By Dr. Erica Wollerman
Recently, I re-shared a post on social media about how this generation is being raised without limits and that this is well, leading them to be quite entitled and also not prepared for adulthood. Check out this article here.
I re-shared it because I generally do agree with the information shared. However, I did find myself reflecting back on the article quite a bit and wanted to add just a bit of nuance and gray area. Without careful interpretation, the article could seem like it was saying we should parent as we have in the past, and this is where I disagree.
You see, I find myself thinking about the pendulum swinging in parenting often. Not necessarily within one person or family, but within our culture. It seems that we went from one extreme, “children should be seen and not heard,” to another, “all things my child thinks and wants and says are valid,” “I will give my children anything and every opportunity,” or “I just want them to be happy.” Honestly, as a child psychologist and parenting “expert” (tell that to my 5-year-old!) I think we need to work on finding some middle ground here.
Though I agree that we are not setting enough boundaries with children currently, I do not want us to revert to setting harsh boundaries without a sense of love and connection. The goal is boundaries that are set with love and rooted in the connection between parent and child.
Often, it seems that we find ourselves overcompensating for what we lacked in our childhoods, and while this is absolutely understandable, it is generally not that helpful because we end up overdoing it a bit. In my eyes, this is a big part of what is happening in our society today.
We have a generation of parents who love their kids so much, and they want to do anything for them. They also likely felt unsupported, unseen, invalidated, and like there were too many limits on them as children. Combine this and you get the current situation of parents who are uncomfortable with setting limits and end up only giving praise and love. They seek happiness above all else.
What on earth is wrong with happiness? Well, nothing is wrong with happiness as a byproduct of hard work, feelings of connection, friendship, athleticism, and capability. There is something wrong with happiness for the sake of happiness because it is generally an empty feeling. To me, the best goal is to have capable, resourceful, and resilient children. And honestly, if they are those things, they will most likely also be happy.
So, what does it look like to set boundaries with love?
The goal is to set firm limits with a firm voice, while also remaining connected with your child. Even if this makes them more upset (this is exactly what happens with my son, when I try to validate his feelings, he wants nothing to do with it!), stay calm and present and let them know you are there while also making sure to set limits about how they are treating you. When the boundary is set and the child is then calm again, make sure to give them a hug or some kind of signal that you are still there, loving them for who they are no matter what.
This is the part that I think is more helpful than previous parenting strategies. We can give unconditional love and respect while also setting limits. As a former colleague of mine liked to say, clear communication is kindness. Boundaries are clear communication and a simple form of love from parent to child when combined with unconditional love for who they are. I also believe this is the best way we can prepare them for their lives, as this parenting philosophy also leads to kids with increased feelings of capability.
For other blogs I have written on the happiness trap of parenting and building resilience and capability in kids - check out this list!
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