All my friends will tell you I am the queen of unsolicited advice. Whether you’ve asked for it or not, I inexplicably feel moved to give it to you. I’m sure it’s more annoying than helpful, but we all have our quirks. This one is mine.
So I’ve decided to help relieve my friends from at least a bit of the burden of my unsolicited advice by starting a Friday column as an outlet. For our first journey into “Unsolicited Advice”, we’ll travel to the world of the Slate advice columns, where a young mother is fretting over whether or not she is a bad mother for wanting to switch the location of her daughter’s 7th birthday party.
My daughter wants to have her seventh birthday party at a local public pool. She specifically asked for this pool because she knows she is tall enough for the slide. The pool does party packages, but I have some concerns:
The letter-writer went on to list all of the completely legitimate concerns about supervising a lot of kids around water, distractions and generally just not wanting to spend the day with a million wet strangers. She ends with:
Am I totally overthinking this?
The ensuing advice from Care and Feeding‘s newest columnist Jamilah Lemieux was kind but wrought with tons of overthinking about the “politics” of children’s birthday parties and disappointing our kids. But it got me thinking…why does this letter need to be written in the first place?
The answer, of course, is that too many modern American parents are simply afraid to say ‘no’ to their children.
If this person were my friend asking me this question she would have seen my eye start twitching.
Just say ‘no’!
Modern American parents have this perverse idea that saying ‘no’ to their child’s every whim retards their growth in some way. The truth is, the child that has never been forced to cope with disappointment or compromise is the one that remains stunted for life. Think about the “childish” adults you’ve known in your life. They all have one thing in common – they get mad when they don’t get their way.
The word ‘no’ is a caring parent’s best weapon against raising lazy, weak children. We’ve somehow ended up in this weird upside-down place where we place so much importance on the feelings of children that their comfort has not only become a “right”, it is a necessity for parents to feel like they’re doing a good job.
Your child needs to know that in the world and in their lifetime they will encounter all kinds of situations where they simply cannot have their way. Be it for safety reasons, financial reasons or just plain courtesy there will be all manner of events in which your child will not be able to have the thing or the outcome they want. Healthy adults know how to cope with disappointment because they learned in the safety of their own home.
Your home is the most secure place to teach a child dangerous lessons. You are the safest person to learn those lessons from, because you’re the person who loves them the most and has their best interest at heart.
You scold or punish your child when they run into the street because the consequences for such an act could be fatal. They learn to associate discomfort with the act of running into the street by your reaction to it. Little Katie doesn’t need to be hit by a car to learn that not looking both ways can hurt her. You “hurt/scared” her first by making her uncomfortable for even thinking about it. You’re the “safe place” for that lesson. If you never make her uncomfortable about it, the only other way to learn is to get hit by a car.
When we deny our children the grace of ‘no’ we put them in harm’s way.
Our job as parents isn’t to raise happy kids…it is to raise healthy and productive members of our family and our community.
You can’t serve anyone if you don’t even have enough good sense to handle a tiny rejection here and there. My greatest fear as a mother is raising kids who can’t take care of themselves without me or my husband. Mortality guarantees that we will not be here forever, and no parent wants to outlive their children. If things work out the way we all hope they do, we will be long gone before our children must face their own ends. Too many people parent like they’re going to live forever.
So to this letter writer I say: Just tell your daughter she can’t have the party at the pool. You are the grown-up. Regardless of how disappointed she might be sometimes, you have to use your better judgment and accept that your 7-year-old cannot properly understand the full consequences of the situation she is begging for. This is your job as a mother – to protect her from what she doesn’t know until she’s old enough to know it for herself.
My suspicion is that the author of the letter is afraid to disappoint her child not because she’s worried about hurting the girl, but because she is selfishly worried about how she, herself will be hurt to watch her daughter be hurt. This is more about her feeling bad than her child feeling bad.
Say ‘no’ and have the party at home. Your kid will not be in the therapist’s office at 30-years-old complaining about the time her mom didn’t let her have a party at a pool. However, if you acquiesce to the tears and the tantrums she absolutely will be in that therapist’s office complaining about how you coddled her and selfishly didn’t do the hard work of parenting to give her the skills she needed to navigate life on her own.
Families have a hierarchy for a reason. This letter writer sounds like hers is on its head.
That’s my unsolicited advice for this Friday. What would you have told this mother?