Over the holidays, the adult child of a friend posted this video on Facebook. He is the same age as my eldest son, so I was intrigued by his posting it.
Over the past two days I have taken the time to watch and hopefully absorb what this video is saying to ME the parent.
I found it really interesting during the American presidential elections to hear a lot of my friends in the States talk about the privileged liberal generation, the cry babies who can’t accept no. They spoke about the ‘everyone needs a trophy’ and always offended generation.
As a mum, my first question is always ‘So whose raising these kids?’ Because these are not traits that kids develop in isolation. They are values that are passed down from the generation that has gone before them.
It is my wholehearted belief that as parents, it is our job to build on the good that our own parents did, and to find new ways to improve on the things they did not so good. This is not to play a blame game, but to look around us and say, I love you, I respect you, but I think we can do better, why not help us?
Simon Sinek says what I have been feeling for quite some time as a parent. And some of these have been parenting strategies that we have employed. And like all of parenting some of these points are things that I ‘personally’ need to get better at in my own life, let alone encouraging my children towards it. If I am going to pass on insight to my kids, then I damn well better be living it myself.
I have written a two part piece on some of the lessons I learnt over the past 22 years as a parent of millennials, and what I took away from Sinek’s video to try and improve on for the future.
Here are some of the strategies I think might help us
Build a healthy sense of identity
When I was at university, one of the units I loved the most was child psychology. While like everything else to do with raising children, there are a myriad of ideas and theories about how kids develop. For me I always liked what Erik Erikson had to say. I thought he had some great research on helping children develop a sense of well rounded identity throughout their whole childhood.
As a society we seem to be regressing somewhat, and are forgetting the importance of home and family in developing healthy happy kids, but rather looking outwards at schools, clubs and achievements outside of the home from a young age. Later on, those achievements do become important, but they also need to be coupled with activities and opportunities that help them build character, purpose and initiative within their homes and the community in which they live.
The foundations for healthy identity are formed while our children are very young, but we can always make improvements. Simon Sinek talks of the need for the Millennial generation to find joy, purpose and fulfilment in their work. And often these traits are encouraged and fostered from a young age and perhaps not in the ways society is leading us to believe.
Erikson talks about the need for children to have their needs met, that the way we respond to our children and nurture them, helps to develop them to develop their sense of trust and hope. If we take the time to respond to their need for cuddles and hugs, and nurture them, then they can trust that others will also do that and this gives them a sense of hope.
He speaks about the need to allow them the freedom to become independent between the ages of 18 months to three years old. To put on their own clothes, their own shoes, to tidy up, to participate, to be involved. All of these things can be really frustrating to the busy parent, who is just trying to get kids out the door. But without it, we are robbing our children the opportunity to develop autonomy. When coupled with our harried modern life, this can also lead to a sense of shame and doubt in their own ability when they don’t get it right or are not quick enough.
We need to make space for our kids to fail and to take their time. Our communication should be that failure is ok, that it is a natural part of learning. This needs to happen from a really young age. We need to slow our lives down a little so that we aren’t skipping these really important lessons with our children. Just doing it for them, is helping us get out the door quicker, but it is leading to a lack of independence and sometimes shame and doubt in their own ability. It helps build resilience and increases the feeling of being able to take care of themselves when we create space for them to do it themselves.
Continuing up to the age of 5, kids need the opportunity for creative play that helps them develop initiative and leadership skills. They need the time to interact, and even to get things wrong. The helicopter parenting of our generation is not making space for kids to create, show initiative, solve problems and fail. It is also leading to unhealthy guilt as they are made to feel bad for getting it wrong. Learning how to interact with others is crucial. No one likes a bully and as a parent, we should have some protection over our kids, but we should also balance that with giving them the skills, resilience and trust that they too can work things out for themselves. They can’t have the toy that the other child has, they do have to learn to wait, and if they snatch, then chances are some one is going to defend themselves. Part of learning at this stage is trying to get the balance right between forcefulness and need. It is hard for a parent not to step in here, but if we are always playing referee to our kids, then that becomes their expectation, that they need a referee for life. Someone who can rescue them, rather than developing the skills they need to relate to others by themselves, externally to the watchful eye. We don’t want our kids ‘only’ behaving when they are being watched. We want them to make healthy choices because they can, regardless of whether we are watching and regardless of whether other people do. The skills learned in this stage help develop a healthy sense of purpose in our children. Erikson talks about guilt leading to remorse is healthy, guilt that comes with feeling that they can never do anything right, because of a controlling, hovering parent is detrimental to their development.
