Friday, July 18, 2008

Over-attentive?

I read an interesting article today, which included this quote:

"Why shouldn't parents do all in their power to make their children's lives less bumpy, more concentrated and carefully planned, thereby increasing their prospects for a happier, more satisfying life? No reason at all, really, except that trying to do so often comes to seem so joyless and the children who emerge from such ultra-careful upbringing so often turn out far from the perfect specimens their parents had imagined."

The guy talks about how, in his generation, parents simply got less involved in kids' lives, and he thinks in a lot of ways, that was a good thing. He said there is a phenomenon these days "of simply paying more attention to the upbringing of children than can possibly be good for them."

So, I wonder. I think maybe there's some truth to it. I'm not really thinking of this so much as selfishness vs. unselfishness, as just sort of chilling out a little. In other words, you can debate about how much "me time" a parent needs---how much is necessary and good and helps you be a better parent, and how much is just an excuse to be selfish and put yourself first (rather than sacrificing and giving things up because you know you are a parent now and it's your job to think of your kids first). But what I'm talking about here is not that, but a different issue: the issue of to what degree you let your kids absorb and consume your attention.

I don't think you shouldn't pay attention to them, obviously. But maybe, in my own case, a little more perspective would be in order? A realization that my kids will live most of their lives as beings independent from me, and I shouldn't get so caught up in every aspect of them that I have a hard time disentangling myself when they grow up and leave? And I especially like this point from the article:


"So often in my literature classes students told me what they "felt" about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one's feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to (but did not) write: "D-, Too much love in the home." I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance, and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality.

"Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant."

I like that. It seems like a good balance to go along with the self-worth and confidence that everyone naturally wants to instill in their children: a sense of (healthy) insignificance. I believe that wouldn't be a bad thing to pass along to my kids.

Here is one more related note: I also
read about a school that worked on teaching their students "resilience": that is, the ability to cope with difficult situations themselves; to just deal with whatever came up rather than needing help with every little thing. This is what one of the teachers said:

"There have been real changes here . . . we used to have young children who would burst into tears if they forgot their togs but now they just front up to the office and ask to ring their mum. We still have incidents from time to time but instead of saying to the child, 'How do you feel about that?', we say, 'What are you going to do about it?'."

I love that! It seems like good advice for adults, too, in fact.

So---here is my new pep talk to myself: Buck up! Quit complaining! You are not so significant after all! No one really cares what you 'feel'---what are you going to DO about it?

3 comments:

  1. I agree with the "insignificance" idea on some levels. There are SO many kids now who are over-indulged, who grow up thinking the world revolves around them and that everybody honestly wants to know about what they do all day, everyday. (that's why "seriously so blessed" is funny)
    I don't agree with the "significance comes through achievement" because, if I'm reading the author's intention correctly, s/he meant academic/worldly achievement. And I think just being a conscious, good person, following whatever path you feel inside you, even if that holds no worth to anybody in the world but you (Read: A New Earth) makes you significant to yourself and God. And who cares about the world, it's totally screwed up, you know?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post. Perhaps part of this phenomenon stems from people having fewer children on average. Children have their parents undivided attention. There also seems to be mounting cultural pressure to provide your kids with the best "advantages" by enrolling them in every imaginable sport, camp, class, etc. to the point of exhaustion.

    I like the idea of teaching resilience

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a tough question I think. And I've been thinking about it off and on ever since I read what you wrote.
    I think it's important for kids to understand that they're special to their parents--for no other reason besides that they're the kids. You know what I mean? I think that's important to build a strong self image.
    They do need to understand though that they're not automatically going to be thought of as special by anyone else in the world just because they exist--if they understand that it'll help them function in the real world.
    Hmmm. I'll think about this more, but those are my thoughts for now. What do you think?

    ReplyDelete