Spoiled Children: A Parent’s Biggest Fear

The worst thing I could’ve imagined was having someone think I ever coddled or spoiled my children. Okay, perhaps this is slightly exaggerated as the “worst” thing, but recently it did happen and I reacted with more emotion than expected.

I was so defensive when the conversation ended and I realized someone had made a point about how “he” wasn’t a coddler while subtly— or not so subtly— suggesting I was. I remember him droning on about how “he” holds “his” children accountable and will do nothing that may possibly encourage bad behavior.

I’ve prided myself on my own adult kids’ independence. After all, both of them graduated with their Bachelor’s degrees from colleges out of state. I rarely did things for them, even when they wished I would.

In the past, I’ve even bragged about my tough, no-nonsense parenting style of high expectations and hard consequences.

Yet, nearly three decades later I recognize I should’ve been more responsive to my children’s emotional needs by showing empathy and validating their feelings. Instead of worrying if I should’ve been harder on them, I wish I would’ve shown more grace.

I know for sure that at the time I was more worried about what other people thought than how my own children were feeling.

I’ve learned three key lessons in the last few years.

1) The trend of saying “this generation of kids is the most spoiled and entitled ever” abounds in numerous articles and books over the last 60+ decades. A quick Google search shows how today’s generation is seen similarly to kids all the way back to the 1950s.

“It’s more common to ignore the epidemic of punitive parenting and focus instead on the occasional example of permissiveness—sometimes even to the point of pronouncing an entire generation spoiled. It’s revealing, and even somewhat amusing, that similar alarms probably have been raised about every generation throughout recorded history.” Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

2) People judge parents through their own bias and interpretation of what they see and hear. No matter how well people think they know my family, their judgments are always based on partial information and assumptions.

3) Meeting children’s need for empathy and understanding is not the same as letting them do whatever they want. Responding with kindness, no matter how kids are acting, sends the message that my love is unconditional and not dependent on good behaviors. There are ways to be both firm and kind.

With all that I’ve learned, you’d think I wouldn’t respond so strongly to the accusation of coddling my children.

It’s hard to let go of what other’s think.

If only I had been able to see my parenting from outside of the fear of permissiveness, perhaps I could’ve saved my kids a lot of grief learning how to express their own feelings in ways that honor their truth.

Though, maybe the best part of parenting is knowing that each day is a new start. Even though my children are adults, it’s never too late to do better.

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