I'm Okay--You're Okay Parents

This past weekend at Mass (for those who are interested: I'm not Catholic; my husband is; and both our children attend Catholic school), Father Jack -- who makes excellent observations about society -- told the congregation to "change the culture," rather than "letting it change you." His sermon was entirely fitting for this next blog.

I've been absorbed in several books as of late: The Narcissism Epidemic, The Me Generation, The Parents We Mean to Me, and The Self-Esteem Trap. They all cover the same basic theme: how parenting has changed dramatically, as children are now considered their parents' equals as opposed to their charges. "[Jean M. Twenge’s] study conclusively shows that there has been a tectonic cultural shift in what we teach and expect from our children. People whose birthdays fall between the early 1970s and the 2000s – adults now in their thirties down to grade schoolers and toddlers – have all been marked by this change," writes Dr. Young-Eisendrath, author of The Self-Esteem Trap.

Unlike Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be who tells parents exactly what they need to hear, Dr. Young-Eisendrath hesitates to lay blame squarely in parents' laps. I appreciate her point. She's trying to say that individual parents shouldn't beat themselves up too much for creating this environment because society as a whole condones such practices. In other words, even when conscientious parents question modern techniques of childrearing (such as time-outs vs. spanking, or talking through problems with your children as opposed to doling out punishment), the environment assures them they're doing the right thing. So unless you're 100% certain you know what you're doing as a parent -- and let's face it: Who is? -- you're going to struggle.

That said, many parents are clear about what's best for children. The most obvious example are parents of large families. I don't mean parents of multiples; I mean traditional-minded parents who choose to have large families -- and who raise their kids the old-fashioned way. What do these families have that others don't? Well-behaved kids. Smart kids. Independent kids. Kids with manners. Kids who stay out of trouble. Kids who think for themselves. Kids who don't expect a lot. Kids who don't think they're the center of the universe. Kids who know how to share. Kids who expect to wait their turn. Kids who aren't spoiled.

There are many families in America -- whether they have large families or not -- who still parent the old-fashioned way. They believe in the tried and true methods of child rearing and accept that some things in life don't change. Does this mean these parents never make mistakes? Of course not. But it does mean they don't allow the culture (the supposed "experts" or the junk they read and hear in the media) to change what they know in their heart is right.

As the welcome on my website explains, America has experienced a bona fide cultural movement in parenting -- and it began with the Baby Boomers. Not only were they the first generation to suggest mothers get out of the home and into the workforce, they were the first generation to treat their children with kid gloves. Because they were disgruntled about some of the ways in which their World War II parents raised them, Boomers suggested kids be raised in a whole new way. They were enormously successful in their desire to eradicate traditional parenting and replace it with a different approach -- using an "I'm Okay, You're Okay" philosophy of childrearing. Their intent was noble, but the implementation has been disastrous for this country.

"Lives have been shaped in part by a style of parenting and educating that has dominated child rearing for the past several decades – a style that continues. In fact it is being embraced by new parents who are locked in to a cycle of cultural demands and effects they might not even be aware of," writes author and fellow baby boomer Polly Young-Eisendrath, Ph.D. in The Self-Esteem Trap. "As a parent and a therapist, I believe that never before has it been so confusing and destabilizing to be a parent."

Indeed it hasn't. Parenting has taken on a whole new meaning in the twenty-first century -- and very little of it has been for the better. Children enter this world exactly the way they did one hundred years ago. They have not changed at all, and neither have their needs. By changing the way we parent, we have changed who children now become.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not against change. But I am against throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just because World War II parents weren't so great at "understanding the individual," or listening to their children, doesn't mean they were clueless about how to parent. Given the choice, most children would be much better off being raised by the World War II generation than by the Boomer generation or their children -- who make up most of today's young parents. Thank God for baby boomer psychologist Young-Eisendrath, who has the courage to face the demons of her own generation. What we need to do now is accept the truth of her observation, embrace whatever role we play in it (if we do), and change our parenting style. Here is a sampling of some of her comments:

"The crucial features (of our upbringing) led us, as a generation, to long for praise and approval. This longing was so strong that it blinded us to many beneficial components of our growing up, and the role they played in our later successes. Parental authority, coping with adversity, the discipline of daily life, moral and ethical training, and an emphasis on contributing to the welfare of others were largely forgotten when we became parents ourselves.

When we Boomers became parents ourselves, we cast all of our anxieties about self-esteem and self-confidence into child rearing strategies that imitated our own cures. We wanted to affirm our children’s individual selves and help them grow up naturally, opening like flowers in the sunshine of our positive regard. We mistakenly believed they would thrive if they just got plenty of praise, acceptance, and respect for their own thoughts and feelings. We didn’t see this as indulging them, but simply as supporting them.

Unfortunately, children are not flowers. We misunderstood self-esteem and self-confidence. They do not come from liking yourself or being praised for just being. They are by-products of things done well, developing an attitude of self-respect through recognizing your actual strengths and weaknesses, knowing how to be ordinary, and learning the rules of interdependence."

"Shifting our attitude is the key to climbing out of the self-esteem trap and removing the anvil of the special self. The problem of the special self is not the fault of individual parents, children, teens, or adults themselves. It is a mistake made innocently by a whole generation."

So if you are a traditional parent -- which, let's face it, if you're reading my blog you probably are -- please tell every modern parent you know to read this blog. We simply must solve this monumental crisis in our society. Admit it: Wouldn't it be lovely to have someone else's child look you in the eye, greet you by name, say please and thank you, and be grateful for whatever you put on their plate? Wouldn't it be lovely if most children didn't expect praise for the slightest little endeavor or think they're the greatest thing since sliced bread? Or who just thought you deserved respect simply because you're the adult? It really can be this way. You just have to make up your mind to parent your kids the old-fashioned way -- and to hell with what everyone else does.

Change the culture. Don't let it change you.

1 Response to “I'm Okay--You're Okay Parents”:

  1. Anonymous says:

    Child buttock-battering for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at wht they are doing and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like "Supernanny" and "Dr. Phil" are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child buttock-battering isn't a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    by Lesli Taylor M.D., and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that child buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational literature, testimonies, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research on the topic.

    Just a handful of those raising awareness of why child buttock-battering isn't a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics

    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

    Center For Effective Discipline

    PsycHealth Ltd, Behavioral Health Professionals

    Churches' Network For Non-Violence

    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu (supports Global Initiative)

    Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps

    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children

    Countries where child buttock-battering is illegal:
    Sweden, Finland, Norway, Austria, Cyprus, Italy, Denmark, Latvia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Germany, Israel, Iceland, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, Spain, Costa Rica, Republic of Moldova, and more in process.

    In fact, the US was the only UN member who did not sign the CRC.