Today’s Nuclear Family

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Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.

The absorption in the self is best exemplified by contemporary child-rearing practices in which the nuclear family revolves around the children instead of centering on fulfilling the needs of the adults.

Young children are always narcissistic which allows them to get the attention they need to thrive – but it also makes them unbearably narcissistic as they grow older.  That’s why a major task of parenting infants and toddlers has always been to mitigate their narcissism and enable youngsters to begin to learn empathy and the sense of caring for others that empathy produces.

Many parents of today’s youngsters are prisoners of parenthood.  The ever-increasing demands or requirements of good parenting have come to include always putting children’s needs first irrespective of the adult’s responsibilities and time commitments.  Given the need to reduce infantile narcissism this is not a psychologically healthy turn in direction.

Much of the time the behavior of always meeting the child’s needs are an acting out of a parent’s ambition for themselves to be achieved through the achievements of their children. 

Sometimes the achievements of the children are objectively tremendous:  outstanding school projects; demonstrable skill in the arts; measurable athletic accomplishments.  Those will add to the children’s status, self-esteem and confidence – and to the parent’s status, self-esteem and confidence.

But it is a question of how much is too much?  Is parental pressure unyielding, eternally competitive, never satisfied?

But is the pressure on kids to perform a contradiction of the whole thesis of Entitlement?  No, the two co-exist and Entitlement is by far the stronger thrust. 

Helped by the Self-Esteem Movement that held firm to the belief that competition is bad because there are losers as well as winners, the downside risk of losing or being evaluated as not performing has been largely eliminated.

Grade inflation is widespread at all academic levels and many teachers and professors confess to giving everyone high grades for fear that their own performance will be judged inadequate.  Not the helicopter parents who descend on schools and even work places to insist that their child’s grades be upgraded – and the institution capitulates to that.  Note all the athletic activities where every child receives a cup or something like that, irrespective of performance or whether or not they played.  The cup is simply for showing up.

The “Kindness” that Creates Entitlement is Never Kind.

It is never kind for anyone to prevent them from developing the personal attributes and the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the reality of whatever their world becomes.

We have a generation of youngsters, some of whom are intellectually precocious, most of whom have never been able to experience the imperatives created by needs that come from scarcity.  We have a generation deprived on the experiences of failing and then succeeding, the key to resilience and the ability to bounce back from whatever life delivers your way.

We have a generation – or two if you include their parents – who are unprepared to deal with an unpredictable and uncontrollable world of ever increasing competition.  They think they’re confident and resilient and will continue to believe that until hard times take away their security and they feel blind-sided by the unfairness of better prepared competitors.

It is not kind to uphold non-responsibility and pleasure as the vital goals because every life needs meaning.  Meaning comes from being seriously committed to something larger and more significant and more enduring than one’s self.  The majority of people ground the meaning of their life in voluntary contributions and in raising their children for the benefit of the children. 

When there is no real commitment outside of one’s own narcissism and as a result, there is no chance of significant loss, life is lived on the surface, and mirrors that person’s shallowness.

Meaning is normally created by gladly accepting responsibility to build or contribute to something that is always significant and enduring and larger than the Self.

The special case of the American military, now the most respected institution in the country, I asked Four Star General Walt Boomer, USMC, Retired,

Dr. Bardwick:  What is it the Marines do so that the unimpressive, gangly adolescent recruits emerge 13 weeks later, heads tall, projecting pride and confidence?

Boomer:  We get them to achieve things they never imagined they could do.

Dr. Bardwick:  In a dangerous and competitive world, that is kindness.

 

 

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