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Has Parenting Become a Religion?

I just finished speaking at a school, where I did an event for students, faculty, parents and community leaders. It was refreshing to talk to such engaging audiences, both adults and kids. After my parent workshop, one mom approached me with a comment that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “Don’t you think part of our problem today in America is that parenting has become a religion?”

Wow. Her remark made me pause to think.

I think I agree. Let me tell you why.

parenting

We’ve all seen the signs of this emerging “religion” over the last thirty years:

  • Baby On Board Signs on the back of the mini-van.
  • “My Kid is a Super Kid at ABC Elementary School” bumper stickers.
  • Trophies and ribbons are given away just for playing on a team.
  • Blockbuster movies where kids not only the stars… but also the heroes.
  • Entire restaurants and TV networks devoted solely to children.
  • Television programs all about parenthood as the primary theme.
  • Parents acting like “agents” at school plays or little league games.

Yep. Kids are front and center in our minds. Anything less is politically incorrect. Children have actually become the new “scorecard” for our success as adults, and now, parenthood is acting like a religion.

Why and How I Think It Began

I remember watching early Baby Boomers surrender to narcissism. In the 1960’s, young adults gave in to a pursuit of finding themselves through carefree living, drugs, and rock and roll. Millions of them grew to regret it and returned to more traditional lifestyles of marriage and family. They began raising children with the mantra: “Do as I say, don’t do as I did.” They determined to do a 180-degree turnaround.

Afterward came Generation X, who also watched the self-absorbed early life of the Boomers and decided that as they raise kids, they’d do the opposite. They would focus on raising children who are happy, who have high self-esteem, and who are safe within their nurturing arms. Having been the children of those early Boomers, they reacted by focusing on being good parents. Children became the obsession of adults, and most of us unwittingly joined the religion.

If you know me, you know I absolutely love kids—that’s why I work with them. So I feel a need to call out this elephant in the room:

Making kids the center of attention is not healthy for them or you.

No doubt, there are benefits to making parenthood a “religion.” It reminds us of our priorities—children need us to invest our time developing them. At the same time, there are vivid pitfalls as well:

  • Adults who don’t feel free to honestly express their feelings about kids are less likely to resolve problems with their kids at home.
  • Kids who are raised to believe they are the center of the world have a tough time entering adulthood, where that special status evaporates.
  • Couples who live child-centric lives often lose touch with each other and tend to have nothing in common as kids leave home. (No wonder kids return.)
  • Young people don’t have the maturity to handle the weight of their parents’ happiness rising and falling with their performance.

May I tell you what I see this “religion” doing to the fabric of our lives?

  1. It’s hindering relationships between teachers and parents.
  2. It’s ruining marriages, where children step in between spouses.
  3. It’s hindering neighborhood sports programs, dividing parents over kids.
  4. It’s negatively impacting employers who can’t find career-ready grads.

Call me a heretic, but I think it actually helps (rather than hinders) a child’s emotional security to see their parents prioritize their love for each other, as husband and wife. In this safe haven where they see this modeled, they become secure and don’t feel the need to be the source of everyone’s happiness. Children take their proper role as part of the family… not the “star” of the family.

Join me tomorrow as I offer Part Two on this issue.

8 Comments

  1. Norm on February 10, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Great thoughts, Tim. I would be interested to know how this applies for single parents. How does a single parent not make their child(ren) the center of their world?

    • Guest on February 10, 2015 at 11:23 am

      I completely agree with what you have put together. I would like sometime in the future share my own experiences. Thanks God my marriage is still alive after 18 years of good and not so good moments. My kid is transitioning to adulthood and I can see the struggling he is going through – but we want to help on the best way he can become a good adult servicing our society.

  2. Nelson Lopez on February 10, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I completely agree with what you had put together. I would like in the future share my own experiences. Thanks God my marriage is still alive after 18 years of good and not so good moments. My kid is transitioning to adulthood and I can see the struggling he is going through – but we want to help on the best way he can become a good human being servicing our society.

  3. Erin Amos on February 11, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    While I agree with the basic premise that children are becoming like Kings in our society, I don’t agree with your reasoning necessarily. A lot of the things that you point to as proof that we are creating a religion around kids are simply misunderstandings by people, i.e. the “Baby on Board” sign. It’s not to tell the world to tip-toe around that vehicle. It’s a sign for first responders to know that there is a person on board the vehicle that is unable to unbuckle themselves in the event of an accident or so that they can look for a baby if he/she is ejected from the vehicle in a collision. Also, there is nothing wrong with wanting your children to grow up well adjusted and happy. The problem comes when it is our sole focus. And the pressure comes from trying to be perfect American parents. We want our kids to flourish and so that means classes by 6 months or sooner so they can compete in the corporate world when they are older. In our pursuit of perfection we take the turn of making sure Johnny always says and does the right thing and Suzy is wearing the perfect, modest outfit and they eat perfectly balanced meals and take the right classes. And we never make room for ourselves. It’s all well intentioned. Some want to spoil their kids. I’m not one of those. But we know the saying, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

    • Tim Elmore on February 23, 2015 at 11:42 am

      Thanks Erin. Great points. I appreciate your input.

  4. Cheryl on February 14, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    After 46 years of marriage and raising 3 amazing kids it is refreshing to read an article which encapsulated our parenting. After 25 years as a high school teacher I had my first encounter with a parent who drove me to report his rude behavior to the police!
    I enjoy your articles and read them aloud when we are on road trips.

  5. Mindy Vachow on October 21, 2015 at 8:25 am

    As always Tim I enjoy your perspective. As a parent of 5, and a coach for countless teams, I believe you are dead on. If you ever need material examples give me a shout out. I have a whole bank of them. Love hearing you in person, always look forward to Christmas time in Michigan.

  6. Mastering the Art of Tough Love - Growing Leaders on August 28, 2018 at 11:12 am

    […] Yesterday, I blogged about how parenting has become a “religion” in America, where children have become the absolute centerpiece of the home and nothing negative can be said about them. Yep. Some time between our childhood and the moment we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion. As with many religions, complete, unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationship with them. If someone says or does anything contrary, they are not welcomed into civil discussion but persecuted and judged as a heretic. Hmmm. Sounds like an unhealthy religion to me. […]

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Has Parenting Become a Religion?