This is a debate constantly expressed by parents whether they know it or not. Parents, perhaps victims of our “no pain, no gain” culture are constantly worried that they are spoiling and coddling their kids. Yes, there are helicopter parents and there are parents who constantly cover for their kids and help them avoid consequences for their actions. This isn’t the same as “loving too much.” Parents who really indulge their kids to that extent are often driven by something outside of common parental love.
What I’m talking about is things like kissing and hugging them, telling them you love them every day, packing notes in their lunches, and making them feel special every day.
Many, many parents didn’t have this type of love growing up. They may have seen family love in situation comedies but didn’t enjoy it at home perhaps due to over-worked parents or a family that didn’t know how to express love. Some people even think that expressions of love are a symbol of weakness, never to be exposed. Parents who came from these types of backgrounds are the ones who consciously or unconsciously hold back.
They may not even realize that they are doing it but implicit in a lot of their actions is a belief that babies and kids can be “too soft.” They might question why you are always hugging your kids. Or they might not be able to empathize with the fears of a child, insisting that he or she go into a dark basement and quit being a baby.
Let’s be clear: raising kids is the not the same thing as training an army. An army needs discipline. It needs unquestioning following of an authority. It needs troops hardened by the idea that there is nothing more than three meals, a place to sleep and the hope to live another day.
In parenting, that is not our objective. We are trying to raise little girls and boys to be sufficiently self-aware and self-confident to navigate in the world on their own without someone constantly urging them to toughen up because there is no more soup and no more heat today. Rather than training kids to be tough by withholding love and kindness, our role is to fill their buckets with as much love and empathy as we can.
We all know people who did not get that as children. And of course, some of them go on to do amazing things. They overcome adversity and become examples of how a hard life formed them. Overcoming adversity is often a core of these stories and presented as the crucible that forced the spirit to overcome.
The luckiest children are the ones who never had to wonder if their parents loved them. They felt unconditional love from their earliest memories. Their parents rarely raised their voices in anger toward them. They never felt that they disappointed their parents. They weren’t made to feel small because they weren’t as tough as grown-ups.
As dads, we fail every day. It’s hard to be wise, sensitive, loving and awake in every interaction with our kids. We will say things we regret. We won’t have the energy or discipline to be the Martha Stewart of parenting with a dozen creative ways each day to say “I love you.” We can however, dismiss with the idea that we can show too much love for our kids. For a dozen short years, you are the sun and the moon to your kids; they live only for your kisses and approval. Around age 13, that changes and they seek out reinforcement elsewhere.
If they know that you have always and will always love them, they can venture out more courageously, their barrels filled with love, ready to face a world that does not love without exceptions and caveats.