Is Spoiling Our Kids An Addiction?

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More clues (as if we need them) that American parents have lost our heads:

Slate and The Washington Post recently reported that American parents are now hosting birthday parties for seven-year-olds featuring enough presents for an orphanage, and milk chocolate facials, limousine transportation, and faux champagne for kids under 10.

Separately – but maybe related — enough parents are refusing to vaccinate their children to have triggered an outbreak of over 70 cases of measles in California and beyond. Measles – a disfiguring, sometimes deadly disease that was eradicated 20 years ago.

I have a friend on Facebook who posts daily close-up, color pictures of every nutritious, perfectly balanced meal she prepares for her three-year-old.

This friend is a Harvard University graduate.

Another Facebook buddy recently posted her daughter’s grades.

Her daughter is in law school.

And, ok, I spend hundreds of dollars every year on a holiday card and newsletter to illustrate how much I adore my three children.

Because…why? Because kids – whether they are old enough for graduate school, or so young they don’t even tie their own shoes — need to be convinced that they deserve a birthday party that costs more than a used car? A holiday newsletter all about them? Do adult children toiling in law school need approbation from their parents’ friends? Does the hypothetical, discredited risk of contracting autism or another affliction through a life-saving vaccine merit exposing thousands of other children to a disease doctors spent decades heroically containing?

The answer, I think, is no – to all of these questions.

The juxtaposition of these strange, irrational parenting trends exposes a dirty secret about modern American parenthood: this exaltation of our kids is not about our kids.

It’s about us as parents, and how we expect our children to meet our psychological demands.

A little kid doesn’t need a lavish birthday party to feel special. A McDonald’s Happy Meal usually suffices.

A law school student doesn’t need Mom crowing about her grades.

The risk of the measles vaccine has been proven to be false; the doctor who originally suggested a link to autism has been stripped of his medical license and the study declared a fraud.

These decisions to indulge our children are made solely by parents.

Again…why?

From my view, the important, but painful, question becomes: since when did it become acceptable to use our children to make ourselves feel like the best parent in the world? Isn’t it just a little bit ironic that when we overindulge our children in the name of making them feel special, we are using our children to boost our self-esteem? We’re like addicts taking a drug – the “it-feels-so-good-to-spoil-my-kid” drug. We can see how ridiculous this behavior is in other parents, but we can’t see how destructive our behavior is. Destructive to our kids, ourselves, and over time, to our country.

How do we stop this train wreck before we spoil, alienate, or suffocate our precious children? We need a new 12-step program. Hi, I’m Leslie and I Love My Kids Too Much.

Fortunately there is lots of advice out there. This recent surge of parental excess has been noted. The warning cry has been raised about the risks of treating parenting as a bloodsport. Here are three good books by smart, eloquent moms that you can surreptitiously slip to the craziest parents you know (and luckily, they are available in paperback): Brigid Shulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time; Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy; and All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, by Jennifer Senior.

Note to selves: we should read these books first ourselves.

Because the people who most need to detach from extravagance are not the ones paying attention. Maybe we are simply too busy spoiling our children, planning wasteful birthday parties, and voiding school vaccine requirements to do much reading or self-reflection. Parenthood is supposed to be about taking an incredibly precious raw resource – little humans — and civilizing these young savages into future solid citizens. Right? Not about epitomizing how extreme or unbalanced adults can be, or boosting our own self worth by letting our kids spoil.

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