As I was leaving work tonite, I grabbed a book from my bookshelf to read on the bus ride home. I found these notes I had written about a year ago:
I give my kids what I wish I had when I was growing up — braces, nice sneakers, designer clothes. When one of my darlings walks by me and I’m reading the paper, I drop it, I snatch them close. I hug and kiss them.
If there’s a bagel that needs cutting, let me do it. I’d rather risk injury.
I feel sorry for them. Their dad is kind of sick. Their mom works a lot. But hey, wait! That’s me! I don’t think I should feel sorry for them. Why AM I the only one who sets the table and pours the milk into the cereal bowls?
I’m so tired that it’s easier for me to do what needs to be done than have them step up to the plate. I allow them to be dependent. They need to be more responsible.
Somewhere I got the idea that childhood should be soft and warm and adulthood hard and cold. It is wearying. I am getting tired.
The book that prompted these thoughts, where I found my handwritten notes, is Madeline Levine’s “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.”
Here are some quotes near my notes: “Both intrusion and overinvolvement prevent the development of the kinds of skills that children need to be successful: the ability to be a self-starter, the willingness to engage in trial-and-error learning, the ability to delay gratification… Warmth often slides into unhealthy dependency when we turn to our children for the loving connections missing in our adult relationships.”
I think my kids are connected, happy and have aspirations towards responsibilty. But I have to nurture them and, at times, correct them.
If I give them warmth, which they need, it doesn’t mean I am sliding into unhealthy dependency. Nor does firm guidance mean I am lacking in love or warmth.
One startling premise of the book is that children of wealthy families are unhappier than children in poor families. Tough circumstances force family members to lean on one another, eat meals together and bond.
This book was a book club pick, although I never finished it and missed the discussion. Still, the premise bears discussing. Just today at work, my friend D. and I were talking about how difficult — and necessary — it is to let kids know your expectations of them. This helps them claim and feel proud of the ways that they have acted responsibly.
There is a happy and healthy middle ground between being your kid’s best friend and being the bad guy. I am finding that middle ground.