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Columns: December 2016

John Rosemond December 2016 Columns

Copyright 2016, John K. Rosemond

When Enough Is Not Enough

The following true story was recently related to me by a credible individual who for obvious reasons will remain forever anonymous. I pass it on because it is a quintessential example of the general intemperance of today’s parenting.

The scene opens in the white-collar home of a 14-year-old girl and her parents. She is an only child, with the surfeit of implications typically (these days) appertaining thereto. It is the summer of 2016 and said young teen is between eighth grade and her first year of high school. One hot and humid summer day she tells her parents that she does not want to go to the high school in her district because her friends, all of whom play (as does she) on the same elite athletic squad, are going or go to a high school that is some twenty miles away in another county. She informs her parents that she wants to go to Twenty-Mile High. After much yelling, crying, gnashing of teeth, threats, resentment and guilt, the parents put their home on the market, promptly sell it, and move to the Twenty-Mile High district. And everyone lives happily ever after or until said child’s next outrageous demand, whichever comes first.

What is it like, wonders a person who was denied such privilege as a child, to be 14 years old and in complete control of one’s family, to be able to throw a tantrum and thus cause one’s parents to pick up and relocate? What is it like to be a Big Deal at age 14? What sort of adulthood (in the chronological sense of the term only) does this portend?

The answers are, in order, weird, strange, and unhappy. Concerning weird and strange, it must be noted that the children in question lack a proper frame of reference. They have no way of knowing what a legitimate childhood is like, including being no Big Deal. Therefore, they are, to borrow from their vernacular, clueless. Because the Big Deal Child is ubiquitous, they do not know their childhoods are weird and strange from a normal, albeit outmoded, point of view.

But the real problem, not just for them but the rest of us as well, is the strong likelihood that they will never experience sustained contentment as adults. The only adult lifestyle that begins to compare to a childhood where nearly all of one’s whims and demands are satisfied by servant-parents is celebrityhood, and anyone who pays attention must be aware that celebrity and contentment are hardly synonymous.

I have long noticed that a good number of children now known as Millennials seem to believe that a life without drama is a life without meaning. And so, because life is not drama, they manufacture it out of the mundane. Every insult is cause for drama. Every conflict is cause for drama. Every disappointment is cause for drama. Every bump in the road is cause for drama. This is the inevitable consequence of a childhood that is high on indulgence and short on reality.

Fifty-plus years ago, parents took appropriate opportunities to remind children that they were just “little fish in a big pond.” That reminder has been absent from American parenting vernacular for quite some time, during which the goal of American child rearing has morphed from preparing children for the realities of life to making them perpetually happy by creating the illusion that they are Big Fish.

The question becomes: where do they go from here?

Accommodate Dietary Choices During the Holidays?

Q: My husband and I are looking forward to hosting our children and grandchildren over the Holidays—or were. We were recently informed that our 30-something daughter and two of her children have decided to go completely “vegan” and gluten-free and will only eat food that is devoid of any and all animal and wheat products. I have always cooked for omnivores. Now I’m informed that I must prepare one meal for ten people and another entirely separate meal for three people. Furthermore, my daughter has informed me that should I regard cooking two meals as a hassle, they will bring their own food. Am I right in thinking that there’s something very self-centered about telling someone they must cooperate in your dietary choices or you will bring your own food? If so, what is your advice?

A: Your assessment of this situation is right on target. But you need to understand—if you don’t already—that teaching proper manners to children is no longer the norm. Putting consideration of others before consideration of one’s self began to go down the child-rearing drain in the 1970s. Even if you raised your daughter to know better, the culture now exerts more influence upon her than her upbringing.

It is inconsiderate to expect one’s host to cooperate in dietary preferences that are just that—preferences. It’s one thing if eating vegan and/or gluten-free is a medical necessity. But if the person in question is not going to break out in a pox, go into convulsions or die if he eats something containing meat, milk, butter, cheese, or wheat, then said person ought to take a diet holiday when he/she is a guest in someone else’s home. And that includes bringing one’s own food—in this case, refusing to participate in a special, once-a-year meal that you have taken some pains to prepare.

There is a distinct whiff of narcissism to this. But keep in mind that you’re dealing with Generation Entitlement. If informed that expecting you to cater to arbitrary food “issues” is inconsiderate, the strong likelihood is that you will be told in one way or another that you are unreasonable, rigid, uncompromising, and worse. In other words, you will become the bad actor. Furthermore, the very persons who need to re-evaluate their behavior will see no need to do so and, in fact, will probably pump themselves up with a surfeit of self-righteousness.

