Do you remember being a kid and having something happen to you that was totally and completely unfair, and then vowing to make sure that you never did the same thing to your own children someday? I sure remember moments like that, and they have led to some of the worst parenting decisions I have ever made. In my efforts to make things “fair” for my own children, I seem to have skipped the in-between step where I realize why my parents did the things they did, and how they were actually good for me.
Let’s be honest, when we put our children first in all situations, when we give them a vote in every decision, when they have unlimited options, when we are slow to discipline, we are not doing it for them. We are doing it for ourselves. I turned around in the kitchen and looked at my wife one day, and asked her “Wait, why do we ask the kids what they want for dinner?” I was never, not once, except maybe on my birthday, asked what I wanted for dinner. We ate what was served. I was never really asked my opinion on anything. I did not dictate where we went, or what we did. I had no vote. And every time I give parental power over to my children I am doing it to make things right for my 8-year-old self. Sure, I pretend like I am doing it for my kids, but it is really to make me feel better. I am righting perceived wrongs against my younger self.
I’m not saying, at all, that there are not times when we parents need to put our children’s needs ahead of our own, that there are not times for sacrifice, but when it becomes the norm, it can be harmful not only for you the parents, but for your kids too. I often wonder where my son and daughter get their sense of entitlement, which will not serve them well in life nor will it serve society well, and I realized that I gave it to them with my selfish desire to give them everything they ever wanted. I had only the best intentions, but it is now time to stop.
Everything I never got as a kid, I give to my own kids. Every unfair rule I was never allowed to break, my kids don’t have that rule. Every moment that I felt ignored, I gave extra moments to my children. And now I have kids who cannot amuse themselves for ten minutes without me being involved. I have kids who expect the right to be heard in every household decision, no matter how minor. From dinner choices to how the furniture is arranged, my kids think of themselves as equal partners in running this place. And this is obviously disastrous.
Kids do not know what we adults know. They have less experience, less knowledge, and less practice at life. They need to be molded and guided. Yes, they need to be listened to, and you need to answer their questions, but they need to know that they are not in the driver’s seat. They need to learn things like respect and responsibility. And you need to have fun doing it. You need to find the places where it is appropriate to give them charge of a decision, or where you can let them test out new responsibilities. Just don’t let it be all of them, all the time. Because what are they learning then? Power without the consequences?
Lead your kids. Guide your kids. Show them the way by your actions. But don’t make the mistake of putting them first all the time. Your needs are as important as theirs, and you have more skills than they do. When you give them everything they ever wanted, you are just being selfish really, trying to make up for some past slight against a person who doesn’t really exist anymore. And your children deserve better. They deserve to lose sometimes. They deserve to make do. They deserve to learn and grow. And they can’t do that if you keep putting them first.