Avoiding the Pitfall of Privilege

It is nice to be able to discuss the challenges of having it all.  For much of our history, the test has not been that of comfort and wealth, but of lack and need. The question I would like to pose is:

When we have all that we need, what do we miss?

What are our children in danger of missing out on when they have an air conditioned home, designer clothes, food in the fridge and a top notch education? Yet, ancient Torah wisdom refers to wealth, ease and physical comfort as a test……Let’s explore.

There are several aspects to this issue and I would like to focus on one:

What can we rob our children of with the luxury, security and privilege that we generously provide for them?

Educators are having an increasingly difficult time preparing students with the knowledge and skills they feel will be needed in 10, 15 or 20 years from now because progress in most fields is so fast and furious, that it is difficult to determine what those skills will be.  Increasingly, schools are incorporating character development (“emotional/social intelligence”) courses or elements to their curriculum because one’s character will be relevant in any workplace regardless of skills and knowledge required.  There are many worthwhile character traits to develop: Kindness, honesty, responsibility, empathy and more. Yet, a recent work on the subject identifies “grit” as the primary human quality related to success. “Grit” is a not so fancy word for those who conscientiously persevere despite the challenges they encounter. In fact according to a  New York Times piece this quality is also the predecessor to long term happiness and well-being.

The difficulty is that as loving and caring parents we may be unintentionally robbing our children of the ability to develop this core quality.

Although I would not wish poverty upon my worst enemy, the challenge of too little provides one with ample opportunity to develop inner strength and grit.  We want our children to be comfortable and secure and therefore we do whatever we can to make that happen; but if left unchecked that same inclination can actually disadvantage and harm our children.

As parent of school age children, I am well aware of the knee jerk reaction to adamantly defend my child at a conference or when receiving a phone call from a teacher.  I am aware of my desire to let him ‘unwind’ with an hour of  videos before beginning his homework, or to rush his lunch or book report or change of clothes to school after he forgot it.  I do not consider myself a ‘helicopter’ parent – just one that really cares.  Nevertheless, I have begun to rethink situations where perhaps ‘caring’ is the equivalent of robbing. Perhaps, in my desire to protect, I am not allowing him to develop the inner conviction that he can deal and will be better off for it.  This year there will undoubtedly be many situations where we as parents need to determine whether we need to step in and “save the day” or allow our child to turn within, work through an issue and prove to himself that he can and will overcome. This is not “Tiger Mom” discipline vs. “American Mom” protective permissiveness. Rather, it concerns the clarity and self-discipline to rescue and protect when needed, as well as the courage to stand back and encouragingly smile as we share with our children our belief in them and what they can do….on their own.