Living with Children: Common parenting mistakes

A journalist recently asked me for the single biggest mistake being made by today’s parents. I was tempted to say, “Having children,” but stopped myself because even if I’d followed up with “Just kidding!” my bon mot would have gone into print. Oh my gosh! It just did!

I do, by the way, believe that some people are simply not well-suited to the responsibilities of parenthood. Nonetheless, I do not believe that people who want children should have to go through whatever process to obtain a “parenting license.” That would represent government intrusion of the most egregious sort, and I’m not a fan of government intrusion in much of anything.

But on with the show: I don’t know how one would determine “biggest” in a list of common parenting mistakes, but the one that causes the most problems for all concerned is the present proclivity for two parents to occupy the roles of mom and dad such that the roles of husband and wife become akin to the Cheshire Cat in “Alice in Wonderland”: that is, mostly invisible. It is an unarguable fact that in a two-parent family, nothing puts a more solid foundation of security and well-being under the feet of a child than the knowledge that mom and dad are in an enduring relationship.

Along those lines, another bigly mistake is paying children entirely too much attention, effectively promoting them to center-stage in the family and making idols of them. Children don’t handle idol-hood well at all. Let’s face it, adults don’t either. As does the citizen, a child thrives best under libertarian circumstances; meaning he is managed minimally (allowing lots of trial-and-error) while being held completely responsible for the mistakes he will invariably make.

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Paying too much attention to children is another biggie. In my experience, which is vast at this stage, ten out of ten children who seem “starved” for attention are not starved at all; rather, they have been for quite some time the recipients of entirely too much. They are attention-addicts, a synonym of which is “obnoxious.” It is entirely unfair to burden a child with obnoxiousness. If I was the Secretary of Parenting, I would only grant licenses to folks who pledged to love their children unconditionally but give them less than fifteen minutes of one-on-one attention a day (excluding during infancy and early toddlerhood, which are unavoidably labor-intensive).

Today’s parents tend to ascribe significance to their children’s emotional output. As a consequence of talking to their children about every emotion they experience, they risk causing their children to become emotionally-driven individuals with little if any emotional resilience. My mother was fond of telling me that I was making mountains out of molehills; that there were children in the world who truly had problems…REAL problems like not having enough to eat. She wasn’t about to lend credence to a complaint about not being given a turn, called a name, or some such trivia. For that (among many other things) my mother receives my enduring gratitude.

Let’s see…I have room for two, maybe three more. Ah, yes! How about the habit today’s parents have of assuming a servile squat when they talk to young children? You know, that absolutely absurd “getting down to their level” thing as if they are bowing to royalty. And then, to add the ludicrous to the absurd, finishing what they believe to be an instruction with “Okay?” So what if it isn’t okay?

Last one: Trying to discipline a child who has misbehaved without causing the child emotional discomfort (guilt and remorse) and inconvenience. That attempt annuls the attempt to discipline, which goes a long way toward explaining why so many of today’s parents complain that nothing they do by way of “discipline” works.

That’s because they are doing nothing.

(Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at [email protected]; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.)

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