Friday, May 1, 2009

The dangers of self-esteem

I've been reading a lot about parenting lately. Nothing radical; just a few basic books and websites that try to give mostly practical information. (Okay, the chapter about how to work from home, assuming you had a full-time nanny at your disposal, was a little out-there. But most of it's been practical.)

One thing of interest keeps popping up: a warning that first-time older parents tend to try too hard to protect their child's self-esteem, and as a result, the child grows up to be a spoiled little monster with no coping skills.

Huh. We're first-time older parents, I think. But we'd never do that.

"Older parents fall into traps such as reasoning with the child instead of disciplining him."

Hey, reason is very educational at times! How else can a child grow up to think rationally? Besides, sometimes there are reasons for things. What should I do, not mention them?

"They philosophize that it's important to allow the child to express wants and needs, but then they may rely too much on negotiating with the child to keep the peace and avoid temper tantrums."

I dunno. I'm a big believer in expressing wants and needs. It's better than stifling them.

"They believe in allowing the child choices, but then go so far that the child's choices are actually controlling them."

Okay, no. Not gonna happen. The rebellious teenager inside me does not allow anyone else to control me.

"They get into the habit of speaking to the child as they would speak to an adult, and, over time, may begin to think of the child as a small adult, capable of the maturity and understanding of an adult. The child may add to this impression by picking up big words and sophisticated language."

I'm not going to stop using big words and sophisticated language just because there's a kid around. How could I do that? I talk how I talk, and he's going to pick it up, and that's how it will be.

"Eventually the child becomes so accustomed to high levels of respect and control that, when he finds himself in social situations where he lacks those things, he doesn't know how to act or what to do. If whining or shouting at home sends his parents scrambling to comfort him, he'll expect the same results elsewhere. If rudeness is rewarded at home, he'll learn to be rude."

Okay, got it. No rudeness.

"If Mommy and Daddy come running to protect him from every failure, no matter how small, then when he fails in the real world he'll lack any coping skills to deal with it."

Ouch. No coping skills. Bad.

Okay, maybe I should pay attention after all. I may not intend to over-coddle my son, but coddling happens. Jumping up and kissing every boo-boo happens. It's not like I have anything better to do than lavish attention on my child. I have a part-time job and I volunteer, and besides that... what? Housework? Ho hum. I can drop the laundry and hug my son without the world coming to an end. I have big plans for him, lessons to teach him, wonders to bestow upon him. I want to make him feel loved, and I'll have a million opportunities in which to do it.

Uh oh. Am I at high risk of becoming one of these older parents with an incorrigible brat?

I mean, of all the dangers I'm warned against, I was planning to do a whole bunch of them.



Here's a thought.

I rescue and rehabilitate feral (and otherwise emotionally damaged) cats.

"So?" you may ask. "What do cats have to do with kids? You're not one of those crazies who thinks, "Hey, I'll be a great parent! I love my kitty-witties to DEATH!" Are you?"

Noooo, don't worry. I'm not. I'm aware that cats don't equal kids. Cats lack the brain capacity in several important ways to measure up to kids. For one, disciplining them is pointless - they do not associate the punishment with the crime - ever - under almost any circumstances. You cannot train a cat so much as you can outwit it and manipulate it.

However, once you've learned to outwit and manipulate a cat, once you've learned to adjust your mind so that you can think like it, rather than expecting it to think like you, children are almost refreshing. With children, you have a chance, however remote, of getting through to him. Of teaching concepts like consequences and empathy, things that even the brainiest cat struggles with.

And... perhaps more importantly... I know from my work with cats that I am not a pushover. When a cat with food issues begs and begs and begs for HOOOOUUUURS over a nearly-empty food bowl, looking up at you with big sad eyes and mewling in distress, it's hard not to give in and fill that bowl. Even when the cat just ate. Even when that cat weighs 11 lbs - that's like 30% overweight for a small-boned female like mine.

It takes a pretty strong spine to say, "Hah, that cat's not starving," and wait until the next scheduled feeding. But I do it every day. And guess what - she still manages to not be starving. Over time, her food issues will fade, and she'll no longer panic at the sight of a nearly-empty bowl.

I can do this. I can avoid the traps, learn to say no, and raise a boy with coping skills. Coping skills AND healthy self-esteem.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, you can. One thing I've learned as a parent these last eighteen years is that one book will say one thing and another the opposite. One doctor will say one thing and another the opposite. One family member will say one thing and another the opposite (Ouch, that one's the toughest). I still read and listen and absorb but I've learned to trust my instincts more. And my biggest piece of advice has always been to love your child and be sure he knows that. Love goes a long way towards forgiving mistakes. And we all make mistakes!

    You seem like you're on the right track- taking what you can from what you're reading, learning from it, and tossing what doesn't apply. I'm still so excited for you!