iamtheinvisiblehand

the kids are not alright

Posted on: September 27, 2011

I just came from a meeting at the school with the teachers of my daughter’s class.

Although there is a wide variety of parent types (pushy, my-son/daughter-is-a-genius/perfect/flawless, careless, servant-and-chauffeur, overachiever, etc. although all of them are loving and caring just the same) the overbearing, helicopter type seems to dominate the scene.

They usually make me laugh, but some times they are just flat-out infuriating. For instance, you see them at one of the other kids’ birthday party and they keep hovering around their child, disturbing their playtime with their other friends, or their alone time if they want to be left alone exploring and discovering, like a regular toddler should be allowed to do.  They are also the type to enroll the kids in endless courses and classes, not only in the hopes that they will always be ahead of the rest, but also because they just can’t resist being the ultimate ruler of the kid’s life or just don’t think they’ll ever be able to amount to much without them.

The children of these parents are usually seen doing what they are told, without displaying any kind of emotion or initiative that would reveal their liking/disliking of the activities they are forced to be a part of.  And I’ve seen this up-close virtually everywhere: at the supermarket, you’ll see the parent (notice how I don’t say the mommy, as dads are also guilty) with the child in tow, lecturing him/her on how sugar is bad for you and if you drink a soda you’ll get sick or worse, fat; at ballet lessons, the mommy (yes, in this case it is the mommy) telling the girl to suck it in and watch her posture (Barbara Hershey’s character in Black Swan was exactly the type albeit taken to the extreme); at the park, you see them telling the poor kid what to do instead of letting them run around freely till they drop of exhaustion; if there is a project to be done for school, you can be sure these parents will ace it, because the child will never have a say in it and they’ll do everything and more to ensure their child gets the best grade and the highest praise. And what’s worse, it doesn’t stop during childhood: it goes all the way into adulthood (I even read somewhere that there are some who keep doing their kids’ laundry even though they’ve already left for college).

What exactly are they doing? And more importantly, why? Is there ever a good reason to overcompensate?

There are 2 examples that are close to home and are frankly embarrassing. 

The first is my own sister. Although she is only 3 years younger than me, she is already in her early 30s and for some reason, my mother still feels the need to protect her from everything and everyone.

I realize my mother must have some feelings of guilt, mostly due to the fact that she uprooted us all from our home to take us to live with our grandmother (her mother) in the southern part of the American continent when she left our dad. I’m not complaining, for even though our life with grandma was trying  – to say the  least -, it would’ve been worse had we stayed. But as to why she only feels guilty about her remains a mystery to me.

In my mother’s place, I would’ve been extra caring with my eldest, as they were truly taken away from a life they already knew well and were already set in their ways. As for my youngest sister and I, we were just kids and did not have that much to lose or miss.  Besides, let’s face it, kids are tremendously resilient and they can find it in themselves to overcome almost anything.

Anyway, the trouble with all this is that my sister grew up to be a selfish, permanently frustrated and undeserving adult, who only seeks to take what she feels life owes her (which is everything) and never stops to think how she can give back or at least contribute in some form to society. She is so used to getting her own way, that she has forgotten what basic and common courtesy is like and acts like a tyrant. She is always ready to jump on you if you contradict her and basically complains all day long about everything. She works hard, I’ll admit that, but is that enough? I mean, is it OK to just live your life expecting things will turn out your way because you feel you’re entitled to them?

I’ve spoken about this with my mother many times and she admits she was “soft” on her growing up. What she has never been able to explain is why she still is. And I’m not saying that she shouldn’t have taken my sister in when she quit her last job, no. I am saying that she at least should’ve told her to pull her own weight while she stayed there (she made some money providing consulting services). Not only did my mother refuse to ask her, but my sister also failed to propose, so she lived quite comfortably at hotel mom for about a year. The worst part was that when we, her sisters, told her to pitch in with whatever she could, she would get furious and storm out of the room. This is her usual response to anything that goes against her interests. And yet my mother always finds reasons to defend her no matter what, or to praise her for even the smallest thing.

The other example is my brother-in-law. Now, he is in his mid twenties and curiously enough, he is also the youngest child. (I think I am going to coin the phrase “the youngest child syndrome” because it fits so well with so many people I know. That is, if doesn’t exist already).

