Proving, once again, that fact is stranger by far than fiction, a grandmother recently asked me what she should do about her daughter-in-law who, despite her husband’s increasingly meek objections, is determined to do everything possible to turn the first grandchild, a 3-year-old girl, into the next Lady Gaga. Or Carrie Underwood. Let’s just say somebody immensely famous, not to mention talented.
The daughter-in-law has the hapless child — who obviously has no say in the matter — enrolled in voice and acting lessons. Dance begins imminently. The child already performs in Little Miss Pageants, has her hair done by a professional stylist and is already learning to walk in high heels.
“I’m just so sad for my granddaughter,” grandma said. “Is there anything I can do to stop this insanity?”
What? Kidnap the child and board the next Space-X rocket to Mars?
This is a sign of the times. The time has all but gone when parents understood that job one was to train proper character into a child. Today’s parents seem to think they are responsible for ensuring that their children accomplish things amazingly awesome enough to brag about at tailgate parties and barbeques. You may be fairly run-of-the-mill, but by golly, your child is going to be “da bomb.”
What grandma’s daughter-in-law doesn’t figure into her plans is that 77,423 mothers (and those fathers who have no man caves in which to hide), at last official count, have the same plans for their kids. Thus, we have college admission cheating scandals because for these folks, the end justifies the means. And that’s probably just the tip of the Trophy Child iceberg.
It’s pitiful, really, parents deriving meaning for their lives from their children’s accomplishments. The end result is lives intertwined in perpetual codependency. The children in question have no claim to lives of their own. They’re mere actors, following scripts, eventually wondering what their lives would have been like if they’d been allowed to do their own homework and choose their own extracurricular activities.
Emancipation is a two-way street. When, for example, our kids left home, my wife and I gained as much freedom as they. More, actually, because we had money to spare. We looked at one another and asked, “What is this ‘empty nest’ syndrome we hear so many of our peers bemoaning?” The purpose of our parenting was to get the kids out of the house. How does success at that — kids who leave, who pay their own way, who don’t come back (save to visit), who ask for advice on occasion but manage, by trial and error, to figure it out for themselves — translate into a problem?
It translates into a problem if — and only if — the parents in question can’t stop being parents because during the incubation, they stopped being husband and wife. Eventually, inevitably, that train will leave the station, which explains the significant increase in the statistical chance of divorce after the last child leaves, which may, in turn, explain why so many children aren’t leaving.
Along that line, research strongly suggests that the Trophy Child is not, in many if not most cases, a happy person. A high opinion of oneself correlates with low emotional resilience. People with elevated esteem for their bad selves — an illusion if ever there was one — are more likely than your average Joe or Jolene to experience periodic bouts of clinical depression, proving that what goes up, will come down.
One of the most valuable gifts parents can give their children is part-time parenting. Being the center of someone’s attention, unless said person is one’s spouse, is a burden that no child should be expected to shoulder.
The moral of the story: It’s a wonderful thing when a child realizes that he’s going to be able to make a better life for himself than his parents are willing to make for him.
Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.