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The American Dream Ain’t What It Seems- Kids

March 24, 2011

The next topic to tackle on the American Dream has to deal with parenting from the Psychology Today (PT) article, The American Nightmare.  The article reported a study that showed ideological differences in parenting between US and Italian families.   “It’s an ideology here (US) that you don’t plan to be with others when you plan to be with your family.  American adults don’t have a social life of their own; they don’t hang out as people.”

Robin Simon of Wake Forest stated his research shows many US parents deal with a nasty combo of “social isolation, lack of outside support, and the anticipation of the overflow of bliss that we believe is the certain outcome of every birth.”  So in other words, we put too much weight of our own happiness onto our children and forget to lead lives within the greater community.

I came away from reading the article thinking about a question.  Are American families too kid-centric? Carol Graham of Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. thinks so as she noted, “The autonomy and agency of American adults is ceded to children.”  Graham says, “In other societies, kids fit into the family; parents are in charge…Here, the norm is that you’re out of control of your life and spend every Saturday going to 59 birthday parties.”

Now, I don’t have children so I can’t speak to the hardships of parenting and the stressful time restraints put on couples but I can recognize as a professional the isolation that many couples feel when raising children.  The demands on what we want our children to become and the countless programs in existence that can make life dizzying.  I believe the American Dream plays a subtle but powerful part in all of this.  What parent doesn’t want more for their kids?  Yet, the American Dream (aka culture) whispers to us that we need to do more and at all costs.  But what are the costs on kids when put too much at the center of the family structure?  The article purports (and I agree) that we need to get back to emphasizing parent’s relationship in all this.

How we relate to our spouse is the prime example in how we teach our children the ways of being and relating.  Children eventually pick up on the ways their parents withdrawal, neglect glaring relational issues, and handle set backs.  Linda Waite of the University of Chicago stated, “It’s wiser to ignore your kids and focus on your relationship than to focus on your kids and ignore your relationship…that’s not what we do.  In fact, far too often, we do just the opposite.”  Obviously, we can’t think in extremes here.  True ignoring of your children will get CPS called on you! We have to understand that by doing too much for the sake of our kids (at the expense of our spouse) could actually hurt the family structure and the child more.

Children need to not only see healthy relationships but they also need to feel stable.  Research shows that the results of unpredictability in the home are actually fairly predictable, in that, the children generally suffer.  Research out of the University of Arizona shows just how much impact unpredictability plays within the home, stating, “Parental changes may result from divorce, remarriage, living in foster homes or with other relatives…changes in the care-giving environment can be added to form a measurement of the level of unpredictability or change in a child’s life that goes beyond poor neighborhood environments or a lack of resources in the household. Unpredictability also impacts parents.”

Children have a difficult time living stable lives with constantly shifting relationships.  The parental relationship in the home is a great example of love and stability for children and it’s hard to duplicate that in any after school program or summer camp.  Author Dan Allender states we should give our partners commitment, kindness, and curiosity.  Just imagine the benefits to children growing up seeing those three aspects modeled consistently!

Whether single with kids or married with them, creating a support system around you that takes away isolation and allows the children to encounter a loving community will do wonders for their development and your sanity. The American Dream rarely asks, “Is it worth it?”  The American Dream demands super hero status from parents at their own expense. If we want a different kind of dream, we need to make sure our key relationships have the structural integrity to model what our kids need most- love, commitment and stability, trust, and safety.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 24, 2011 5:12 am

    I think you might be missing the point. As adults we need to focus on friendship with other adults for OUR happiness, not the happiness of our children. Aren’t you again, making it all about the children?

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