I've had reason lately to consider the prevalence of overindulgence of children by parents in our culture. I want to draw a distinction between overindulgence and positive parenting. I also want to state with unequivocal authority that I am not perfect at this by any means.
Positive parenting has to do with recognizing and understanding our strengths and our children's and family members' strengths. Knowing and focusing on strengths can help everyone grow. It allows us each to be ourselves and bring our gifts to the family table, so to speak. We are often good at different things, and much like a bouquet of colorful flowers that are not all the same variety, we can complement one another with our strengths. We can also learn from each other in the areas where we are different.
Overindulgence is much more than spoiled children, according to authors Jean Clarke, Connie Dawson, and David Bredhoft, who have done considerable research about the subject. It is giving children too much, too soon, or for too long, resulting in depriving them of experiences they need to grow and develop. Go to the link above to learn more about their research, their book, and their information in the news. You can also find a link to the book on my website.
In "Desiderata", by Max Ehrmann, he states:
"If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."
I have taken these words to heart, and as recently as this week, I was telling one of my children that it's not generally helpful to compare himself to others, because there will always be someone smarter, more ignorant, heavier, skinnier, better than you at whatever, worse than you at whatever, richer than you, poorer than you, with a fancier car, house, wardrobe, etc than you, with a older or shabbier car, house, wardrobe, etc. than you. I think this mini lecture/wisdom rant came when he compared himself to his brother just one too many times for my sanity that day......At any rate, my point was and is that it's important to focus on what is positive about you and your own goals. You might look to others for inspiration, but berating oneself because you can't do it like so and so rarely helps, in my experience.
All that said, as a parent, I do find myself in situations where I'm measuring myself up to others. I know fully well that I meet my parenting standards in some areas, exceed them in others, and fall dramatically short in still others. I look at other parents and admittedly wonder how they get their kids to do a, b, and c; and to be fair, some of them may be looking at me and wondering how I've gotten mine to do d, e, and f. I remember once talking with a good friend whose sons are several years older than mine, and she was telling me a story with a side comment of "when I was picking up their socks off the floor." She told me later that she had done a lot of things well as a parent, but they still left dirty clothes lying around from time to time. This was such a gift to me--to realize that people can be perfectly wonderful parents (and believe me, these are perfectly wonderful parents), even if their kids leave socks on the floor. I told someone the other day, "I think I've raised really emotionally intelligent, messy kids." Priorities--affected by so many factors--personalities, strengths in family members, life events. The parenting desiderata--there will always be others who are "greater" and "lesser" than yourself.
The parents who concern me are the ones who want to be their child's buddy so much that reasonable limits are nowhere to be found. The child or teen is running the show. This is different from giving kids more privileges and freedom and responsibility as they grown older. For instance, in my view, having a curfew for teens is reasonable. Having a later curfew for a 17-year-old than a 14-year-old is also reasonable. Negotiating curfew extensions for both ages for special events is reasonable. Not having any curfew for teens is overindulgent.
I think negotiating is an important skill. Moving my boundaries all over the place and changing them all the time because my child or another person's child doesn't agree with them is overindulgent. Ignoring a limit set for a safety issue is neglectful, in my opinion. There is a difference between my taking a look at rules in our family every so often to determine if they need updating for developmental growth and learning and my just changing the rules on a whim because I don't feel like fighting or I don't want my child to be mad at me.
So what do you do if you think you might be prone to overindulging? One thing is to take a look at "4 Questions for Parents" regarding questions to ask when buying an object--or even a service or activity--for your child or teen. Another thing is to find other parents you think do well in the boundary area--the parents who are clear about the rules and are willing to have children angry with them from time to time. Find some of these and cultivate friendships. Support each other. Set common rules to follow when your kids are together. Create your own village. You don't have to be clones of each other--just on the same general page. I am forever indebted to my friend who invited us to be part of a group she wanted to create. She invites us to dinner on a regular basis, where four families (sometimes more, sometimes less) come together and talk about this parenting stuff, share honestly our challenges and celebrations, sort it all out, and go back out into the world buoyed up by each other. Find a way to get support to be the parent you want to be. I'm positive you can do it.