There is no question about it: we all want what is best for our children. We want to see them happy and thriving with big smiles on their faces.  Often, we fall into a routine of doing everything possible to give our kids the world. But the best isn’t always what it seems. When we aim to give our children everything they want and create constant joy, we aren’t giving them what they need to fully develop nor are we being honest about the reality of what the world is actually like. We definitely should strive to create moments of joy, but that is not all that needs to exist to create a well-balanced childhood experience.  We have to create equal opportunities to develop grit and grit is not possible through constantly appeasing our children. In life, there are ups and downs, ebbs and flows, and we have to be honest and truthful about every single moment. We can’t constantly make our children happy; if we try, it would mean ignoring important rules and boundaries that help them to function in this world. So what exactly drives us to appease our children and what can we do to change our behaviors to allow them to develop entirely and embrace the experiences of disappointment and discomfort? Here are the answers to those questions. 

Why Parents Do What They Do

As parents, we do so many things in order to ensure our children’s joy, but the first thing we have to note is that nothing is a guarantee. We want to see them happy, so we buy them their favorite toy to distract them from troublesome feelings, or do their homework to avoid an argument or a late night filled with frustration and tears. We want to see their smiles so we go the extra mile to make sure they aren’t upset or disturbed. What this ends up doing to our children is it hinders them from their full developmental experience. When we buy them what they want, whenever they want, or do things out of avoidance, they develop a false expectation that everything is handed to them in life and they don’t have to do or feel the hard stuff. When we strive to have our child smile and feel no pain, the normal emotions that arise such as fear and sadness seem so uncomfortable and extreme; it ends up compromising our child’s coping ability to handle these emotions in healthy ways. The feelings of disappointment and sadness are inevitable, and it is crucial our child learn at the appropriate age how to self-soothe and handle these feelings. We cannot and should not try to mask their experience because they will eventually experience disappointment, and it’s important that they do. When we allow our children to fully experience the ups and downs, they grow up with the tools necessary to cope in healthy ways, understanding that these feelings do pass and that they have the inner strength to deal with them.

Problems with the Give-All Approach

There are several problems that come up when we try to give it all to our children. The first is when we give them an expectation that we will be doing everything for them; parents can often become a buffer that shelters and spoils them without the intent to do so. The behavior of constantly appeasing our child fuels the fire of over-dependent behavior, which ends up depriving the child of asking for what they need with the constant expectation they will receive whatever they ask for. According to an article written in the Parenthood section of Healthline, parents often benefit from the feeling of being desired by their children. The article states, “It’s nice to know they [our child] desire our help and need our love; but there’s a difference between a child wanting your guidance and a child needing you to solve their problems”. Lines get crossed when we over-parent and selfishly (but with good intent) try to ensure our child doesn’t struggle. Parents: we must be sure that we are not simply serving our children out of selfish intentions, for that love and attachment, and instead allow them to know we are here for them but are not servants for their every desire.  The bottom line is that our child does not fully experience life when we try to appease them and in turn, they show up unprepared for real-world experiences. 

How to Change the Pattern

This is the hard truth: we have to allow our kids to fail and experience their own journey. We can be there to guide them, help them, support and advise them, but we cannot interfere with the natural consequences of their decisions. Let them try new things to see what works and what doesn’t; some of the biggest life lessons are when our child sees how the experience naturally unfolds based upon their own decisions and not those decisions we influence. Nothing is perfect: let your children know you do not expect perfection from them, believe that truth, and apply it to your affairs, too. We cannot expect or attain perfection in any aspect; that is what makes life so full of wonder! We have gotten this far on our parenting journey, so now take a moment to step back and allow your child to create their own narrative. One very important way we can show up for our children is to help them navigate their emotions. We need to communicate to them in various ways that we know they are strong enough to handle difficult situations – that message comes from us as parents – it is not hard-wired. This is so important; we can be there for them without trying to change the emotions that are so natural to their development. Encourage your child to feel these feelings and let them know they won’t last forever (they never do!). This is one of the best lessons we can teach them; and one we can apply to ourselves in our parenting journey, as well. So remember: when we don’t appease our child’s every need, we are giving them one of the best gifts of all: an ability to develop healthy strategies that will accompany them throughout their lives and allow them to navigate their choices independently and confidently.