Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Elephant in The Room: Parenting and Narcissism

"Okay, enough about me. Let's talk about you. How do you feel about me?"

That's my psychiatrist mother's completely awesome take on what a conversation with a true narcissist sounds like. I'd like to think I never do this, but having some troubling narcissistic tendencies myself, I can't say it never happens.

This statement came to mind in the context of a recent article a reader sent me from Salon. The author is one of many Type-A moms trying to make a point about First World Parenting and achievement in a "culture" that over-pressures and over-schedules children's lives. 

The article is one of many examples of hand-wringing in certain circles over what pressure-cooker helicopter parenting is doing to our kids:  How it's squelching their desire to learn; how it's giving them anxiety disorders; how it's making them feel like failures for no real reason. 

The recurring theme is always the same: Parents want to give their kids options and set them up for success, but they need to find a healthier way to do it, and we need to fix the "system" that makes a bunch of unreasonable demands.

But here's the proverbial elephant in the room: the role of parental narcissism. Let's be honest. Lots of parents use their children as proxies for their own egos. They blame an external system without taking stock of their own role in that system and what really motivates them to participate in it (and thereby perpetuate it).

I think at least part of what motivates all parents to see their children "succeed" is the way it reflects directly on them. Parents who can no longer compete directly with each other (as perhaps they once did as young people themselves) now do it through their kids. They compare notes and silently keep track of how their kids are stacking up against someone else's kids, when it's not even about the kids in the first place. 

It's about them.

Personally, I think the anxiety about what this particular "culture" is doing to our kids would be better channeled if more parents asked themselves one very basic and self-reflective question: Why am I using my child to feel good about myself?  

I'd like to see some ink spilled on that one. 

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