When I receive feedback about my articles, it is usually unassertive: “Good job this week,” “I really enjoyed your article,” and the like. Last week’s article received radically different attention.
“The problem with society nowadays is your approach! We’re creating a soft, ‘woke’ generation that lacks grit. Resilience is created through toughness, not this validating stuff you keep speaking of. We need to go back to the old English way!”
This comment was half serious, half messing with me, but I would like to address his point. (To be clear, I obtained this person’s permission to quote his feedback before doing so.)
I was born in Manchester, England, and am quite familiar with the old English way: tough, no-nonsense, stern. There’s a way things should be, and a way they shouldn’t. Children are to talk respectfully and follow directions. Resilience is born out of rigorous expectations, and children are to be put in their place when necessary. This approach is obviously not limited to British child-rearing ideals, but is commonly referred to as the old-school approach.
In 1944, John Bowlby, a British psychiatrist, theorized that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them survive. He attributes survival to emotional connection. In the 1930s and ‘40s, orphaned children in the halls of American hospitals died in droves, lacking only touch and emotional contact. Touch and emotional connection are prerequisites for survival, like food, water, and oxygen.
Bowlby was born in 1907. The son of a baronet, he was raised primarily by nannies and governesses. He was allowed to join his parents at the dinner table after turning 12, and even then, only for dessert.
This “style” of parenting is (hopefully) outdated for even the most old-fashioned of parents. The question then becomes: Where should the emotional revolution come to a halt? What is the line that must be drawn in the sand, which distinguishes between emotionally-healthy relationships, and a parenting style that contributes to “a soft, ‘woke’ generation that lacks grit?”
The answer, as is commonly the case, is that it’s a balance. We must ensure that we are providing our children with clear messages of unconditional love, concern for their feelings, and validation. But we must also be firm to create the structure they need to thrive, gain independence, and develop resistance. This can be best summed up with the following three rules that I have alluded to in the past:
But then put your foot down and calmly keep it there until things go your way! No ifs, ands, or buts about it! Empty threats and beating your chest to intimidate are exercises in futility. Composed follow-throughs, however, will get you results.
Be strong: Say what you mean, mean what you say, and follow through so it’s clear that you mean it.
Be loving: Make it clear to your children that even though you are asking them to do something they are unhappy about, you love them unconditionally.
Be understanding: There is no rule that children must feel like you enjoy “getting them back” through rules or consequences. On the contrary: Implementation of expectations is more effective when children feel that you do not enjoy making them uncomfortable.
I must clarify. Being strong does not mean being loud, intimidating, or angry, and it certainly doesn’t mean being cruel. Being strong does not mean laughing at your child for crying over something you’ve deemed insignificant. Telling your child to shut up is still rude, and is a lazy alternative to composed, strong interventions. Being strong doesn’t mean punish the troublemaker without investigating to see what happened. Being strong is not invalidating emotions because it would be easier if they’d just get over it. Strength in parenting is shown through confidence, composure, conviction, and consistency - by holding children to expectations without compromising the way we treat them. After all, kids are people too.
“What if they don’t listen to this calm, strong intervention? Then what should we do?”
First of all, let’s not kid ourselves. For every parent who keeps law and order in their home through intimidation tactics, I can show you three more whose kids are bouncing off the walls in rebellion to the aggressive methods their parents employ. If calm, strong intervention doesn’t work, who’s to say using parenting as an excuse to bully will work to maintain structure?
Second of all, keep in mind that obedience is only one goal of parenting. We are supposed to educate, guide, and most importantly, be unconditionally loving towards our children. They must leave our homes with their self-esteems not only intact, but improved. Somewhere along the way, this may include moments where they don’t jump to follow our commands.
If you try using calm, strong parenting interventions and they don’t work, seek guidance to learn interventions that don’t include vengeful, chest-beating intimidation.
So, how should we avoid enabling a soft, “woke” generation? Hold your children accountable. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and be in charge. Teach midos, derech eretz, and manners. Insist on homework being completed, class being attended, and adults being respected. But keep your eyes open. If your child pushes back, consider why. If you meet resistance, the answer may not be to push harder. The way to develop resilience is by modelling resilience, not by beating it into our children by invalidating. The way to nurture self-esteem is to allow children to believe they are loveable even when they are misbehaving or being inconvenient. No, this does not mean allowing bad behavior. It does not mean giving in to avoid confrontation with a child. You are an adult, a parent. You are in charge and what you say goes. But why do we have to be so black and white? Why does strength have to contradict validating and being emotionally in tune? Why does strength have to be mean and hurtful?
Show strength through love, respect, and sensitivity. Show strength with confident composure. There is strength in remaining calm while implementing interventions. But make sure to implement them. Keeping this balance will raise balanced children – children with toughness, grit, and sensitivity to others and themselves.