Thursday, November 24, 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
Ever since ever, I’ve been a strong advocate of old-school parenting – where the child is taught that the world does not revolve around him. I strongly believe that a child ought to be taught to serve her elders, as a means of nipping in the bud any form of self-absorption or sense of entitlement. And I’ve always considered it acceptable to allow a child to fall down and pick himself up on his own.
That’s why I absolutely love this article. I’m learning that parenting is a fine balance between expressing unconditional love for the child while simultaneously maintaining a level of indifference. Crazy, right?
The child needs to learn that the parents won’t always be there to save the day. And this requires us to force ourselves to turn away when they are going through painful experiences. Obviously, it doesn’t mean that I turn my back on them when they are in dire need, but I need to give them space to fall down and get back up:
Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, warns against what he calls our “discomfort with discomfort” in his book Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age. If kids can’t experience painful feelings, Kindlon told me when I called him not long ago, they won’t develop “psychological immunity.”
“It’s like the way our body’s immune system develops,” he explained. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle. I know parents who call up the school to complain if their kid doesn’t get to be in the school play or make the cut for the baseball team. I know of one kid who said that he didn’t like another kid in the carpool, so instead of having their child learn to tolerate the other kid, they offered to drive him to school themselves. By the time they’re teenagers, they have no experience with hardship. Civilization is about adapting to less-than-perfect situations, yet parents often have this instantaneous reaction to unpleasantness, which is ‘I can fix this.’”
Also I really believe that so much of this helicopter parenting, where the parents hover over the child, is about parents and their inability to create a life outside of their nuclear homes. With the extended family having gone the way of the 8-track and box-set televisions, higher divorce rates leaving parents isolated, as well as social circles becoming smaller and smaller, too many parents have nothing but their children left as social outlets:
We have less community nowadays—we’re more isolated as adults, more people are divorced—and we genuinely like spending time with our kids. We hope they’ll think of us as their best friends, which is different from parents who wanted their kids to appreciate them, but didn’t need them to be their pals. But many of us text with our kids several times a day, and would miss it if it didn’t happen. So instead of being peeved that they ask for help with the minutiae of their days, we encourage it.”
As a homeschooling parent, I embarrassingly admit that I have my hovering skills pretty much in high gear. My wife and I are constantly aware of our children’s state of being. We are greatly involved in their daily activities. But the greatest difference, I believe, between my style and that of my counterparts profiled in this article is my lack of constant approval.
I try to balance my ‘shabaash’ and ‘atta boys’ with ‘you’re work is terrible’ and ‘get out of my face!’
Meanwhile, rates of anxiety and depression have also risen in tandem with self-esteem. Why is this? “Narcissists are happy when they’re younger, because they’re the center of the universe,” Twenge explains. “Their parents act like their servants, shuttling them to any activity they choose and catering to their every desire. Parents are constantly telling their children how special and talented they are. This gives them an inflated view of their specialness compared to other human beings. Instead of feeling good about themselves, they feel better than everyone else.”
The old-school father in me has always felt comfortable in setting limits for my kids. And with kids being kids, these limits are always being tested, but it’s essential that the parent be prepared to say no and simply walk away. Tears may be shed and emotions will be high, but the principle always overrides these temporary fits of emotion.
But the one place where I clearly feel I have fallen short is in giving my kids too many choices. I am always waffling between giving them the ‘responsibility’ to make adult choices and forcing decisions upon them. Am I properly balancing this act? Not sure.
As a parent, I’m all too familiar with this. I never said to my son, “Here’s your grilled-cheese sandwich.” I’d say, “Do you want the grilled cheese or the fish sticks?” On a Saturday, I’d say, “Do you want to go to the park or the beach?” Sometimes, if my preschooler was having a meltdown over the fact that we had to go to the grocery store, instead of swooping him up and wrestling him into the car, I’d give him a choice: “Do you want to go to Trader Joe’s or Ralphs?” (Once we got to the market, it was “Do you want the vanilla yogurt or the peach?”) But after I’d set up this paradigm, we couldn’t do anything unless he had a choice. One day when I said to him, “Please put your shoes on, we’re going to Trader Joe’s,” he replied matter-of-factly: “What are my other choices?” I told him there were no other choices—we needed something from Trader Joe’s. “But it’s not fair if I don’t get to decide too!” he pleaded ingenuously. He’d come to expect unlimited choice.