I know things on his side are a bit different, because my husband’s father died when my husband was in his early 20s and his brother wasn’t a teenager yet.  My mother in law had never needed to work for money before, as she was a proud housewife, but all that changed when her husband died. So, she had to change gears immediately, since she could no longer be the same housewife and mother she had been all those years. If my guess is right, this is when she started feeling guilty about her youngest child, as she was no longer there for him  (and I mean that physically, because of course she could still be counted on, but she couldn’t stay at the house anymore) as she had been with the two eldest.

My brother-in-law is a good guy, but in all honesty, he is the portrayal of uselessness. He is a Historian, which is great if you are either a researcher, a writer or want to teach. Research is not big in the country where I live, and he is clearly not teaching material, but he’s supposed to be good at writing. The thing is, writing requires discipline and hard work, and I don’t think he has it in him, and I’m not being judgmental, just blunt (he had a whole semester to write his dissertation and he ended up writing it the week before the deadline, to the general applause of his mother and sister and the overall dismay of everyone else).

You see, for instance, he knew from day one in college that he would be required to take a mandatory English test in order to finish the curriculum and graduate. He had to take it before a certain date in order to graduate in 10 semesters, as is usual. About a year before finishing his studies, my husband started inquiring after the exam, when he planned to take it, what he needed, etc. My mother in law was even paying for additional lessons to prepare him for this test. Long story short, the deadline came and went and he ended up having to take an additional semester to make up for time lost. If we consider what a semester costs at a private university, I’d say that that was extremely inconsiderate, not to mention irresponsible.  And yet my mother in law said nothing and preferred to commiserate with him, scolding my husband for being too hard on him.  

Another example: on his 18th birthday, my husband told him he would pay for his driving lessons and for his driver’s license, since they boy had been quite insistent that he needed his license to drive his mother’s car. The condition was that he had to take care of organizing the whole thing, so as soon as he was ready my husband would only have to pay. Believe it or not, it took him 2 whole years to take the course and get his license. Good thing he couldn’t wait to get his license, eh?  The worst part: he doesn’t even drive his mother’s car, although she leaves it sitting in her garage 5 days a week. That was money well spent…

As if that wasn’t enough illustration, in April this year he got a 2-month contract with a publishing house editing school textbooks for 4th graders. He complained every single day about the job, how far away it was, the long hours, having to go in on the weekend, the awful and mediocre boss….you name it. We told him that yes, we could relate to his disappointment (real life is a b##$&) but that sadly, more often than not, this is how it was and that it was up to him to choose: he could either suck it up and keep on going if he really liked it, or he could finish his contract and move on to something else.  His contract ended in June and he’s been out of a job since, and is therefore still at my mother in law’s, who keeps feeling sorry for him, even though he is quite capable of taking care of himself.

The worst part is, she keeps trying to heighten every single thing he does, even if it’s something he had to do in the first place. E.G. they recently moved, and yet my MIL kept telling everyone how helpful her son had been, when it was clear that he had to do all that anyway because he still lives with her!

He shows the same traits of my sister: storming out of the room when someone contradicts his point of view, unable to keep a conversation when people disagree with him, frustrated permanently because real life is so much more difficult than he thought…it’s quite sad actually. No matter what good things may be in store, he misses them because he, like my sister, is always focusing on what he deserves and not on appreciating what he already has. 

So, to sum up this lengthy blog, yes, I understand why parents may feel guilty and think it is their obligation to protect their children, since they were unable to protect them at some earlier point or  because they were unable to provide for them like they wanted to or for whatever reason they find to justify their behavior. But still, an explanation is not a justification. The damage overbearing parents do to their children is appalling, even though they do it out of love, and shockingly,  it is now the global trend.

I’m not an expert, it’s just how I see it.

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  • Carrie Rubin: I don't always remember names well, but I remember circumstances. I especially remembered yours because it's such a rare cancer, and you were the firs
  • iamtheinvisiblehand: Thank you for your kind words, but also thank you for remembering it was me....it's amazing that you'd remember this considering the endless stream of
  • Carrie Rubin: I am so sorry to hear about your mother. After you commented on my blog yesterday, I remembered that your mother was the one who had cholangiocarcinom

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