Parenthood Is Not a Popularity Contest

Kids these days are really “lucky”. I see a lot of parents buzzing around their precious little ones, so too eager to please them, some even apologise to their child when their child fall and hurt themselves through their own misbehaviour. I’m not suggesting that parents should not want to bring happiness to their children. But if that is the only concern, then they are in trouble. Both the parents and the child that is.

There are two aspects I want to consider: 1) the consequence of being so preoccupied with pleasing the children and 2) the rationale behind it.  I’ll start with the rationale part.

Wanting them to be Happy

I think it is a good thing that most parents want happiness for their children.  Adult life in modern Singapore (or most places) is stressful enough, we don’t need parents to make our childhood worse off.  Anthropologist would perhaps say that this is the nurturing and social quality of humans that forms the basis for growth and development of the human species and communities.  Evolutionist would say that such qualities proved to be suitable for the survival of the human species.  I’m just glad it is so and that my parents were very loving even if my mom had to introduce me to the finer points of caning (of the palms) in my younger years as a schoolboy.

I say “most parents” grudgingly as a part of me is still reconciling with those cases where parents abuse, harm and even prove to be fatal to their children.  Unfortunately, there are such parents.  Fortunately, they belong to the fringe, the anomalies if you will.  This article is not really about them, though if they would try to behave more like they are in the parenting popularity contest, they would be better off.

Giving happiness to our children is not wrong.  Wanting happiness for them is not a crime.  Being happy when they smile and not cry is in no way something to be apologetic over.  The problem (like “buts”, there is always a problem!) is when that is all we are concerned about.  If our logic is that parents should satisfy every whims and fancy of the child in order for them to be happy, then we are so wrong.  It is one thing to be able to give our child what they want, it is another thing to simply give them everything they want.  If we do so just to achieve immediate happiness, we may end up building in them this instant-gratification mindset.  The whole society and media is already doing it, we don’t need to deepen it.

Being parents, we should have our child’s welfare and happiness in mind.  But comparing short term and long term happiness, we as adults should know better.  Behave in a myopic manner and we may regret 10 to 20 years from now, while our child have to face those consequences in his character and person for his whole life.

Parenthood is not a Popularity contest

So why do parents behave in such a way?  I observe that in the past family structure, parents in their old age may be more financially dependent on their children.  It is traditional that the parents would stay with one of the children, normally the eldest son or child.  It may vary but parents would typically stay with one of the children and be looked after in their old age.  Parents today are supposed to be more independent socially and financially but they appear to be emotionally dependent compared to parents of the earlier generation.  While I have not done any studies, I observe that many young parents these days are very concerned whether their children love or like them or not.  This to me, is one of the factor that fuels the popularity parenting mindset.  There may be other factors involved, and I hope to hear from you all
your thoughts about it.

The combination of ‘myopia’ and popularity parenting mindset creates a dangerous situation where the parents’ sole aim is to please the child, somewhats at all cost, financially and emotionally.  Without regard for the long term impact, this put the parents squarely at the mercy of the child’s emotional roller-coaster.  While the parent seem to win the love of the child, they are unwittingly teaching the child emotional-ransom.  The by-product is that some children may over the years, grow up believing that the world should and would revolve around them, just as their parents did.  By the time they reach their late teens or early twenties and step into society, they may not be emotionally resilient enough to face life’s setback.  While nobody wants such an outcome, it can become the eventual scenario if the earlier factors are not nipped off sooner.

Don’t worry if you are their favorite parent or not, just be the best parent they have!

Fortunately, I also see parents who are playing the adult role in the parent-child relationship.  Instead of being overly preoccupied with short-term happiness, they provide for their children suitably without succumbing to the temptation of “Favorite Parent Award”.  Not always giving your child what they want may mean that they will cry a little here and there, but they will also learn that they cannot cry their way to their next toy.  Oh and while you are at it, please hush your child and not let your child wail, scream and flail around in the bus or train.  Have some decency and respect for other’s peace and space.  Besides, tt is also safer for the child if you restrain him while in a moving vehicle.