Erikson has other stages of development that help form a healthy sense of identity, I found it really helpful in thinking through how to parent our kids.
It’s ok to wait
I am not going to lie, I am not very good at waiting for things myself. Money burns a hole in my pocket and I like the (almost) instant gratification that the internet, and services like Amazon Prime give me. I would make a good Millennial in this regard. But I am conscious that there needs to be balance between these traits. While it is great when you want to watch a family movie and know how to find one, it is not so great when that several hundred pound camera goes on sale (there is no budget for) or you’ve bought your 3rd bottle of gin for your new gin bar (ok I might be exaggerating) in a week. There has to be balance.
One of the ways I try to encourage this in my own kids and myself, is to walk away from something. If you see something in a shop, walk away. Go and do what you need to do, finish your shopping, even go home and if it’s something you still really think you will need it will still be there tomorrow.
Alternatively, put it on your birthday list. If you still want it by your birthday and it fits the budget, I will get it for you, but I am not going to make a spontaneous purchase right now.
Or if you really can’t wait, I will give you some extra chores, and you can earn the money for it. It is amazing how quickly needs and wants change in a child when they can’t just have it right away or have to work for that thing.
Reward for effort
As a parent, I made the choice early on in our journey to have a two tired reward system in our home. I didn’t really like the idea that everything the kids did to help out in the house earned them money or treats. Sometimes we just have to do things, because they have to be done. And they have to be done, so we can all enjoy doing other things.
I am a mum, and in our house we have quite clear roles and always have. They are agreed on roles (for the most part). No one pays me to wash clothes, sweep the floor or drive kids to activities, that is just part of my role. Every time I drive a kids around and spend hours sitting at activities, that takes me away from the home and getting ‘my work done’. Being a home educating mum, especially in the early days, meant that quite often this was hours at a time, spread that between five kids, and some days we were out, a lot!
In order for the kids to do the activities they wanted too, and in order for me to get all my jobs done, there had to be some compromises in our family. I wanted the kids to learn that I wasn’t a maid or a servant, or chauffeur, I was a person with needs and things I would like to do myself, so while I am happy to help you out with your activities, I require that you help me out with house hold chores. Not for financial reward, but because that is what families do. We all chip in, we all help out and we all make life happen in our house. Even dad has a spot on the chore roster, as well as working long hours and being our awesome DIY dude.
While in our house there are clear roles, I never wanted to create an expectation about gender roles in their future. I love my role, but they may find they have a partner that has other ideas and expectations. They ALL needed to learn how to look after a house, and they all needed to contribute to how it runs. They will leave home one day, and no one will pay them to vacuum or put their rubbish in a outside bin. They need to be equipped for life.
I never wanted to create the expectation that every chore they did brought them financial reward either. This is not a good life skill. No chore fairy pays me for cleaning the litter tray of the cat, I do it because I have a cat that needs to be looked after. I am intrinsically rewarded by taking care of something well, not by an external star on a chart. We need to shift from kids needing external rewards all the time, to doing things well, because they have the skills to and take pride in themselves for doing so.
In saying that, we always kept a paid chore list too. If you want to earn some money, I will pay you to to do some extra jobs. Why? Because this creates the expectation that if you want something above and beyond what you can afford you have to work for it, save and make it happen for yourself.
In part two, we will look at some more of Sinek’s points and how we can help the next generation, avoid the mistakes he talks about in his video. We’ll look at the importance of relationships, healthy technology usage and being authentic.