FACT: Every parent on earth thinks they don’t spoil their own children, but other children out there are definitely, clearly spoiled.
Just like almost everyone on the planet can point to someone else who is more financially well-off than they are, so too can every parent point to some other mom and dad more indulgent than they are and say, “I don’t spoil MY kids…unlike Mr. and Mrs. So and So, who bought their kid a Ferrari the other day…and he’s FIVE.”
So when I read the piece “Spoiled Rotten” in The New Yorker, I admit that I was patting myself on the back for my comparatively stellar parenting skills. The article paints a picture of little brats …I mean, children…who talk back to their parents, demanding the obedient parents fetch them silverware and tie their shoes, and the parents actually do it. EW! MY kids, R and Z (baby G can’t walk on her own, let’s give her a break), after all, take out the garbage. And at least one of my kids clears his own plate at every meal, without being asked. Not bad!
Surely, I thought, the points that we should not do everything for our children, and that we should help them develop a sense of patience rather than instantly gratifying their every whim, are fairly obvious. I thought condescendingly of those parents who respond helplessly when their kid has a screaming fit in a restaurant–those parents who make it clear, by their every act, that the kid is in charge in their house, not the adult. You know who I’m talking about.
Suckers, I thought, shaking my head with the bliss of New Yorker-reading self-righteousness. With a few clicks, I forwarded the article to my husband.
Not surprisingly, he loved the piece. Surprisingly, however, he responded with some thoughts that sort of, kind of touched on the idea that perhaps I have not been the perfect parent I thought I was, after all:
I love this article and agree with it completely, and I am afraid of what we are already doing to R and Z.
Why can’t they take their plates to the counter EVERY time, and not put them on the edge of the sink where they fall?
Why does R so reluctantly take his towel to the bathroom, and I have to tell you, he never hangs it, I see it on the floor every night when I go to turn out the light…they can turn it on, why not off?
Why do they need another set of Lego? They haven’t built all they have and there are thousands of unused pieces strewn sloppily on the floor. When I put them all in the plastic tub, Z dumped them out because he “couldn’t find them”…so why didn’t he put them back in the tub? What would happen if we told them that the next time they are dumped, they go in the trash and will NOT be replaced?
Why couldn’t Z find his own shoes this morning [rather than you doing it]?
Why can’t R take the garbage out without supervision and not dump the can over because he is running with it like it’s a sport?
Would you be interested / willing to think with me about how to change these things?
So now, I’ve decided to embark on a project. I’m calling it The Summer of Self-Sufficiency. I’m going to use these few months without school, while the kids are home and going to day camp, to really work on teaching them that they need to do chores, to do them well–and that they need to do things for themselves generally.
One idea: making them come down to breakfast with a “ticket” on which they’ve checked off a) lights off in bedroom; b) towel hung up; c) night light [if we were to use such a thing, of course] turned off; d) bed straightened up/made. If you can check those things off and sign them, then, sure, breakfast time it is. If not…do not pass Go.
Ideas on how to reinforce this and other good habits? Book recommendations for me? All welcome. Because while I may not be as great a parent as I think I am, I’m definitely open to suggestions for how to get better.