I just started reading the current issue of The Atlantic, the cover of which carries the intriguing title “How the Cult of Self-Esteem is Ruining Our Kids.” Inside, there’s an article by Lori Gottlieb, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” in which she describes how the parental search for happiness for one’s children actually leads to vaguely unfulfilled, anxious adults.
It gave me a lot of things to think about; at times in the article, I found myself saying, “yeah, I got that part right,” and at other times I thought, “ouch–I can see how I’ve messed that up.” In essence, she argues that being too present in our kids’ lives (or, rather, being present in the wrong ways) can be just as destructive as being absent.
The article also reminded me of a funny incident involving my late father. I should preface this by saying that one of Gottlieb’s beefs is that we have culturally tried to remove the possibility of disappointment from our kids lives, in part by removing from them the experience of competition: we tell our kids that they’re all winners, all the time.
So, back to my dad. When my wife and I were newly married, we were spending a weekend with my sister’s family and my parents at a hotel. At one point, we were teaching the kids how to play Scrabble (they were in the 6-8 year-old range) by just playing around and making words. My dad wandered into the room, observed for a few minutes, and then asked, “Who’s winning?” We replied that we weren’t keeping score. He paused a moment then said, “Well, what’s the point of that?” That probably told my wife all she needed to know about my family of origin.
I’m looking forward to reading another article in the issue: “The Trophy Generation,” by James Bennet. Perhaps after reading it, I’ll have some further thoughts on both his and Gottlieb’s piece.