sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

June 17, 2011

Childhood and Happiness

Filed under: parenting — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 12:17 pm

Via PJ Mom comes How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, a very excellent essay by Lori Gottleib.  Gottleib, a psychiatrist, talks about the new kind of patient she’s getting:

Sitting on my couch were other adults in their 20s or early 30s who reported that they, too, suffered from depression and anxiety, had difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, struggled with relationships, and just generally felt a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose—yet they had little to quibble with about Mom or Dad.

Instead, these patients talked about how much they “adored” their parents. Many called their parents their “best friends in the whole world,” and they’d say things like “My parents are always there for me.” Sometimes these same parents would even be funding their psychotherapy (not to mention their rent and car insurance), which left my patients feeling both guilty and utterly confused. After all, their biggest complaint was that they had nothing to complain about!

At first, I’ll admit, I was skeptical of their reports. Childhoods generally aren’t perfect—and if theirs had been, why would these people feel so lost and unsure of themselves? It went against everything I’d learned in my training.

But after working with these patients over time, I came to believe that no florid denial or distortion was going on. They truly did seem to have caring and loving parents, parents who gave them the freedom to “find themselves” and the encouragement to do anything they wanted in life. Parents who had driven carpools, and helped with homework each night, and intervened when there was a bully at school or a birthday invitation not received, and had gotten them tutors when they struggled in math, and music lessons when they expressed an interest in guitar (but let them quit when they lost that interest), and talked through their feelings when they broke the rules, instead of punishing them (“logical consequences” always stood in for punishment). In short, these were parents who had always been “attuned,” as we therapists like to say, and had made sure to guide my patients through any and all trials and tribulations of childhood. As an overwhelmed parent myself, I’d sit in session and secretly wonder how these fabulous parents had done it all.

Until, one day, another question occurred to me: Was it possible these parents had done too much?

Lots of good points to discuss there — -about teaching personal responsibility,  self-esteem and what do we mean by happiness, for instance — a few interesting books mentioned, so read the whole thing.  I want to pose another question: did the first eighteen years of Gottleib’s clients count for a childhood?  They were chauffeured from playdate to tennis to music lessons, not allowed to experience a negative emotion and had their friendships managed by parents.  In fact, it seems like they don’t have any friends.

I love my parents and remember my late grandparents fondly.  My family provided a secure foundation that enabled me to go out and explore the world.  However, it would never occur to me to refer to my mom as my best friend.  My best friend was a few months older then me, lived in our apartment complex and attended the same school.

Gottleib’s clients are the ones who went along with their parents ‘captoring.  I want to know what happened to the kids who rebelled.

military aircraft
I have no idea what this helicopter is or who makes it, but it looks far more interesting than your average Bay Area parent.

An equally interesting question is why would any woman want to deny herself the joys of motherhood.  As Gottleib mentioned, we are now expected to talk through our kids’ feelings.  Sure, I want to clear up misunderstandings as they arise.  Is she crying because she was under the impression that I was going to take her to eat ice-cream today, when I said I’ll do it Friday?  Well, then I’ll explain what Friday is.  I try giving her strategies about what to do when problems come up, like pre-school kids (whose parent love to discuss their progeny’s feelings ad nauseam) grab all the crayons.  But why would I want to talk about her feelings if I expect her to get over them?  I’d rather opt for one of the fascinating discussions my four year-old initiates.  Topics range from how they make a merry-go-round and why there are mosquitoes to Blossomie, the ice-cream queen, who’s coming for dinner.  Way more fun for everyone involved than dwelling on her emotions.



  1. Thanks for the link! I’m still mulling my response to this. It’s got so many pearls of wisdom that it’s hard to pull just a few. I think she’s right. We’ve tried moderating our praise of pjKid but it’s difficult. I keep trying “you remembered!” or “you worked hard!” lol.

    Comment by pjMom — June 17, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    • You are quite welcome.
      I’m not sure where I stand with overpraise. Compare to other moms I think I’m OK, but sometimes I feel guilty and think that my daughter might compare herself to other kids and feel unloved.
      I have to say that praising her progress doesn’t work with DD. Saying “Oh look, now you can do it, and remember when you couldn’t” almost guarantees a fit because I remind her of how she couldn’t do it.
      Giving her two choices as tantrum prevention didn’t work either. What worked is giving her structure: “First we go to Trader Joe’s, then Safeway.”

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — June 17, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

  2. I took my daughter to the Children’s Museum of Manhattan today. According to their chart, there would be Jungle Collage making until 11:30. We arrived at 11:15 and she was really excited about making a jungle collage. But, when we got there, it was all closed up and the people in charge told us it ended at 11:15 (it did not, I had the original flyer.) Nonetheless, there would be no jungle collaging. My daughter cried and cried. I told her, yes, it was sad, but sometimes life is like that, let’s go do something else and come back for the finger-painting. And all the while, i kept thinking about this article and whether I was allowing her to experience enough disappointment. Is that like passing through helicopter parenting and coming out the other side?

    Comment by Alina Adams — June 17, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

  3. Nice piece, thank you. As the parent of a 4-year old, I ponder these issues a lot. I play with my son quite a bit, but I try to remain the disciplinarian. We must practice math or reading before we play soccer; if you break a toy you will not get a replacement; you will look adults in the eye and respond when they speak to you. I have no pretense that i am or could be a perfect parent, but I think using some common sense goes a long way. Coddling is okay in some situations (sick, injured, a movie on Saturday night), but as a standard practice, no. Where to draw the line is the only issue.

    (Btw, I think I have the comments field at my blog cleared up. If you stop by let me know if you have any more issues.)

    Comment by Country Thinker — June 17, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

  4. Parents are not your friends, they tell you what you need to prepare for life. Parents are not there to support you forever and pay for your mistakes they are to remind you that you own your mistakes. “Helping” a little, and infrequently, is ok but more is enabling. I know people in their 30s whose parents are paying their mortgage after they provided money for the downpayment.

    The impulse is if you make things easier for your child than you had it they will be better off. Truth is your child, whom you are doing everything for, doesn’t know what you know because your parents didn’t do everything for you.

    Parents should be respected and loved but not liked as you would a friend. You are not equals even when changing their diapers.

    Comment by Harrison — June 17, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

    • Alina:
      It hurts to hear them cry, but sooner or later reality will hit them. I hope to ease my kids bit by bit.

      Country Thinker:
      Happy Father’s day! You don’t sound like an over the top disciplinarian, just drawing boundaries.

      You are right, it is enabling. Helping is offering assistance in need, but subsidizing a lifestyle is enabling. I know such “adults” too. It’s truly amazing: Get your wife pregnant — receive a 3/4 mil house for your efforts.

      Thank you. I would hate to teach children of overbearing parents.

      Comment by edge of the sandbox — June 18, 2011 @ 2:35 pm

  5. Wow, what a throught-provoking piece. And yes, I do think parents today do TOO much for their kids.

    Comment by Karen Howes — June 18, 2011 @ 6:25 am

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