When they were living under our roof, my wife and I told our children that a guest in someone’s home eats what the host prepares, even if the guest doesn’t really care for the food in question. To do otherwise is rude. If a guest has a medical issue that requires certain dietary considerations, said guest is obligated to inform the host well in advance so that an accommodation can be made without haste. But that was then, and this is now, and now is all about individuality.

So, the choice you face is one of simply rolling with this peccadillo or making an issue of it. I advise you to just roll with it. Tell your daughter you’d be forever grateful if she’d bring the necessary food. Oh, and tell them to bring their own stove and oven while they’re at it.

Just kidding, of course—in the spirit of the Holidays.

Comfort, Not Counseling, Is the Treatment for Nightmares

Q: Our 5-year-old has suddenly started waking up with nightmares. He's not able to describe them with any clarity, however, so we don't know what the content of them is. The most he's able to tell us is that there are scary people chasing him. He began having them about a month ago and has had maybe twenty since. They usually occur about three hours after we tuck him in. When they start, he begins crying or yelling in his sleep. We wake him up and he calms down fairly quickly. A couple of times he's asked to come in our bed which we've allowed. There have been no recent disruptions in either our family life or his life of late, so we don't know what's causing them. Do you think it would be helpful to take him to see a therapist?

A: I don't recommend it. In the first place, there's no trustworthy body of evidence that would support the notion that nightmares, as a rule, are indicative of some psychological disturbance--a "repressed" trauma, for example. I used quotation marks because there is significant reason to doubt whether the Freudian concept of repression is even valid. Secondly, there's a chance that talking to a therapist may make a mountain out of a molehill and either result in a worsening of the nightmares or lead to the development of additional problems. I base that caution not on research but on anecdotal evidence shared with me by lots of parents over the years. The efficacy of talking therapy is dicey with adults; it's even dicier with children.

In some cases, it's possible to associate the onset of nightmares with a difficult transition or a very upsetting circumstance, but even then it's impossible to be sure that the event in question is the cause. The fact is, almost all children report nightmares at one time or another. More often than not, they stop as mysteriously as they started. The one clue here is your report that the nightmares occur around three hours after you put him to bed. That suggests that they are somehow related to your son's sleep cycle, but that is nothing more than somewhat educated speculation.

In my estimation, you're doing the right thing, including letting him come into your bed on occasion. I am not an advocate of either attachment parenting or parent-child co-sleeping except in exceptional circumstances, of which this is one. You're also doing the right thing by waking him up and comforting him. If the nightmares get a lot worse you might consider taking him to a sleep clinic, but I'd give that decision some time.

In other words, for the time being just keep calm and parent on.

In a Family, Parents' Relationship Comes First

I recently asked a married couple who have three kids, none of whom are yet teens, “Who are the most important people in your family?”

Like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they answered, “Our kids!”

“Why?” I then asked. “What is it about your kids that gives them that status?” And like all good moms and dads of this brave new millennium, they couldn’t answer the question other than to fumble with appeals to emotion.

So, I answered the question for them: “There is no reasonable thing that gives your children that status.” I went on to point out that many if not most of the problems they’re having with their kids—typical stuff, these days—are the result of treating their children as if they, their marriage, and their family exist because of the kids when it is, in fact, the other way around. Their kids exist because of them and their marriage and thrive because they have created a stable family.

Furthermore, without them, their kids wouldn’t eat well, have the nice clothing they wear, live in the nice home in which they live, enjoy the great vacations they enjoy, and so on. Instead of lives that are relatively carefree (despite the drama to the contrary that they occasionally manufacture), their children would be living lives full of worry and want.

This issue is really the heart of the matter. People my age know it’s the heart of the matter because when we were kids it was clear to us that our parents were the most important people in our families. And that, right there, is why we respected our parents and that, right there, is why we looked up to adults in general. Yes, Virginia, once upon a time in the United States of America, children were second-class citizens, to their advantage.

It was also clear to us—I speak, of course, in general terms, albeit accurate—that our parents’ marriages were more important to them than their relationships with us. Therefore, we did not sleep in their beds or interrupt their conversations. The family meal, at home, was regarded as more important than after-school activities. Mom and Dad talked more—a lot more—with one another than they talked with you. For lack of pedestals, we emancipated earlier and much more successfully than have children since.

The most important person in an army is the general. The most important person in a corporation is the CEO. The most important person in a classroom is the teacher. And the most important person in a family are the parents.

The most important thing about children is the need to prepare them properly for responsible citizenship. The primary objective should not be raising a straight-A student who excels at three sports, earns a spot on the Olympic swim team, goes to an A-list university and becomes a prominent brain surgeon. The primary objective is to raise a child such that community and culture are strengthened.

“Our child is the most important person in our family” is the first step toward raising a child who feels entitled.

You don’t want that. Unbeknownst to your child, he doesn’t need that. And neither does America.

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