On top of giving and providing for their material needs, please also give them some good values.  Grades only appear in their certificates while money is only useful when gone (spent!).  Values stay in their heart for the rest of their life.  And the best way to give them good values, is to live by those values.

I’m not anyone’s parent, but I learnt from the best parents, the best and only parents I ever had.

6 thoughts on “Parenthood Is Not a Popularity Contest”

  1. Dear Venerable, thanks for sharing.  Here is my point of view on the matter. Anyone who is 35 to 55 now, knows that we cannot rely on our children for retirement.  We would be lucky if our children do not need our money after we retire! For example we may need to help our children pay for their wedding, any further education, and most probably their first HDB flat.  Hence seeking their love so that they would take care of us after we retire, is not the usual motivation nowadays. But that's not my main point.  My main point is that the excessive love nowadays seem to stamp from a recently psychology development in
    the West. 

    In the West psychologists trace the abnormal behavior of people usually back to their childhood.  For example why does this person lean towards criminal behavior? It is because when he was young, he experienced such and such trauma.  Why does this person tend to abuse his children and wife? It is because when he was young, he experienced such and such trauma.  Why is this person so prone to anger and depression? It is because when he was young, he experienced such and such trauma… you probably get my point.

    Thus through hypnosis, most faults of human behavior are traced back to a moment in their childhood which seemed to start them off.  It could be a simple thing that the father said, such as "I can beat you as I like" or "Education does not do you any good" or "You are hopeless" etc.  It could be a simple thing that the father did such as the father missing the child's school performance, or missed his birthday etc.  This hypnosis therapy would then counsel the person to overcome his childhood trauma, and the behavior fault would be "cured".

    Firm believers of this theory therefore believe that we should avoid inflicting any trauma to the child.  If the child does not experience any trauma, he would not grow up to have any behavior faults. This makes sense.  Each person's psychology is weakest during childhood.  Hence if the person can "survive" the childhood without trauma, he would be able to handle the rest of the life himself.

    Based on this theory, therefore nowadays it is advised that parents do not hit the child.  Parents should not scold the child even — every fault should be explained instead of punished.  The child's ego should be developed to the fullest!  Make the child self-confident — in this way the child's psychology would be stronger.  The parent should apologize to the child to prevent hurting the child's ego.  Use incentive measures for the child instead of punishing the child.  The "meanest" acceptable punishment to the child is to set the child off to a "cool off" period, i.e. make the child sit at a quiet corner to reflect on his wrong behavior. Does this theory work? Actually we won't live to know it.  We are adopting it now, and we could very well be producing brats, children nurtured with greed (the West thinks greed is good right?), and children with even weaker psychology. Or we could be producing, as the theory promises, a generation free of behavior faults and psychological problems.

    What do you think Venerable sir? How can we balance between correcting the child's behavior and not inflicting permanent psychological damage?  Does the child behave based more on rules or on rationale? With Metta, Lee Hon Sing

  2. Thank you Hong Sing for your thoughts.  I am resisting paragraphing your comment for others' clarity in reading. 😉

    Hence seeking their love so that they would take care of us after we retire, is not the usual motivation nowadays. 

    I'm not sure if you are agreeing with what I mentioned or not, but my earlier point was that parents today are supposed to be financially more independent compared to parents in the past, but they are emotional more dependent.  Sometimes I read your comments wondering if you are trying to restate, emphasis, affirm or reject certain points.

    To answer your question, for sure I think we can help children learn and grow; I just think that disciplining and
    learning without psychological problems is a false dichotomy.  To assume that scolding or punishing the child will lead to psychological problems is to infer causality from correlation.  Adolf Hitler had toothbrush moustaches, but we all know that such moustaches is not a hallmark of genocidal or world domination tendencies.  Charlie Chaplin for one, was not such a person!

    Personally, I would be more eager to learn from western child psychologist if their society do not have so much child behavioural problem.  More correctly speaking, I would have more confidence if their methodology proves to effectively improve child behavioural problems in society.

