[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4UrAwWkUGk] Have you seen these new back-to-school Famous Footwear commercials?
I've spotted three different ones so far, all with this plot line: Mom buys "the shoe" for grumpy teenager. Grumpy teenager begrudgingly gives mom a smirk. Mom is overjoyed and says, "Victory is mine!"
I think there is confetti at this point.
Now hear this: there is NOTHING WRONG with buying your kid red Nikes. More power to ya. (Really cute shoes, BTW.)
What IS wrong with this ad series? Three things.
One. The idea that we are responsible for the emotions of our adolescents.
Two. The idea that we can buy things, and then they will be happy.
Three. The idea that if our kids are happy, then--and only then--can we claim victory as parents.
In truth, we all know that sometimes our best, most victorious parenting makes them really unhappy--for the moment.
The Beatles said it this way: can't buy me love.
(And I would add, especially when your kid is a whacked-out bundle of hormonal adolescence.)
I love, love, love my kids. And because I love them so much, it is hard to see them unhappy. When that happens, I want to fix it SO BAD!
But when we attempt to buy their love, to manipulate them into feeling better so we can feel better:
- We teach them that their negative emotions scare us. If we're scared of their negative emotions, they will be too.
- We miss out on the opportunity to let them be disappointed or sad or angry, to learn how to cope with it, how to contain it, how to live through it, and move on.
- We teach them that the answer to their negative emotion is some THING that somebody ELSE can provide.
- We miss out on the opportunity to let them have their own victories, to learn the wonderful skill of self-efficacy. To take responsibility for themselves--for the shoes, and for their own emotions.
- We teach them that they are the center of our universe.
- And while that may be true--and even good and right when they are little--it needs to become less and less true as they grow older. We've got to let them go, step by step.
Maybe we're afraid of:
- their anger, if we make choices they don't like.
- our grief, if they make choices we don't like.
- feeling abandoned, as they grow up and leave us.
I'm NOT saying, throw your kid out to sink or swim on their own. Being completely detached from our kids is just as unhealthy as being totally enmeshed with them.
Of course we need to be there, and keep loving them, no matter how grumpy they get. Of course we want to make sure they have what they need. And it's fun to provide some of the things they want, too. Those things are all part of showing them that we love them.
But judging our parenting skills by their current emotions?
Victory is nobody's.