All of this doesn't really matter, except as the backdrop for the rest of the story. Eric wanted to see one of his college roommates who worked downtown. "Back in 10 minutes!" he told me. I had Dio (1 year old) and Zari (3 1/2). We waited...and waited...for him to return.
Finally we took a bathroom break in the basement of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Something upset Zari, and she refused to move. I had to pull her up the entire flight of stairs (while carrying Dio and being newly pregnant with Inga). Her tantrum continued unabated. I dragged her outside to a nearby park. I still couldn't get her to calm down. I probably could have, if I hadn't also had Dio to take care of and if I hadn't been frustrated by a missing husband. I was fed up with her behavior.
So I just left her there.
I sat down with Dio about thirty feet away. Zari continued throwing a tantrum. I played with Dio and kept an eye on her. Some of the other park-goers threw questioning glances at me. "Yes, she's mine," I would shrug and smile.
I've occasionally wondered if I should have done more to calm Zari down. I did get some nasty looks from other park-goers (as well as people telling me how calmly I was handling the situation!). But I read an article today that confirmed what I believe--that your children need to be allowed to feel sad, frustrated, angry, or disappointed. In How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, clinical psychologist Lori Gottlieb urges parents to back off. By being overly attuned to our children, by working so hard to ensure they are always happy and successful, we're actually doing them harm. In her practice, she encountered growing numbers of young adults who felt depressed, adrift, and unhappy, despite loving, engaged parents:
They truly did seem to have caring and loving parents, parents who gave them the freedom to “find themselves” and the encouragement to do anything they wanted in life. Parents who had driven carpools, and helped with homework each night, and intervened when there was a bully at school or a birthday invitation not received, and had gotten them tutors when they struggled in math, and music lessons when they expressed an interest in guitar (but let them quit when they lost that interest), and talked through their feelings when they broke the rules, instead of punishing them (“logical consequences” always stood in for punishment). In short, these were parents who had always been “attuned,” as we therapists like to say, and had made sure to guide my patients through any and all trials and tribulations of childhood. As an overwhelmed parent myself, I’d sit in session and secretly wonder how these fabulous parents had done it all.When your child throws a tantrum, scrapes a knee, or fights over a toy and loses, give her some time to cry and feel entirely frustrated with the unfairness of the universe. It won't kill her. In fact, it will do her some good.
Until, one day, another question occurred to me: Was it possible these parents had done too much?....
“Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?
Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA who came to speak at my clinic, says the answer may be yes. Based on what he sees in his practice, Bohn believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.
And next time you see a parent with a tantruming child, doing nothing about it, give her a sympathetic smile. It might be me.
Thanks to cjane for the heads-up.