    Further, to simply plug in such methodologies into Singapore or other Asian society would be to ignore other social factors at play.  Granted, Singapore is considerably exposed to western ideas and thinking, it may well fit to a better degree.  The question is, do we really want to become what the western society espouses, or at least the brand that is being shoved through the mass media.  Less we forget, psychologist only make up a small fraction of the western world, and not all westerners subscribe to the American idea of seeing a shrink or a lawyer frequently.

    While we can and should 参考 consult from others, we should not simply assume that someone with a PhD or in lab coats knows best.  I'm still hoping that some country would report a significant decrease in delinquency and societal violence so that we can learn from them and adapt their learnings in our life.  So far, the state of the western world is not very encouraging and Asian societies that has adopted western systems wholesale or too rapidly discard their Asian values has proven to be chaotic at best.

    I have heard that there was a person who is reported to have reduced and removed all traces of desire, anger and delusion, and that many others have tried and succeeded.  That person is known as the Buddha, for he is awaken to how things truly are.  He and his enlightened dsicples are known as Arahant, Noble Ones, for they have purified and removed all taints and defilements, and hence live in a Noble way.

    This lineage of Noble Ones continue to this day.  Amongst those who are learning and practising on this path, there are those who have eradicated all defilements and those who have removed to varying degrees.  

    For myself, it is to the teachings from this lineage that I have more confidence in. 🙂 Suki hontu!

    1. Thank you Venerable for your reply.  I am sorry I missed your point about parents' independence and dependence on various aspects.  My bad. My point was that the excessive pleasing of the child is due to the parent's fear of psychologically harming the child, rather than emotional dependence on the child.
      I am also sorry about the non-paragraphing.  I wrote it in several paragraphs and was shocked that upon submission all the paragraphings were gone. Unfortunately I cannot edit it after submission. This reply is written in 2 paragraphs, let's see if it stays as 3 paragraphs.
      With Metta
      Lee Hon Sing

      1. No worries. On hindsight, I think the excessive pleasing is perhaps due to a combination of both factors plus others than simply one of them.

        Movies sometimes mimic life and life sometimes mimic movies. Parents used to be portrayed as strong will and determined when it comes to disciplining the child. One common scene would be the parent issuing the ultimatum “If you leave this door, don’t ever come back” with respect to the child’s repeated misbehaviour, disobedience or
        defiance. The ultimatum is issued despite the hurt the parent feels in his/her heart, and it portrays the love the parent have for the child in the face of the gravity of the matter. Such portrayal actually reflects actual incidences found in Chinese societies in days gone by. This is a very different expression of love compared to what is seen in movies today.

        Whether influenced directly by child psychology or the western media, movies and television sitcoms today portray a role-reversal. It is more often the child who threatens the parent with an ultimatum for not acceding to a prior request or for not fulfilling it quickly enough. Meanwhile the parent’s love is portrayed as a panicky helpless parent who have to explain every single d*rn thing to the kid and apologise at every corner or risk being labelled as unloving, not just by the child but by other characters in the story. Whether or not this reflects societal change or has influenced and brought about such a change is one thing. For sure, such a change has occured and may become more prevalent.

        The media has to recognise the active role it plays and not simply assume a passive reporting pretence while parents need to think and decide for themselves what type of parenting would bring about true long term happiness and what type is focused on only the short term smile.

        We should perhaps have a forum discussion at the Library or PMT on this. I think many young parents and to-be parents would perhaps benefit from such a session. What do you think?

