HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
By NANCY PATRICK
America, one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world, affords its citizens more freedom, education, success, and affluence than most other countries. You might think that would make Americans the happiest people on the earth; ironically, they are not. Examples of our unhappiness and dissatisfaction surround us—among them: stress, debt, family conflict, addiction, violence, political turmoil, and unrestrained competition.
A major source of stress relates to the area of unhealthy competition and social rivalry among parents who want to advance their children’s lives ahead of others. Parents face many dilemmas regarding their feelings toward their children. Obviously, parents love their children and take pride in their mere existence as well as their achievements; however, sometimes this love morphs into a dangerous emotion that damages everyone involved.
What happens, for example, when children do not measure up to parents’ dreams or expectations? In some cases, the children simply do not have the parents’ cleverness; on the other hand, some children lack the motivation to succeed because their parents have spoiled them with material things. These children have had no experience with goal setting, hard work, disappointment, struggle, or well-earned success. They feel entitled to success just because their parents have attained wealth and position.
The parent/child relationship, the most complicated among human beings, is uniquely insoluble. No matter how angry, disappointed, hateful, or depressed a parent or child becomes, he or she cannot sever the tie that binds them. Whereas a spouse can divorce a mate, friends can part company, secondary relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) can set boundaries that limit contact, parents—no matter how hard they try—cannot cut the emotional connection to the child they created and nurtured.
The parents’ relationship to the child differs from the child’s to the parent. Children grow up to separate from parents, knowing from childhood that they will eventually leave the family home and presumably become self-sufficient adults. The parents, on the other hand, have a visceral connection to their children, no matter how old the children become. Herein lies the source of a problem that pervades many modern American families.
Although my parents, who were children of the Great Depression, practiced some harsh parenting techniques, they did teach my sister and me to work hard, take responsibility for our decisions, and live frugally. More importantly, they taught us that society did not owe us anything. In a sense, this taught us a level of humility; we never presumed we deserved something we had not earned.
Somewhere along the way, many parenting methods changed from nurturing and guiding children to become honest, fair, ethical, and moral citizens to one of befriending children and living vicariously through them. This skewed relationship has resulted in parents’ becoming obsessed with their children’s lives at the expense of letting them become responsible adolescents and successful adults.
A recent college entrance scandal has revealed the extent to which some parents will go to ensure their children’s superficial status in a highly competitive world. These parents have bribed college admissions officials and coaches to admit their children to prestigious universities to which the children could not gain entrance on their own merit.
Some parents went as far as photo shopping their children’s faces onto actual students’ bodies, implying that their children had accomplished something they had not. Some SAT administrators and proctors received money for changing answers on test scores while in other cases, people other than the students took money to sit for the exam. That parents would resort to such illegal and immoral activities should shock and disappoint everyone.
The man at the center of the scheme, self-proclaimed life coach William Singer, promised parents that he could get their children into prominent universities through back or sides doors when the front door did not open. Singer took in over $25 million from wealthy people who had no qualms about buying their children’s entrances rather than letting them earn their own places.
The entire story illustrates not only the sickness of entitlement and greed but also the distorted values of those participants. Only a morally bereft person accepts what someone else has earned. These parents have insulted their own children by having no faith in their children’s abilities to achieve their own success. In essence, these parents’ actions prove their children’s inferiority to those who earned admission the right way.
A moving example of the honorable way to get into a prestigious university involves Dylan Chidick, a senior at a New Jersey high school. Dylan, his mother, and two brothers came to the U.S. from Trinidad as homeless immigrants, but his mother’s determination to support the family and keep them together inspired Dylan to work hard to achieve success in school. He recently received acceptance letters from seventeen universities, including all Ivy League colleges. What a contrast!
College admissions cheating may not rank highly among the problems in today’s world, but it has certainly revealed a major flaw of affluent societies. As long as children see their parents abuse a system of fairness and equality to promote themselves and their families, we will have citizens who exhibit selfishness, shallowness, arrogance, and a sense of entitlement. This change begins in the cradle; thus, parents who want truly successful children must take great care to model upright behavior for them.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.