When I was my son’s age, I didn’t routinely get to choose my menu, or where to go on weekends—and the friends I asked say they didn’t, either. There was some negotiation, but not a lot, and we were content with that. We didn’t expect so much choice, so it didn’t bother us not to have it until we were older, when we were ready to handle the responsibility it requires. But today, Twenge says, “we treat our kids like adults when they’re children, and we infantilize them when they’re 18 years old.”
And finally, I completely agree with this concluding statement:
“In fact, by trying so hard to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we’re just making it harder for our kids to actually grow up. Maybe we parents are the ones who have some growing up to do—and some letting go.”
One more thought. Throughout my entire reading of this lengthy piece, I was overcome by the lack of spiritual discipline that exists for so many of these families. I’m assuming that many of them may be church-going regulars, but sadly Christianity is completely lacking on this front. One of the pillars of Islamic teaching is the constant battlefront we must maintain against our nafs. And when this is a foundational teaching in the home, I’m convinced that many of these issues of narcissism, depression, low self-esteem, and what not can be better addressed.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call him my friend.
An acquaintance perhaps.
A colleague maybe.
Regardless, the fact remains that I’ve known him for a very long time and he’s always demonstrated terribly poor social skills in my company. He consistently exhibits selfish behavior while rarely, if ever, willing to reciprocate my acts of generosity. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have taken this mooch out for a meal, allowed him company in our family outings, and provided him a place to sleep. His charming personality is such that I foolishly continue to bathe him with gifts while getting nothing in return.
I seriously doubt that he has any other friends besides me. In fact, I know with certainty that he has no other friends, for no one else would tolerate his boorish behavior. So while I realize I may be too accommodating of his unbecoming idiosyncrasies (to put it mildly), the poor soul really has no one else.
But still, I shouldn’t excuse his disgusting attitude. In our younger days, he went so far as to cause several run-ins between myself and my parents. At the time, I was too immature to realize his failings, so I embarrassingly sided with him.
And it doesn’t stop there. His unwelcome contributions have played a significant role in countless arguments I’ve had with my wife. She can’t stand that I continue to socialize with him, but some relationships are awkwardly inexplicable and simply impossible to get out of.
And worst of all, I’m convinced this disgraceful little runt has played a direct role in damaging my relationship with Allah (swt). He clearly isn’t the most devout of Muslims, as he is sadly lackadaisical in his worship while uncomfortably exuberant in his worldly endeavors. Unfortunately I have found myself accompanying him on one too many of his indulgent adventures. While I’m adamant on drawing the line when it comes to clear Haram activities, he’s always keen to push those boundaries.
He loves to eat.
He loves to laugh.
He loves to socialize.
Odd traits for someone who has no real friends.
Every time I tell myself that we must part ways, I find myself returning his phone calls and allowing him back in my circle. No lie, but the last few Ramadans I’ve told myself that I’m going to purge myself of his distasteful company, sorta like TV or the Internet. I semi-seriously joke with him that I’ll tie him up in the same way Allah (swt) ties up the devils. And every year, I last for the entire month without contacting him, plus an extra few weeks after, but just like the TV and the Internet, he inevitably returns to my life.
And here I find myself reading these pathetic paragraphs, wondering why in the world I continue to associate myself with this most ugly of beings.
I’m sure you’re wondering the same.
But don’t judge me.
But don’t judge me.
Because you may have an equally vile friend in your own life, who is more controlling, more obnoxious, more devious.
And worse yet, you may not even know about him.
He is your nafs.
I despise mine, yet I continue our dysfunctional relationship where I grant him everything he desires, while he joyfully continues to sabotage my life and after-life.
I wish I could simply un-friend him ala Facebook. (sigh)