  3. Dear Venerable Chuan Guan and Brother Lee. I'm really grateful to read such a caring topic with constructive comments in it. I'm the youngest son grown up from a Malaysian low-income family and I'm recently a university graduate. Despite the fact that we face financial problem from time to time, I was used to be pampered with everything that my parents were able to offer. Now, financial problems have been settled down better than before but I'm the one who is facing the problem – being phobic with working environment and people.
    I'm not here to blame my parents for what they have sacrificed for me as they have been doing their best out of their difficult background. Instead, I'm here to stand on a point that over-protective parenting and constant kowtow to children's instant gratification would condition them to experience dilemma when they are going to face the world alone. Since I was a teenage, I was facing uncontrolable mood swing and also growing sense of self-isolation due to the inconfidence and impatience in friendship interaction. As the result, I am even easily depressed when slight change happens. Like now, I'm having dilemma of applying for work for months. However, no worry about me. I'm currently decided to take some time to understand and be aware of the flows of emotions by practicing meditation and approaching kalyana mitra.
    I've read brother Lee's comment mentioning that Western approach of understanding human behaviour is by tracing their childhood. However, we need to understand that Western culture perceives time as horizontal (e.g. there are beginning and ending of time) and Eastern culture perceives time as cyclical (e.g. there is no beginning and ending of time). From such understanding, Western methodologies put more emphasis on the beginning of a human life – childhood, as it is clearer to be proven, compared to the study of habitual growth patterns in human behaviour, which is somewhat complicated and vague. If we look from the Eastern view, what constitutes current human behaviour is not merely from the childhood, but partly from the reactions between supporting environmental elements (e.g. constant violent exposures from the media) and intrinsic nature in an individual (e.g. desire to dominate, self-restraint nature). That is why it is
    good for kids to try on the gain and loss, as well as the uncertainty in life, instead of growing their ego.
    Finally, I feel that a good punishment is not just leaving cane marks in their memory, but creatively restraining children's posessiveness and opening their mind, from time to time.
    I hope this remark would fit to this topic well because I'm used to connect to the wrong "channel". If the comment happens to be confusing, please kindly ignore it. X) With metta~

    Dear Venerable,
    This probably sidetracks from your main topic.  But yes I agree that it is probably a good idea to have a forum on how Buddhist parents can bring up kids (successfully) in the most Buddhism-compliant way.
    Let me mention 3 topics and case studies:
    1) How to bring up kids without anger
    Sample case: a father once shared this story with me.  He said he bought a new TV home and he was very fond of this new TV.  His kid daughter smashed the TV onto the floor. He said he did not even scold his daughter because he knew his daughter was too young to know what she was doing. He asked me whether I would be angry, and I said yes.  He said that then all my years of meditation were useless.
    Question: can parents bring up kids without anger? Is it necessary to show some anger sometimes to drive home the seriousness of the issue? What about secondary anger arising from scolding or caning the kid?  The parent started the scolding or caning without anger but just want to teach the kid a lesson, however the scolding and caning action actually arouses anger in the parent.
    2) How to bring up kids without arousing greed in the kid
    Sample case: A grand parent implements incentive system on the kid even though the kid was capable of following instructions without incentive.  After 2 years, the kid begin to demand the incentive to accompany the tasks.  A year later the kid then demand the incentive even without the task (greed?).  A year later the kid then demonstrated anger when incentives are denied although there is no tasks.  The kid does not accept replacement incentives. A year later the kid then turned stubborn (ignorance?) that he would only do what he wanted and no longer followed instruction.
    Question: Many people think that incentives are fine, not realizing that small greed can lead to anger and to ignorance.  The 3 roots are interlinked. We cannot nurture one without also nurturing the others.  Therefore how can we control the arousing of greed under an incentive system for the kid?
    3) In the end can we avoid blame from the kid?
    Sample case: In a poor Hungarian family, the youngest daughter was sent to all the extra classes (Primary school, free, voluntary, though by invitation from school only).  The extra classes include Science classes, Math classes and Sports classes.  The daughter came home late (8pm) every night and had to go to school every Sunday (for Sports).  The mother often threatened to disown the daughter if she did not top her class, although the daughter in the end always got 2nd in class.  All the rest of the siblings did not attend the extra classes though they were also invited.  Thus the relatives complained that the mother robbed the youngest daughter of her childhood. Many years later this youngest daughter did so well in her studies that she got a PhD from US and travels the world doing her favorite research.  Her elder sister did not manage in her studies and becomes unemployed.  The elder sister blamed her mother for not sending her to those extra classes.  The youngest daughter on reflection said, &
    quot;I did not really not have a childhood, but instead I have a different childhood. I enjoyed the Science extra classes very much, and was proud to complete projects after projects while other kids were merely playing their time away."
    Question: Parents may think they escape "blame" by giving the child a "childhood", but in the end they are still blamed for not fully developing the kids' potential.  What is the cause and effect of such irony? How can the parent truly escape "blame"?

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