Sunday, September 5, 2010

Character Building

Being stuck in a foreign country with no money, getting lost in a shady section of the city, having my bicycle run over just before a big bike trip, changing my apartment locks on a cheating boyfriend….all of these events are compartmentalized in my mind not as bad things per se, but as “character building events” in my life. Or at least that is the term my parents would use to refer to these unfortunate occurrences in my life.

Character Building…something that made me a stronger and better person…like exercise and vitamins.

My parents had the belief that rather than stepping in to rescue me from any discomfort or angst—it was their job to remind me that I had choices and the power to do something about the situation. Perhaps it was purely a New England parenting technique, not to be confused with neglect, although the only thing that differentiates it from parental negligence is ACTIVELY not stepping in…choosing to not step in. Announcing that, as parents, they believe “ you can think this problem through and overcome it without them”…and then they neglect you.

I was not always happy with this style of parenting, but there is nothing like being out of money in a foreign country with one more week until your return flight to really make you think and get creative. The more college kids I deal with at work, the more I realize that problem solving is a lost art among kids. I think perhaps it is just too easy to speed dial your mom and ask for help and the parents are more than willing to step-in to rescue their babies.

“My mom is not supporting my quote unquote LIFESTYLE and I am out of money” I heard The Beast, with disgust in her voice, tell a friend when she had to explain to why she could not meet them for lunch. I must be honest—I too have a hard time allowing The Beast to “struggle” when it would be so easy to step in, but how else will she learn that if she spends all her money on earrings from Claire’s that she will be out of luck later.

Mr. Attorney, my car pool buddy, is the exact opposite of my parents and me. Even with his kids well into their late twenties—he is still on the phone with them everyday reminding them to pay their credit card bills, telling them the best car to rent, offering help with all the little day to day activities of their lives. It makes me wonder what is being created by this culture of helicopter parenting that continues well beyond the playground.

Take a look at Free Range Kids for a teen's perspective on hovering parents.


JGH said...

Great post. I was talking to a parent yesterday whose daughter had just started middle school. She had every moment of the child's schedule memorized and was trying to plan how the girl would get to her locker in between classes. I thought the next step might be installing a hidden camera in the backpack to make sure she got it right. I do remember the locker business being a source of anxiety, but at some point, you really do have to cut an apron string or two and let them figure it out.

LazyMom said...

Oh man--It is so hard to let go, but when will it be easy? Better to give the kids skills early...just like that little German Pre-school the girls went to--they will figure out that the bonfire is hot and will not jump into it.