GAZE

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HOW WE UNDERMINE OUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE

By Irena Ioannou

In the olden days, being a good parent translated into putting food on the table and raising good, useful-for-society, children. Nowadays, the first condition is out of the equation; you simply don’t go ahead and form a family unless you can afford it. And the second element, nurturing useful members of society, has somehow lost momentum. We get so caught up in our own and society’s responsibilities towards our children that we often neglect our offspring’s basic responsibilities towards the rest.

As modern mothers become more educated and cultured, some might think that we would not fall into the same traps parents fell into in the past; some might think that we’d know better. Yet, we are constantly making mistakes that might compromise our children’s future success.

Here are just some of them:

We project our regrets onto our children’s goals.

Our regrets and disappointments from our childhood sometimes haunt us as adults.  We recognise that we could have been a famous cello player if only we’d had discipline, but now it’s too late for us. But it’s not too late for our kids. “What do you mean you don’t want to learn how to play cello?” a mother will ask her daughter exasperated. “You just can’t miss the opportunity. You could become a famous cello player!”

In the process, we tend to forget that becoming a famous athlete, or a cello player might be our own dream, but is not our child’s. And that nobody will do something she does not like in the long run. In our effort to provide our children with the necessary skills to achieve their goals and succeed in life, we make our second mistake.

We overload their schedules with activities.

Are chess lessons offered at school? Our child can’t miss the chance, since chess is such a ‘smart’ activity. Did her classmates enroll in that new robotics class that introduces children to programming? We’ll enroll our daughter too, and squeeze the class in between archery practice and cello lessons, because we wouldn’t feel good with ourselves if we did otherwise. We wouldn’t like our child to be left behind.

In order to cram everything in, though, the whole family needs to follow a carefully devised schedule, and not allow for the slightest deviation. Our day turns into a constant struggle with time, where no one wins. But the day has only twenty-four hours, and our children begin complaining that they don’t have time to play, or rest, or just think for themselves. To sooth our guilt and to make them happy, we make our third mistake.

We buy them things. Lots of them.

Does their tablet look old? We replace it instantly. Did their friend buy a new cell phone? We’ll follow along, because God forbid they feel deprived in any way. And did they forget their jacket at school because they were in a hurry? That’s no reason to fuss. We’ll buy them a new one.

Children thus learn that everything is handed to them on a silver platter, and they don’t really have to try for anything. They just need to play along. As a result, we proceed to the forth mistake.

We deprive them of motivation.

Yes, every now and then we may throw in a comment like, “Every hour you spend playing on your tablet, another child spends studying”, or “Clash of Clans won’t put food on the table”. But our children probably don’t even glance up. They’re holding a shiny expensive tablet in their hands, with the apple logo on the back, and to be honest, they can’t think of any reason why they shouldn’t be.

They won’t ask how much it cost, because money doesn’t seem to be an issue. It was their parents who bought them the tablet, because, well, because they are children. And everyone has one. Their mother appears motherly enough by giving them the right advice and even using an interesting quote, but that alone is highly unlikely to motivate an eleven-year-old to study maths. Motivation isn’t something that shows up one day, nor something you can enforce. Besides, parents have already taught their children that they are not responsible for their actions. And that’s our fifth mistake.

We assume responsibility for their actions.

Material accumulation aside, we cultivate the attitude that our children don’t have to worry about anything, because “We are here. Our job is to help”. Do they face a problem at school, like getting a lower grade than we think they deserve? We will rush off to the headmaster to explain, justify, and put things right. Is there something they don’t understand? No, they don’t have to try. We will explain it to them, and if we can’t, we’ll hire a tutor. Are they not considered the smartest, most gifted student ever? We storm in to question the teacher’s judgment and motives, because we won’t tolerate our child being treated unfairly. Not our child.

As parents we tend to forget, though, that our children’s stay in the parental embrace is temporary, and they will soon have to face what lies outside the parental walls. Without realizing it, we have created socially awkward personalities—people totally unprepared to interact in an increasingly demanding society. People who haven’t learned that life is an arena, that no one is spared and that they’ll have to fight hard for their rights. And people who haven’t realized that society is not a mirror of the family life, where everyone takes great precautions not to hurt their feelings.

Society simply works under different rules. And unless we change our parenting habits, our children will learn them the hard way.

Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Betty Fedora, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Mortar, OTV, and elsewhere. She is a mother of four.

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