When I was growing up, one of the worst insults that could be hurled at a child (or his parents) was that he was a spoiled brat. It was a phrase that wasn’t used very often, but when it was, it stung. No one wanted to hear the perception that a child was spoiled.
Now, we hardly hear the phrase, but maybe it’s because so many children are spoiled. Has the phrase decreased as the problem increased?
Out of curiosity, I looked up the meaning of “spoil.” Here, it means “to harm the character of a child by being too lenient or indulgent.”
It’s hard to parent, and it’s particularly hard to parent when we have long-term goals but face pressing, short-term issues. When a child is squalling because he wants a piece of candy, it’s so much easier to give him the candy to keep the peace. When he is complaining because all of his friends have the latest, expensive whatever-it-is, it’s so much easier to give in to make him happy with you. When the house is dirty, it’s just easier to clean it yourself than to teach him and then insist that he do his part.
It’s easier to spoil the child, and maybe that’s why we’re doing it. It’s easier, and it makes the child happy. After all, isn’t that what we’re after? Happy children?
I hope not.
The measuring stick of successful parenting is definitely not happy children. Well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless? Absolutely. Happy and spoiled? No way.
Look back at the definition of spoiled. When we are too lenient or too indulgent, giving our kids too much of what they don’t need, we are simultaneously harming their character.
We try to justify our indulgence and leniency by telling ourselves we’re showing them love. We tell ourselves that we’re giving our children everything we never had. We convince ourselves that we don’t want them to feel different, left out, or lacking.
We tell ourselves a lot of things, but we forget to tell ourselves the truth.
The truth is that giving them everything they want and ask for is the opposite of showing them love. It’s showing them that they’re the center of the universe, and it’s teaching them that the purpose of their lives is fulfillment of their material desires.
Do we even realize what we’re doing? Maybe not. If we were aware that we were hurting their character, surely we would stop. The deceiver wants us to ruin them from the start, so he deceives us from the start. We’re blinded to the harm we’re doing.
You’ve seen what I’ve seen in the world. Two-year-olds ruling their households, with their parents afraid to set bedtimes and asking instead of telling. Five-year-olds demanding toys in Target – and receiving them “just because.” Ten-year-olds who “will only wear name-brand clothes.” Sixteen-year-olds who drive nicer cars than their parents and carry handbags that cost hundreds of dollars.
Children are being spoiled, parents are giving in, and society is suffering.
It’s not about whether we can afford these things or not. (And in many cases, we can’t. We keep up with the Joneses by keeping our debt accumulating. We keep working ourselves to death so we can give our kids all they want. We’re not spending our extra cash – we’re spending our only cash. We work overtime and stress ourselves out, and then we just dole out the stuff to the kids who haven’t lifted a finger for it.) Even if we could afford to give our kids everything they want, we shouldn’t do it. Life is not about possessions, and spoiling children with possessions teaches them it is.
Denying your children will not ruin them. It will not destroy their lives, and it will not leave them friendless. Yes, it may make them upset momentarily. Yes, it may make them a little different from their friends. Yes, it may mean your family isn’t just like everyone else’s. But isn’t that a good thing?
When your child is older and understands why you stood your ground, he will see that you were teaching what matters in the long run. He will see that sacrifice leads to greater blessings. He will see that you loved him enough to say no.
Love is patient. Love is kind. And you know what else? Love doesn’t spoil.
This article originally appeared JennieGScott.com, published with permission.