What Looks Good…….Feels Bad by Connie Dawson

One father worked hard to make it in life.  By his great effort, he became a prosperous attorney.  His daughter remembers what he said to her on a number of occasions when she was growing up.

“If I had had it as good as you have it, I would be a millionaire.   You’re like a bump on a log.  All you think of is yourself.  You can’t do anything.”

Lacey, his daughter, now grown, knew she was being criticized but didn’t know what to do about it.  Her parents expected her to know what she had not been taught.

Now, Lacey talks about overindulgence with a friend and says, ”I was allowed, even expected, to receive with a capital R. No one seemed to think I was capable of contributing.

I remember asking to help mother in the kitchen and wanting to mow the lawn, but they wouldn’t let me.

 “When my mother told me to come and help her with the dishes and I said “No”, she didn’t make me.  She should have insisted I help her.  My parents were confused about who is responsible for what.”

Lacey responded. “So many times, I haven’t known how to do simple things, things that everyone else my age knew how to do. My parents took such good care of me, they didn’t teach me what would have made my life much easier.


“My folks had the idea that I should have fun.  I think they always thought of work as ‘not fun’.  I often heard them say, ‘Kids will have plenty of time to have responsibilities.  They should enjoy this part of their lives and have fun.’

“Fun’s fine, but real life isn’t fun, fun, fun every minute.  In the real world, there are ups-and-downs and a whole lot of in-betweens.  The real world has been teaching me tough lessons.  I know my parents meant well, but they made it too smooth for my own good.”

Lacey’s friend agreed.  “My friends envied me but I never told them how painful it was.  How can you complain about what looks so good?  I still don’t think I know what it feels like to be a real person.”

Lacey and her friend agree that they were overindulged as children.  What a relief to understand how it happened because neither of them wants their children to experience the same thing.  What can they do?

First, teach reciprocity

Taking and giving should be balanced.  A newborn baby is all about taking.  That’s how it should be.  Much later, when the child wants a ride to a friend’s house, he’s likely to get it if he has done his chores.  Give and take.  Balanced, according to the child’s ability to give.

Assume parental leadership

Acquaint yourselves with what children can do and insist they do it.  Read Elizabeth Crary’s fine book, Pick Up Your Socks to learn what to expect of children as they grow.  If a child refuses to help with dishes, she should be greatly inconvenienced when she wants the services of her parents.  (Review reciprocity).

Teach skills

Show children how to be successful by taking the time to teach them basic skills.  Follow through by expecting them to use their skills.

With repeated “fine tuning”, they develop competence. As they grow, they will not tend to shrink from situations because they don’t have confidence in their skills.

Use consequences that teach

Unless the consequences of children’s choices involve tissue damage, children should be allowed to experience any distress that results from those choices.  Encourage their sound thinking skills and send them into the fray to figure it out.  Stand by for support, but resist the urge to rescue.

When devising consequences for your boundaries, think about reciprocity and check out Growing Up Again and Parenting With Love and Logic.

To help children and yourselves

   · When you become angry or resentful, take that as a sign that something needs to change.

   · Parents are responsible for drawing the lines, for setting the expectations, for allowing or enforcing consequences.  The children are responsible for how they choose to deal with them.

   · Love them, even when they are being unlovable.

There is more help about avoiding overindulgence in How Much is Too Much? Raising Likeable, Responsible, Respectful Children – From Toddlers To Teens – In An Age of Overindulgence (2014, DaCapo Press Lifelong Books).

All photos from MorgueFile free photo. 

© David J. Bredehoft, Jean Illsley Clarke & Connie Dawson 2004-2024;  bredehoft@csp.edu