It’s unavoidable given that my grown daughter has nothing to do with me, to see parents and children with loving gestures towards one another and not say to myself, “you wait…one day, all that you’re doing for your child is going to backfire and that child will leave you by the wayside.” Of course, that’s not true for most parents. However, for a handful of us, we are in that situation in spite of our best efforts.
I’ll be the first to admit that not only was I doing back-flips for my daughter as she grew up, sacrificing a lot of things for her but, I was afraid of upsetting her by not giving into whatever she wanted and needed or I thought she might need to be happy. Oftentimes, she didn’t have to ask as I was already doing it for her. I hated seeing her upset and crying or in discomfort of any kind. Part of that came from my own childhood where not only was I abused, vowing to never treat my child the way that I was treated but, also from being trained to keep people “happy” to hold onto their approval or stop World War III from breaking out. It was a survival mechanism that I had subconsciously learned and carried forward into raising my daughter and I did keep her happy and growing up well in every conceivable way. As a matter of fact, my home became “The Haven” for her friends when they had problems with their own families. I was there for all of them because I didn’t want to see anyone feeling pain of any kind having known what it was like to be in horrid discomfort throughout my own childhood.
Had I known then, what I know now, I would have done things a lot differently because there’s such a thing as doing too much for others and it backfires on you.
While most parents will agree with the idea that we love our children so much, we’d give our lives for them to have theirs, it’s not healthy for us to give up who we are as people nor our lives (meaning lifestyles) completely for them or anyone else for that matter. Nor, need we “please them” in every conceivable way in order to be loved. Fact of the matter is, they can easily dump us after taking from us while we’re pleasing them because they feel entitled or owed whatever they can take or get from us. After all, we’ve trained them into thinking and behaving that way. We’ve done them and ourselves no favours.
If I could go back in time and re-do things, there are a number of things that I would do differently, knowing what I know now.
- Give your child responsibilities. No matter what else everyone needs to learn that life has responsibilities and being a child makes no difference. Of course, what responsibilities a child has changes with age and abilities but, there’s always something children can do that gives them the idea that life is not a free ride. Even a toddler can be taught to put their toys into a bin and made a game in doing it. A school aged child should be expected to get homework done and perhaps, help with taking out the garbage or clearing the salt and pepper off the table or, setting the table. Older children can help prepare dinner in some way or vacuum the living room once a week. As the child grows old enough, doing their own laundry or preparing a meal while you set the table and clear it off can be done. Making their own beds even if it isn’t done to your standards but they’ve put the effort into trying is another. There’s a list as long as our arms that can be given to a child but, they need to learn responsibility for not just themselves but for the good of everyone around them and being part of a family.
- Don’t hand your child everything. Let them either make-do without some things or find a way to get it or do it for themselves. Having everything done for you and handed to you is a sure fire way for children to get the idea that they are somehow entitled to everything being handed to them. Handing them everything sets up two sets of thought processes in them. Firstly, they feel that sense of ease where everything they want simply lands in their laps. Last time I checked, none of us are Santa Clause 365 days a year and, it’s not healthy to get everything we want. We all know life doesn’t have a magic lamp of wishes or a fairy godmother that grants all of our wishes. Why should children come to think of life in those terms. We’re doing them no favours because in the real world we all know it doesn’t operate that way. Secondly, it sets up a lazy attitude where they come to expect that they needn’t expend any energy but will get what they want so, put their energy into themselves. A child who has no real need to expend any energy while being handed everything on a silver platter constantly, becomes “me centered”. They can come to believe that the world owes them everything and the only thing that they need to focus on is…themselves.
- Put up boundaries that they cannot cross with you and others. If a child isn’t given boundaries with you, they will expect that the sky is the limit. They will treat you as you have trained them to treat you. In other words, let them know that it’s not ok to disrespect you and your home or rules. Some things can be bent from time to time but, consistency is key here. Figure out where you end and they begin and let them know that you have definite rules and personal boundaries that neither you nor they can cross. For instance, your child expects dinner on the table by a certain time so that they can jump up and go out with their friends. If that isn’t your time for dinner or you’re busy with other things, they have 2 choices. They can either help to get dinner started (if old enough and capable enough) or, they can wait. One way or the other, dinner is part of their day with you (if that’s what you’ve set up and can do it) so, there’s no getting out of that because they want to get out with friends. Let them know that you have a life too and expectations of them or from them and you’re only human. You are not their maid, cook butler and chief bottle washer. If they are impertinent with you, there’s always their rooms and no friends for that night and perhaps, a few more. Again, there are so many scenarios that can come up, you’ll have to decide where your own personal boundaries lay but, set some.
