Once Upon a Time…
In a house not far from yours lives a family called the Coddles; Mr. and Mrs. Coddle and their daughter Molly. Mr. and Mrs. Coddle both have important jobs and every morning they put on their fancy clothes and drive their fancy cars to their important jobs. But not before dropping Molly at school. To be honest, Molly doesn’t really like being driven to school. After all, it’s only a few blocks from home and she’d rather walk or ride her bike with her friends. If she had a bike, that is. Apparently bike riding is too dangerous for Molly. In fact, Molly has never learned to ride a bike because with all the dogs, cars, intersections and crazy people (as her mum calls them), riding a bike is “just not a risk worth taking.”
Even though there’s no need, most days Molly’s mum walks her from the car to her classroom. Just to be safe. You never know. Molly used to hate it but now she kind of expects it. Which her mum likes.
And then there’s lunch time.
While most of the kids are laughing, exploring and playing, Molly is more likely to be found sitting on a bench watching the action. Although the idea of running, climbing and sliding with the others seems like fun, Molly worries about the millions of germs. Her mum has taught her all about the germs that live in dirt and on things that other people have touched; like playground equipment. And toys. Apparently, they can make her really sick and Molly definitely doesn’t want that. Fortunately, her hand sanitizer is never far away. “Better to be safe than sorry”, her dad says. And dad would know.
Because dads know everything.
On Tuesday and Thursday nights Molly goes to singing lessons but to be truthful, she has a pretty awful singing voice. Kind of like an animal in pain. Nonetheless, her parents tell her that she sings “just like Pink”. Molly’s first five singing teachers don’t agree with her parent’s assessment of her talent but fortunately, her new well-paid teacher seems to think she has what it takes. As a result, Molly keeps wailing out of tune and mum and dad keep telling her how beautiful she sounds. One day she will win Australian Idol. Or maybe The X Factor. Possibly both. She’s yet to decide.
Last week Molly got a report card from school.
Her mark for English was a B. Clearly, this must have been some kind of mistake because according to her parents, Molly is something of an academic genius. Naturally, they consoled her about her lower-than-expected mark and decided that they would “take the matter further.” That’s what parents are for; to protect their kids when they are treated unfairly. Clearly the teacher had made some kind of mistake because Molly’s English tutor had reported that she was making great progress. As had her math, science and French tutors. The next morning Mr. and Mrs. Coddle met with the Principal of Molly’s school to “address the issue.” Naturally, the Principal, who appreciates the Coddle’s significant and regular donations, agreed with the concerned parents and Molly’s B quickly became an A. Accordingly, the negligent teacher was spoken to.
What was that silly teacher thinking?
And so the pattern continues throughout the entirety of Molly’s stage-managed childhood…
With all the help, guidance, protection and positive re-enforcement from her parents, by the time Molly is twenty she may well be the most deluded, ill-equipped, unaware, over-protected young adult on the planet. Unfortunately for her, the world beyond her childhood bubble will be a very different experience from her stage-managed, fear-based, sanitized, don’t-get-your-hands-dirty upbringing. Unless, of course, mum and dad can keep finding a way to dominate, interfere and manage their child’s life into her thirties
Their well-intended but ultimately disempowering parenting style will leave Molly vulnerable, under-skilled and ill-prepared for the messy-ness and unpredictability of life away from the parental safety net.
In many ways, they have turned their little baby into a big baby.
There’s a line in the parenting sand where unconditional positive re-enforcement is more likely to set children up for failure than it is success. For the healthy development of any child, it’s crucial to identify and respect that line. As a coach, trainer and observer working with lots of kids for lots of years, it’s been my experience that children who are never required to deal with the messy, normal, often-uncomfortable experience of the human condition (disappointment, success, failure, criticism, winning, losing, acceptance, rejection, highs, lows) tend to enter adulthood with (1) an unrealistic, if not dangerous, set of expectations (2) a low threshold for anything uncomfortable or unfamiliar (3) an inability to adapt (4) an unhealthy sense of entitlement and (5) inadequate skills for life beyond the bubble.
I have a feeling that this topic might polarise but nonetheless, I welcome your thoughts, insights and feedback. Keep in mind that here at me-dot-com we don’t need to agree to have a healthy, meaningful and productive dialogue. Neither do we need to criticise or insult to express a contrary perspective. All opinions are welcome as long as they are expressed respectfully.