a generation that is grateful and resourceful.
I believe that by loving and accepting our kids for who they are, they will rise to the occasion themselves. They will grow to be grateful because they lived in a home grounded in gratitude.
They will grow to be resourceful and independent because they grew up in an environment where risking, failing and learning were fostered without repercussion.
They will grow to develop a strong sense of self because they saw parents that practiced self-care, self-love and self-acceptance. They will grow up to be resilient because they grew up in a home where taking responsibility for one’s actions and life was practiced.
They will grow to be responsible, whole and complete individuals because they grew up in an environment that provided healthy boundaries and acceptance, an environment that promoted self-efficacy, respect, transparency and honesty.
So the quickest way to help promote what society thinks our children lack, is by US being what we aspire our children to become.
Parents, let’s be the change we want to see in our children!