As I meet with parents, I hear phrases (especially from mothers) that make total sense, but eventually…they prevent their children from maturing in a healthy way. These phrases represent a sentiment that is natural, but damaging, to our leadership in the home. What is it, you ask?
- He’s irresistible.
- She’s adorable.
- Those twins are precious.
- That little guy is so lovable.
- She is quite the little charmer.
None of these phrases are wrong. In fact, I think I used them when my two kids were younger. I love little children. Those words express our inward feelings when we see kids who are, quite frankly, stinking cute. They’re said everyday about our pets as well. We are a nurturing generation of parents, who feel compassion for our kids and resource them beyond any former generation of parents in American history.
So, why do I think they can be damaging?
The Role of Emotions in Leadership
Unfortunately, emotions are playing a far greater role in our decision-making these days. Look at the impulsive decisions that adults make at youth soccer games. Look at the emotional outbursts from stage moms at the school play practice. Look at the great lengths that moms or dads go to, ensuring their kid gets the photo shoot or wins the beauty contest. Listen to the hyperbole we use describing our children as “awesome” or “amazing.” It feels good to kids, for a while.
Soon however, those kids learn to leverage it to their advantage.
As children become teens, they grow savvy in how to manipulate parents or teachers to their advantage. They use their “adorable” spirit to get off the hook on a project or a chore. Once we use emotional language, they file it away and utilize it later.
One case study is a high school student I met recently. He said his mom has been “soft” on him growing up, giving in to him in conflict. Now, he knows how to influence her. He quietly acknowledged to me he uses his high “stress levels” whenever he wants to get out of doing something around the house. He reminds his mom of his anxiety and thanks her (in advance) for not adding to it.
I recently spoke to a female college student who bragged about how she negotiated her way into a higher grade. She smiled as she told me she’s gotten out of assignments, papers and poor grades knowing her instructor is partial to her style and her “adorable” and “sweet” spirit.
Just a Reminder This Holiday Season
While I believe every child should be delighted in and believed in by some caring adult, (especially at Christmas), I also know I must balance the emotions or empathy I feel toward kids with a conviction about what good leadership looks like.
Love is more than an emotion toward our children.
Love isn’t just what you feel for your kids. It is what you think too. It’s thinking about what you know they’re capable of becoming. It’s acting out of belief in their potential. “It is not what you do for your children,” wrote Ann Landers, “but what you have taught them to do for themselves that makes them successful human beings.” If we love them, then we should lead them well.
Unwrapping gifts under the tree is a time of warm feelings and soft emotions. This is the time we all love to express how we feel toward family, kids, and friends. Be sure and do it well. Be generous—but follow up with wisdom. Madeline Levine says, Kids, for the most part need what kids have always needed:
This Christmas—don’t just think about how you feel right now, but how well your leadership prepares them for tomorrow. Sometimes, generosity means setting limits. Sometimes, love means saying “no.” Sometimes, support means believing they can do it themselves.
Remember—you are not just raising a son. You are raising someone’s husband and father. You are not merely raising a daughter. You are raising someone’s wife and mother. Your greatest contribution to this world may not be something you do, but someone you raise.
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