Are You Too Nice To Your Kids?

The other day, I was reading about D.L. Hughley hosting the first-ever comedy show on CNN. He said his dad never told him “I’m proud of you,” but that his dad just acknowledging that he was a first on CNN was like a pep talk.

2008.10.26 - Caution! Slip hazard!
Creative Commons License photo credit: a.drian

That got me thinking of something I have often thought about: I think my parents were too nice to me. When I was doing a traffic report at 1 a.m. in Northern California (yes, I did that), my parents acted like I was Hillary Swank winning the Oscar. “Your Aunt Arlene can get KGO in San Diego and listens to you!”  

When I hosted my first (and only) network show, “Playing It Straight,” they paid for me to have a debut party which coincided with my birthday. (The local news came and it was really cool. The show tanked, but that’s another story.)

Perhaps if they had been the kind of parents that withheld praise, I would have strived beyond my G-list status. Maybe I would have had that hunger to succeed I see in others,as opposed to my philosophy, which is: “I’m shooting for the middle.”

Am I making the same mistake with my daughter? When she draws outside the lines, should I continue to find something something to praise, like ,”Love that you used the whole page!” Or should start laying down some expectations?: “Try to get it within the lines.”

I was thinking of that HIllary Clinton story, of when she was a girl. She came home and told her mom some girl had slugged her. Her mom said to go back out there and face the girl, that “we don’t have cowards in this house.” She did, and clearly Hillary grew up tough and able to take a punch.

My mom would have said, “The girl who slugged you is a sick girl; I know her parents and they aren’t well. Forgive her.”

What have others done that seems to work?

9 thoughts on “Are You Too Nice To Your Kids?

  1. This is a tough one — and very close to home for me. I think that self-esteem is critical to success on so many fronts – professional, emotional, intellectual (in no special order). So i think that praising your children when they deserve it — and throwing them debut parties –is important to making them feel valued and cherished.

    Now, here’s the hard part for me. I grew up extremely poor, and treasured everything my parents scrimped to provide for me. One of my most “wanted” presents one year, poring over the JCPenny catlogue before christmas, was a two piece snow suit — i can still picture it. Royal blue bibs, and royal blue jacket with rainbow splash across arms and chest. I was excstatic when I got it. My daughter has more than 7 winter coats (most of which she fights me to put on).
    My brother has 3 kids and had to face this issue long before me — how do you inspire your kids to have a fire in their belly when you spend your life stoking it for them? How do you balance your need to give them everything you never had with the equal desire that they appreciate what they have and act as though they had to fight for every scrap?

    My brother used to make up work that they had to do (picking up sticks that had blown down in a wind storm in the yard, e.g.) … but, honestly, that waned and his kids are very nice but have extreme expectations of parental caretaking.

    I’m trying, with my over-jacketed daughter, to instill a work ethic in her by making her cooperate in work around the house. She has to take her clothes and put them in the hamper. When she is through with her dinner, she helps clear the table and walks her plate to the sink, and throws out her own garbage. She picks up her toys when she is done with them. She is not yet 3, so nothing happens unsolicited, but I”m happy to say that she pretty cheerfully does most anything I ask of her. I really hope that continues, and that “consciously” parenting on this front will get me more than halfway home in raising a child that is respectful of money, appreciative of our many blessings, and that has a fire in her belly for something, whatever it is.

  2. It seems like you turned out pretty well! I like your parents’ approach. I think there’s something to be said for both approaches. But I think your parents’ is my favorite.

  3. Just wanted to make a quick comment on Viv’s colouring skills. When I attended my nephew’s 4th birthday many years ago I was praising his colouring and trying to boost his ego a little.
    ME: Wow, what a beautiful picture and you didn’t go outside the lines. I guess that’s because you’re a big boy now and you are four.
    HIM: Yesterday I was three and I didn’t go out of the lines!
    Out of the mouth of babes/kids say the darnest things.
    Now he’s 24 and I continue to praise and compliment him because I think that’s important at any age.

