I don’t know if parents have always struggled with this or if it’s a new phenomenon, but I’m seeing child idolatry mushrooming by people I respect, admire, and believe in their spirituality.
In fact, I was guilty of it, and might now question my own spiritual hardness if I hadn’t just had an epiphany on it.
I have a dear friend who I think is an amazing mother, she is doing a lot right that I did wrong–taking time to be present and enjoy her daughter. She is also a great encourager, and does have boundaries, but she is creating an anxious child by her own anxiety. What anxiety? Being afraid to let the child suffer or struggle. I watched as she on two occasions anticipated the child’s discomfort and managed it instead of letting the child learn the rudiments of coping.
The 2 yr-old started to squirm in her highchair in a restaurant and the parent took her out and sat her on her lap. It happened again the next day at home. The daughter started to squirm and the mother asked if she wanted down without requiring the child to learn containment since the meal was still in progress. And she allowed her to keep eating. Another golden opportunity lost.
We are close friends and I have explained that the child’s security comes by knowing that the parent is in charge. I have explained that the task for age two is trust–that it is easier for a child to trust a parent who sets limits and follows through with them. That is just common sense, and she agreed. But she can’t stand for her child to be disappointed, cry, or suffer in any way. I’ve watched as she tries to make sure that everything is completely risk free, and happy; disappointment is avoided. It’s almost creepy that the child is learning fear–the opposite of her mother’s intent. (She has already read and ok’d this.)
I also watched a father with his 2-yr-old son, the father got worked and the son got his way. The little boy didn’t want to sit in his highchair in the restaurant we were at. The father started by telling him to sit down repeatedly, to which the son said, “No,” and the father put him on his lap.
I know him well also, and I know he has no trouble saying “No” to his older sons and requiring hard things of them (I sometimes wish he was gentler). I knew he didn’t want to be hard to the 2-yr-old, didn’t want the child to start crying, didn’t want to give him a swat; and suddenly a scripture came into my mind. “The kindness of God is meant to lead you to a change of heart.” (Rom 2:5)
The thought warmed my heart, and I began to wonder, does that work on broken people? especially children? It has to, or God wouldn’t use it. I do believe it’s His first plan of action, if we would (could) respond to kindness. And I do think it works on some people (obviously better on adults), but probably not most of us. Why not?
Some of us weren’t able to accomplish trust as our first task. Our parents or others abused us before age two, or our parents were two weak or afraid to keep others from abusing us. Other parents were too wrapped up in their own feelings and needs to set any boundaries, and let us do whatever we wanted. Some parents were absentee by addictions, and their little ones didn’t learn trust either. But isn’t it sad that the ditch of too much love is just as bad as the ditch of abuse!
Favored children often end up in addictions of various kinds, or just being highly anxious and dysfunctional. My own father was one such person. The anxiety of the parent is passed down to the child for various reasons. In my dad’s case he almost died of pneumonia as a toddler. So I guess we can’t really say it’s too much love–it’s really too much anxiety–too much fear! Fear of losing the child, fear of abusing the child, fear of ruining the child, fear of failing the child (being a bad parent), and the worst one: fear the child won’t love us. These are problems given by indulgent, loving, (anxious) parents.
Having said that, I think it’s better to over-love than neglect or abuse. But wouldn’t it be better to face your fear so you don’t hand it down to your child? A parent who is willing to face himself/herself will learn a wealth of information that will allow his/her own healing, and make them more open to God’s love. He will help. You only have to ask.