We are thrilled to have Dallas author (and super smart mama) Kay Wyma here on tinyDallas today. If you haven’t already, you need to read Kay’s genius book Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement stat…
Without further ado, let’s hear from Kay.
Actually, My Kid Is Special
By Kay Wyma
From one parent to another — or from one parent to all the people compelled to opine on the “right” way to raise kids though they’ve never had one to raise: Who knew you could love someone as much as you love your child?
From the minute a stick shows positive, we parents begin the welcome party. Some of us must first revive ourselves from the unexpected. Others cling to dreams with guarded hope. All of us resolve, as we leave the maternity ward, to do anything – anything – to prepare, to love, and to protect our little namesakes so that all will go well for them … because we parents love our children.
The question, though, is how to love them. Pre 1960s, parents, educators and society demonstrated love by pushing early independence. Among schoolboys and girls fortunate enough to get the nod, for example, unsupervised paper routes were common. Awake before sunrise, young workers not only delivered the news, they folded papers, sold subscriptions and managed the money.
Such scenes lingered a few more decades. A friend told me recently that during high school she and her neighbor job-shared at their small-town dry cleaners. Alternating workdays, they handled the orders, managed the store, and closed each night. And each evening, key in hand, one of the teens deposited that day’s earnings in the bank. And how old were they when they started? Fifteen.
Good luck finding similar scenes these days. Start with my son and his friend who, in response to my “get a summer job” directive, set out to prove they were un-hireable. They were right. And my son still had to work at a youth center—for free—because his mean mother is determined to train her kids. (Don’t worry. We rewarded the boy.)
But how did loving American parents slip so far in so short a time?
I believe everything changed in 1946 when the well-intentioned Dr. Benjamin Spock sold more than 50 million copies of his book The Common Book of Baby and Child Care—and convinced an entire society that a child’s positive self-esteem was the key to well-being. As tension tightened between good old-fashioned hard work and kids need to feel-good about themselves, by the early 60s, parenting philosophy was a colossal tug-of-war.
Throw in 20th century Existentialism, some 1970s free love, peace and whatever-feels-good-must-be-good mentality, add 1980s greed . . . and why are we surprised that “Me First” is the mantra for today’s graduating class and its modern family? Entitlement waters have been warming for years. We’re just now realizing the boil.
The scalds comes as some 30 million viewers watch a shotgun toting dad destroy his sassy kid’s laptop … as a community Easter-egg hunt is canceled because of over-aggressive helicopter parents… as a noted psychologist dubs a section of society as “Gen-Me,” “spoiled,” “narcissists” … and as a high school teacher stands before graduating students, families, eventually the world, to deliver an uncomfortable, often awkward and spot-on commencement indictment. That commencement address, entitled “You’re Not Special,” sours in the stomachs of parents and society alike.
It’s not that our kids aren’t special. It’s that we (parents, educators, government, society) have built our kids’ self-esteem on a foundation of toothpicks. Unlike the paperboy, businesses resist hiring kids for meaningful work that may also bring lawsuits or overbearing parents. Parents run from a paper route because their child might get hurt crossing a busy street, or a be lured into a big black van, or be embarrassed to work in front of non-working friends. We guard our kids’ “free” time, then manipulate environments to get them on a team, to be included, to excel in academics. Government continues to push Child Labor boundaries (see: Labor Department’s failed effort to ban farm chores in April, 2012) all in the name of safety.
This goes back to our Maternity Ward exit as parents resolve to prepare, to love and to protect. At the end of the day, which kid is better prepared, loved and protected? The paperboy loaded down with meaningful work, productive time use, and confidence/independence-infused responsibility? My friend entrusted with the key to a business? Or our coddled, meaningless-trophy toting, groomed to be self-aware, highly capable (with their technological prowess, much more so than the newspaper folding crowd) yet under-utilized youth of today?
The late Chuck Colson always said, “Culture doesn’t change people; people change culture.” And if the water is boiling, we should get out. The course can be changed, the behemoth tanker turned around—one loving, counter-cultural home (and teen-hiring business, and respect-requiring school, and individual liberty government) at a time.
Because my kid is special, all right. Just not the way he’s been groomed to think.
Kay Wyma is the author of Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement.
Read more of her work at The Moat Blog.