We love our kids. We don’t want to see them suffer while they’re growing up and learning the life lessons we know they will need. So we protect them from the consequences of their actions, their poor decisions, their innate laziness or their desire to feel superior. Also, we’re thrilled when they shine because they’re smart or athletic or budding comedians.
And that’s how we help spoil them and turn them into weaklings lacking character and grit.
Ramona’s son had always been the brightest kid around. She was so proud that he’d never struggled through high school or college to get good grades. She’d noticed that he avoided subject areas that were difficult; he got upset when he had to struggle with anything. So she tried to be helpful by encouraging him to follow interests that were easy for him.
When she didn’t immediately cater to his every whim, he verbally abused her; he told her she was a rotten and incompetent mom.
Later, in law school, when he had to struggle a little, she noticed that he always blamed his difficulties on poor teachers, bad case presentation and other students who cheated. He thought he was a victim of circumstances. He never applied himself diligently. Instead, he raged against them all and sometimes told them off in public. His struggles were never his fault; his anger was always justified and righteous.
After he passed the bar exam, he couldn’t keep jobs at two prestigious law firms in a row. He’d loudly and publically told off the managing partners because they hadn’t supported him enough.
He started his own practice but had problems getting and keeping clients. He was too busy to keep good books so he never made a profit. But he bought everything he wanted. He wanted to abandon the whole affair and have his mother support him. She was tempted to bail him out; she agreed with him that it wasn’t his fault. And, she fantasized, if she kept helping him, he’d finally grow up, learn his lessons and be successful.
But a friend recommended a book that caused her to step back and examine the course she had followed with him for decades. She saw, although she tried to avoid the bitter truth, that she’d helped him grow up weak and selfish. He had developed no grit or character – no inner strength, resolve, determination, perseverance or resilience. If things didn’t come easily to him, he raged against other people or forces that must be to blame for his suffering and failure.
What had Ramona done that encouraged any of his tendencies toward weakness?
- Whenever he refused to struggle, she accepted his excuses and justifications, and allowed him to think that his reactions were normal.
- When he had to overcome adversity in order to succeed, she took over and got him past the problem. Then she allowed him to think that her help wasn’t important and he could have done it himself if he’d really wanted.
- When he yelled and bullied her because she didn’t do what he demanded or make things easy for him, she allowed him to think that she really was at fault and his temper tantrums were justified. Indeed, she did feel guilty.
Ramona had participated by loving her son in the wrong way.
She’d helped him avoid struggle, sacrifice and self-discipline. She’d helped him think he was entitled to easy and rapid success. If it didn’t come that way, he thought it meant he was stupid and he was never going to admit that.
What could she do now?