By Julie Baumgardner
Julie and Steve Barringer have two children, both of whom attend different schools and are very active in extracurricular activities. Caitlin and Webb are involved in softball, basketball, youth handbells, Chattanooga Boys Choir, music and Boy Scouts.
A typical day for the Barringers begins with Julie and Caitlin getting up at 6:15 a.m. They leave for school and work at 7:15 a.m., which is when Steve and Webb get up and get ready. They are off to school by 8:15 a.m. The children have activities in the evening Monday through Wednesday. Steve and Julie rely on their mothers to help them out with transportation for the kids.
“Monday through Wednesday are our busiest days,” said Julie. “Without the help of our parents it would be impossible for the kids to participate in all that they do.” Monday through Friday Caitlin has sports practice. She is also on a select traveling softball team that practices year round and currently practices on the weekend.
“Most nights we are all home by 6:30 or 7 p.m. and that is when homework begins. Everybody eats when they get hungry. Bedtime is at 10:00 p.m. Between 9 and 10 is the time that we connect with our kids.”
According to Dr. William Doherty, it is challenging to be a parent in today’s society. Doherty is a Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times, and The Intentional Family.
“We have a situation where children are overscheduled and our families are under connected,” said Doherty. “We have seen a ‘McDonaldization’ of the family dinnertime. Instead of dinnertime being a time for family members to connect and talk about the day, it is a feeding frenzy. Children are making demands of their parents and parents often feel compelled to meet those demands instead of setting limits. The choices for extracurricular activities are endless and children are often encouraged to participate in multiple activities. Instead of seasonal sports, we now have year-round sports and mandatory attendance at practice, even on holidays that have typically been reserved as special family time. Families are being forced to choose between their child getting to play in the next game and going out of town to visit family over the holidays.”
Doherty believes there is much evidence that the new status symbol for parents is a resume for their children, citing all of the different activities they have participated in since birth. Today’s children are growing up in a highly competitive environment. In the past, children had “down time” where they learned how to occupy themselves, or played a game of pick up basketball where the rules were kept by those playing the game. When a foul occurred the kids called it on each other and worked it out—without a referee. Now pediatricians are experiencing a significant increase in the number of children dealing with stress related illnesses and varsity coaches say that by the time most athletes reach their program, they are experiencing burn out and often don’t know what it is like to just “play” a game for fun. Why? Because the young athlete has been so structured in his activities that free time has been limited.
According to Doherty, there are many well-meaning parents who want to provide for their children, but may be confused about how to ultimately reach that goal.
“It is not uncommon for parents to say they find it difficult to say no, set limits, show and demand respect, and keep the lines of communication open,” said Doherty.
Picture the following scenario. Young Jessica’s mother really couldn’t afford to send her daughter to Cancun for spring break, but all of Jessica’s friends that she sat with at lunch were going to Cancun. When asked why she didn’t tell her daughter she could not go to Cancun, her response was, “How sad would it be that Jessica would be the only girl at her lunch table that was not in Cancun for spring break.” Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. Doherty says there’s something wrong with a mother putting the family in a financial bind because her daughter wants to be with her friends over spring break.
“What kind of a message is this mother sending to her daughter?” asks Doherty. “Many parents struggle with the ability to say no when a response such as, ‘The answer is no. We can talk about how sad it is that you are not going to Cancun, but the decision will not change,’ is much more appropriate. Parents should not feel the need to apologize for their decisions. The idea that our children will be mad at us and punish us is frightening. As a result, many parents have started the process of resigning when their children turn 12. They have come to a false conclusion that at 12-year-old child is mature enough to make good choices and doesn’t need the structure or limits that they needed when they were younger.”
Doherty says this is a dangerous situation. “Children need their parents to be leaders. Parents can’t be afraid of making their children angry. It is not the parent’s job to be their child’s best buddy. It is the parent’s job to parent and do what is truly in the best interest of their child. We have experienced a generational shift from authoritarian parents to parents who do not want their children to be unhappy. They have come to the conclusion that it is more important for their children to like them than to deal with the aftermath of setting limits. As a result, we are raising children who feel entitled, have difficulty with limits, making choices, and showing respect. They view themselves as consumers of parental services.”
There are ways for parents to cultivate a healthy relationship with their children that is loving and firm. Doherty suggests that if parents will focus on these areas the outcome will be a family where children not only like their parents, but respect them for creating an environment where everyone knows what is expected and it is safe to grow, make mistakes, learn, and share feelings appropriately. Read More