- Treat you with respect! Did I say that loud enough? I’ll repeat it again to be sure. Your child needs to learn to treat you, your authority and others with respect. Don’t let your child talk back to you in a disrespectful manner. If you do, they will keep right on doing it and have even less respect for you as time goes on. Remember that if you wouldn’t allow others to treat you with disrespect, why should your child have that ability? Why would you accept that type of treatment from them if you wouldn’t allow it from the majority of people around you in your life? Once they get into that habit, they are learning that it’s ok to treat you that way. You are teaching them how to do it and it will continue or get worse. Stand up for yourself and place a firm disallowance on that type of behaviour with your child from early on. If they’re already older, it’s harder to break but, even if it means that they’re not going to see you or speak to you, it’s never too late to stand up and let them know that it’s not ok to continue treating you that way. Older children will balk and perhaps, pull at the guilt strings or perhaps, walk away but the alternative of letting them continue to treat you with disrespect is a sad one. Don’t allow it. Stand up for yourself. People in general respect people who respect themselves.
- Don’t put up with an obnoxious/disrespectful friend, girlfriend or boyfriend/significant other to your child. If you’ve set up the above scenarios, there shouldn’t be much of a problem with talking to your child about your feelings towards allowing someone around you or into your home who disrespects you or your family. That child should need one simple reminder that you won’t permit that type of treatment from anyone. If you haven’t done the above and they bring home a rude, obnoxious jerk who makes your skin crawl, try talking it out with them first and letting them know how you feel and why in a respectful way as one adult to another. If that doesn’t make them see what that person is doing wrong and how they are making you feel then, you have other alternatives to consider. One of those is that your child respects that person more than they respect you and your feelings. At that point, you have every right to refuse to have that person around you and not permitted back into your home. Let your child know that you love them and you want them around you but, not their significant other…at least, until/unless they can learn to respect you and gain some social manners. In spite of what the “experts” say about this (most will tell you to “put up with it and hope that the child sees it for themselves) you have every right to not accept that type of behaviour from anyone both within yourself or your home nor, do you need to be exposed to that type of treatment. Putting up with someone else’s poor treatment of you in the hopes that your child will see what that person is doing or not doing, is a recipe for disaster down the road. Often they will not see it and you’re going to get walked on by either this person or both of them.
- Be the “Squeaky Wheel”. A lot of parents will cater to and put up with a tremendous amount of garbage from their children and not say a word about how it makes them feel or, they will say it once then, give up saying anything. This rarely gets any action from your child. If you have a wish, need or want from your child (within reason, of course), speak up and don’t stop letting them know what you want/expect from them in a kind and gentle but firm way. Don’t give up on your needs being filled because you’re being drowned out by them. Keep on letting them know that it’s what you want from them no matter how many times you have to do it. Eventually, the squeaky wheel gets the oil….even if only to stop the “noise”.
As I watch young parents doing cart wheels for their children, sacrificing their own needs and wants, their time and energy, I can’t help feeling that at least a few of these children are going to go down the same path that my own daughter has taken because I did the same things. Again, not every child who was catered to, hand, foot and tail will turn out this way but, there’s a good chance that they could. Do you really want to take that chance?
If your child is still growing up and young, start slowly implementing some of the things that have been mentioned above until they get used to “the new rules”. If your child has already grown up and is treating you like you’re their dishrag or doormat…it’s time to stop it now and start to let them know by talking it out that it’s not acceptable from here on out. If they don’t understand that or they walk out on you, well you can go on doing the same things and getting hurt more and more or…you can decide that they’ve made choices that don’t include respecting you as a person. Do you really want them in your life if that’s the way that they will continue treating you?
I’m not a counsellor of any type so take what I’ve had to say here as personal experience and opinion only and make up your own mind as to how to best handle it with your child/children.
From my little corner of life anyway…you deserve a respectful, loving, reciprocative relationship with your child of any age. If they can’t do that much, doing more for them won’t net you anything different or better. Take it from one who has been there.
Give me your opinions in the comments section. Let’s talk parent to parent.