My children sometimes think I’m mean.
They don’t always appreciate my methods of doing things.
Raising children in a culture of indulgence is challenging. I am often made to feel like a lesser parent or even unkind for rejecting the urge to spoil and indulge my children. I find this…perplexing. For me, indulgence would be the easy path. To me, figuring out different approaches to reinforce respectfulness and responsibility is where the real work is. Finding subtle ways to help your child come to morally correct conclusions without just straight-up telling them exactly WHAT to think takes a cleverness that is sometimes daunting.
Saying yes is easy.
Saying no and helping your child understand that your no is BECAUSE you love them is difficult. Finding ways to convey that because they are valued so dearly, you want them to always be surrounded by goodness and light, and that materialism and egoism ISN'T goodness and is in no way luminous is formidable. THAT is what keeps me up at night. THAT is what brings me to tears of frustration and self doubt. The constant wondering, am I up to this task? In this society? In this world? How am I to accomplish this?
What indulgent parents don’t seem to always understand is that, for parents like me, “no” is NEVER due to being bothered by our children. We’re not saying “no” because we’d just rather not have to deal with something—or would rather not spend the time or money on them. There is usually an endless stream of much grander reasons behind every no:
No. I will not do that for you.
I want you to be strong, independent, contributory humans. If I don’t require you to do things for yourself, I will be planting in you a seed of helplessness. This helplessness could then take root, and ultimately threaten and thwart your autonomy, dignity, and self-confidence. It could haunt your entire existence.
I will help you, though. And, I will encourage and support you. I will do my best to inspire you. I will teach you. I will cheer for you. I will help you get you the tools you need to do it yourself.
No. I will not spend my time or resources in that way.
Because, doing so shows a lack of respect for the time spent acquiring those resources. And, I want you to ALWAYS understand that you are precious and your time is valuable. Allowing you to squander mine or your father’s won’t convey that.
I will make every attempt to help you discover a reasonable alternative. I will meet you in the middle. I will use all of my creative powers to help you find a solution that teaches you to respect BOTH your time AND your intellect.
No. You may not play that video game or watch that movie.
I want you to always value life. And, if there is even the slightest chance that exposing you to something like this would do anything to lessen the deep and profound awe for the gift of life that I have worked so hard to cultivate in your young mind, then I reject it completely. If, by exposing you to these sorts of “games” or films will in any way send the message that women, laws, or life are not to be respected—then I want no part of it for you.
I will happily help you to be entertained though! Let’s pop in the WII fit and play a little baseball or do a bowling challenge! Or, how about going outside to ride bikes! Or--I do weekly research on the best books coming out for your age group in several genres—let’s see if there’s one that sounds like enough of an adventure to chase away this rainy, boring day. We can read it together. Or build something. Or create. The alternatives are endless.
No. I will not buy you that.
I want you to always shun materialism, as to indulge in it, will create in you a starving void that cannot ever be filled with even an endless supply of ‘things’. I desire so ardently for your life to be like a rich soil where blooms of every color and variety are constant. Allowing you to be swallowed by the whale of materialism will not allow your life to bloom.
I will take you somewhere, though. Let’s go. Let’s experience. I will show you as much of this world as I can possibly afford. I will introduce you to different cultures and different sorts of foods. I will work tirelessly to expand your mind and world view. I will delight in my time with you.
No. Even though the situation is a difficult one, I will not tell you what to do.
I want you to always think carefully and deeply about things. I want you to weigh pros and cons. I want you to put yourself in the shoes of others when trying to discover the best solution for personal conflict. I want you to always pause and think before proceeding. Life isn’t about the quick answer. Telling you what to do is offering you that, which is a terrible disservice to you.
I will help you talk it out though. I will help you noodle it. I will bring my experience to the problem. But, ultimately, you need to take that experience for what it’s worth, and come up with a solution that is uniquely yours. This will be infinitely more satisfying for you in the end. You can do it. I promise.
No. I will not cancel my anniversary trip or date night with your dad.
I want you to always enjoy deep and beautiful relationships. I want you to always give those relationships the honor and respect that they deserve. Your relationship can set your soul aloft. It can help you evolve. It can challenge you. Love can inspire you to aspire to your greatest self. Love, in the form of romantic relationships, is a particularly gorgeous sort of blessing.
I will always teach you to take tender, gentle care of your relationship by modeling that for you. Always.
No. I will not speak for you.
You have a voice. You need to use it. Your voice is not my voice. You need to find a way to say what needs to be said, even when it’s difficult. You need to find a way to express yourself in the way that is uniquely yours. I love you. If I speak for you, you may one day allow others to do the same.
I will help you find your voice, though. I’ll encourage you. I’ll make every effort to build your confidence. I will listen.
I love my children. They are the only two people on the face of the planet whom I loved at first sight. I looked at them and loved them with a fierceness that was almost terrible in its magnitude. I can’t even remember what it feels like not to be a mother. They are somewhere in my every thought. They are my every breath. They have been loved and considered in every aspect of my life since the moment I knew of their existence.
I love them far too much to spoil or indulge them in ways that will hinder their growth and spiritual evolution.
Because of this, they may not always like me.
And, I’m ok with that.