All my kids wanted this Christmas was a Nintendo DS. But my husband and I had great pleasure in denying them these annoying anti-social devices. We saw it as a chance to teach them you don’t always get what you want. With so many gadgets and toys these days it is getting harder and harder not to spoil your kids. It is too easy to give in and in many cases allow them to literally run our lives. We all want the best for them but how much is too much?
Many parents give in to marketers who make them feel guilty if junior doesn’t have their product, guaranteed to give them “a head start”. Others enrol tots in endless organised activities which never give Mum and Dad a break. How many times have you heard someone complain “They have a better social life than we do?” And don’t get me started on parties! What are parents who hire clowns, fairies and stretch limos going to do when their kids turn 21? A ticket to the moon?
When our parents were young the prevailing wisdom was “spare the rod, spoil the child”. Children were intimidated, excluded and literally whacked into subservience. No-one wants that, but the pendulum has swung way too far in the other direction. And this is not good for them or us.
Parenting educator Michael Grose says despite having so many resources, parents are less child-literate than ever. He says Gen X is ‘‘quite an anxious generation’’, less likely to rely on instinct and more likely to question authority. Having fewer children, they are more prone to ‘‘micro-parent’’. ‘‘They expect the best from schools,” he says. “They are a demanding, anxious group.’’
Some also lack common sense and treat their child like a mini-VIP. They allow them to bully others in play centres and babble throughout public events, like one did during our visit to a chocolate factory last year. Not once did his Mum tell him to shush. These parents also take their children to expensive restaurants where they (the kids that is) yell, run and tip sugar bowls over without consequence.
Most of us are not that bad, just confused. We are literally drowning in parenting paraphernalia, from programs teaching babies to read to professional party planners for five-year-olds. That is why I decided to write Unspoil Your Kids; Escape the Parent Trap. As a mother of three children aged 6-10 I know what it is like to feel that pressure – and to give in occasionally.
We parents need permission to say no and set the boundaries children crave and thrive on. We also need permission to relax and have our own lives. Kids are special but need to learn to share, miss out and make their own fun. How easily we have forgotten the lessons we learned falling off skateboards, playing with neighbours and walking to the shops with carefully saved pocket money. So what do we do?
New Zealand psychologist Nigel Latta hits the nail on the head when he says we are all bad parents sometimes, but it doesn’t matter as long as we get it right most of the time. That’s why I try not to stress if my kids eat junk food occasionally, as long as they eat healthy most of the time, or if I let them stay up too late once in a while. Latta says we should be “consistent-ish” and do our best to ensure our children know some good, basic rules, and stick to them as much as possible. This is so simple yet so true. But as all parents can attest, it is much easier said than done.
Finding that balance between “me” time and “them” time is tricky. The sky will not fall in if your kids watch TV as you relax (we all watched way too much as kids and turned out OK. You don’t have to join in every game your children play. They need to learn to make their own fun.
And, remember, days do not have to be full of organised activities. Allow regular time for everyone to just “veg out”.
Unspoil Your Kids; Escape the Parent Trap is available in bookstores and newsagents for $9.95 (Wilkinson Publishing).