  4. I have spent the last almost 9 years raising a child with kit gloves. Over-praising everything she does, squashing all of Dad’s realistic interjections. I have interceded in her social problems, assured her that kids that aren’t nice to her are just mean horrible children and they don’t see how wonderful she is.

    It’s ironic that I am reading this tonight. Because just as I was tucking my little eggshell in tonight (who now blames ME for everything wrong in her life) I realized something:

    I am raising an emotionally-stunted, socially inept little monster.

    Good for me! Now what?

  5. Thanks Jill.

    Leah and Lynne, you both bring up very important points. My daughter is also being raised with more than I had and I have tried to talk to her about being grateful. Since her bedroom is the size of an apartment I lived in by myself for 5 years. I think some chores and expectations are a must and not make it like it ‘s the second coming if they scrape their plate, but the norm.
    While my folks were praising me they also expected us to load the dishwasher, do laundry, paint the house, etc. Which I think was all good. I’ve written before about how thrown I was by the lack of chores and responsiblities that my stepsons had. I don’t see that as a plus.
    Gee Lynn, can you try to go on Dad’s program now? in a few years she was going to turn on you anyway. My flip response.
    love the eggshell line. funny

  6. NO! That’s the point. At barely 9 she already has turned on me. No respect for me whatsoever. She actually told me last night that the REAL reason she wasn’t getting along with her best friend is “really probably because Samantha thinks you’re a weird freak and she doesn’t like you at all.”

    This has just thrown me so far down in the pits of mommy despair, it’s pathetic.

    And, no, really I have taught her that Dad is a meany-pants who is too hard on her. So, screwed the pooch on that one too.

    What’s was it the Cowardly Lion said? “Oh, I’m a failya!”

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  7. Lynne,

    I know it’s hard, and so much easier said than done (my charming ego-basher is not yet 3, but already has somehow adopted the attitude of a 14 yr old who sometimes finds me the most annoying creature ever born) — but, when I abstractly think about these issues, I don’t think, as parents, we are supposed to want to be “friends” with our kids. In fact, I think that concern is what drives a lot of moms to coddle their children out of concern that their kids will not like them. But it’s our job to raise them in ways that they will be able to survive in the “real world.” In our house, respect for others is paramount. And the line you relayed from your daughter, in which she calls you a freak, is very disrespectful. I agree with daphne, I think it’s not too late — but what has to happen first is for your daughter to regain respect for you. I’d start by setting groundrules about what she can and cannot say to you, and enforce them! If you stay fair and firm, she will learn to respect you — particularly if you keep your attitude neutral to positive. Kids need love from their parents, and guidance. They don’t always like the latter, but god do they need it — don’t let her down, You have a great sense of humor. Use it to advantage with her. But don’t give her the power to send you down the pits of mommy despair — you have insight into the problem and there’s no reason you can’t fix it!!

    Best of luck…

  8. Lisa, I think you are right. Sounds hard Lynne. I would have been frozen out by mom if I spoke like that to her. there’s the line ” you don’t have to like me, but respect me” something like that.
    think of your life like an episode of Wife Swap where new rules are put in place by the visiting mom and every one learns! maybe I watch too much TV

  9. UPDATE: Lynne is back on an even keel! Hurray!

    Thanks for all your kind words. And yes, I really do try to keep in mind that Frannie HAS friends. She needs a mom. But, yes, it hurts when we discover our child thinks so little of us. In actuality, I know that is not true. But it still stings.

    We had a very productive weekend discussing expectations and behavior and also actually talking about real feelings. Our family has been through a lot lately and the cherry on top was going through a devastating hurricane and returning to this God-forsaken island to try and repair our lives. Frannie only was lashing out at me because she trusts me.

    And I only lashed out here because I knew I would get some internet love and support without all of the passive-aggressive mommie judgement that comes from talking to your actual and not virtual friends.

    So, I thank all of you for that. I feel better now.

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